Art Influx

Doug Dale makes art that mixes seemingly opposing aesthetics. 

By Michelle Mastro

Portrait photography by Colin Miller/Strauss


Douglas Dale has been working with yarn for a decade now, but they started using yarn to trace wood grains right around the height of Covid. “It was then that tracing wood with yarn was something rote and repetitive, and it just offered a good Zen activity,” they explain. It was also around the time that they started exploring ideas around gender and what it might mean to be nonbinary. “I really liked the metaphor of covering wood with yarn and making an object designed to encapsulate two different polarities of hard and soft, textile and wood, masculine and feminine.”

Draped in yarn, the pieces Doug crafts also come with another symbolic undercurrent: the yarn might extend beyond the wood, transitioning to loose fibers, or become influx on it. This appearance, of course, only adds to Doug’s overall message in their art that outliers exist in the world but are usually excluded because “they do not fit cleanly into any given narrative.” Doug says, “I have been thinking more and more beyond the literal identify stuff and thinking instead about the holes or flux or nuance that doesn’t cleanly fit into a story,” Doug says. 

Case in point, Doug’s standout piece called “Checkpoint” is a little bathroom sink. It’s basically a basin pulled from a found bathroom sink and is covered in yarn that falls apart and hangs loosely as a fringe. “It’s a piece that I think is a really nice encapsulation of what I am thinking about in my art lately,” they say. “You look at it, and you aren’t really sure what structure is under there.” Hence, it’s a monument to identity, they explain. “The mirror over the sink is a site where you can be reminded of, ‘this is how people see me,’ or even just ‘wow, I look really nice today.’” In other words, the everyday activity of looking into the mirror can be imbued with significant meaning.

There is also a curious note of simplicity in Doug’s work. “Wood grains are simple and clean, but often as a material it can be taken for granted for its beauty.” Having dabbled in theatre and set design and spending time in the New York drag scene, Doug says, “I also really like the camp of dressing up the inexpensive material of wood.” At the same time, Doug enjoys design shows like Project Runway. “I liked the challenges where the contestants had to take found material and turn it into a ball gown in under 20 hours.” 

Doug loves line and texture, and these new pieces they’re making reflect their usual creative impulses, except with a bit of a refresh. “In the past, I had always steered away from color because, like how a banana can overpower all the flavors in a smoothie, color can be all anyone sees,” they say. With Doug’s new art show set to start February, however, Doug will be bringing all the texture and lines plus a bounty of color. 

Find Douglas Dale’s art show at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis starting February 10 and running until March 18. The exhibit will include an opening reception on February 10.