Daniel Goldenberg is a Canadian artist living and working in Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s known for his representational oil paintings of silent cityscapes infused with mesmerizing atmospheric light, striking surface textures, and an understated enigmatic ambiance.
As a young boy, he moved with his parents and siblings to Denmark for a year, and the family ended up staying. Like so many uprooted people, he’s both Canadian and Danish, yet at the same time neither; he feels “somewhere in between.” While both parents were artists — his father a ceramic artist, his late mother a drawing teacher, portraitist, and an author — he was unsure of his direction and considered studying meteorology for a while. As with so many twists in life, by chance Goldenberg found work painting realistic backgrounds for animation films, and then painted dioramas for the Copenhagen Zoological Museum. Without formal training, he considers these two jobs his foundational art education that catapulted him into becoming a professional artist.
Goldenberg’s early focus was on painting surrealist landscapes — which he now lightheartedly describes as “not so good,” mainly due to “a lack of imagination.” His artistic course changed completely once he started working from reference photos instead of relying on his mind’s eye. More importantly, this sparked a renewed passion for painting. At the time, an early cityscape featuring plentiful people and traffic received a lot of interest during an exhibition, which motivated him to pursue this particular subject matter more seriously. And even though he always expected he’d eventually drift into a different direction, his cityscapes remain his forte, only to have become more refined, subtle, and elegant over time.
He exclusively works in oils on canvas, using the grid method to transfer imagery, and sometimes tracing when there are very fine details. On average, Goldenberg paints five to ten hours a day, annually producing around eight to ten large paintings, and five to ten smaller ones. Planning ahead, he often works on two pieces simultaneously, with several new compositions lined up — an organized method of working that avoids downtime.
Goldenberg’s paintings combine areas of finely detailed brushstrokes with larger, more impressionistic ones. He enjoys loosening up on the foregrounds, “to get lost in it” as he puts it. We agreed that, like most artists, the painting style is for a large part dictated by our personality, and while one would really love to loosen up, it’s very hard to achieve. Goldenberg undoubtedly found the right balance in his style and method.
He takes all reference photos himself — most are planned for certain weather conditions and times of day, yet sometimes he’ll find himself in the right place at the right time, see the potential of a scene, and have an impromptu photoshoot using his iPhone. These reference photos are later adjusted and modified, reducing traffic, removing passersby, signage, and masts. His love for meteorology is visible — the world may have lost a great weather forecaster, but gained an important artist.
He sometimes even adds an entirely new weather condition from memory, such as snowfall in a scene where there wasn’t any. His penchant for thorough observation of his environment allows him to successfully make considerable changes to his compositions; he’s the type of artist who will be standing on a streetcorner at night, gazing up to watch how snowflakes fall under a streetlight.
It is obvious that Goldenberg paints what he loves; light, shadows, surfaces, atmosphere. Whether he paints urban scenes from New York, San Francisco, London, or more recurrently a Copenhagen city street, his paintings are his personal way of dealing with life. Following his instincts on what looks and feels right, he prefers to depict traditional architecture, minimizing figures and traffic, and placing multifaceted emphasis on weather, the season, and time of day.
Goldenberg’s cityscapes are incredibly beautiful; they are esthetically pleasing, have a brilliantly understated quality, and are depicted with extraordinary skill. By being very selective in what he shows, he simplifies the narrative. Asking whether his paintings convey a message, he tells me, “I want to get out of the way,” yet after some discussion he reluctantly admits he somehow allows something of his nature to get into his artwork. His principal aim is for viewers to experience something deeper on their own terms, to bring them into a different state of mind. And, he hopes, perhaps his cityscapes can even provoke some probing questions, such as what it means to be a human in a society filled with stress, uncertainty, and existential angst.
These cityscapes mesmerize me. The weak mysterious light, the palpable humidity, the atmospheric reflections, and that intense sense of solitude; they pull me in and remind me of similar scenes in different times and places. While I feel a powerful melancholy when I see his work, I also find it breathtakingly beautiful. There’s raw emotion in there, right beneath the surface of the visual — no, I don’t believe Goldenberg “got out of the way” at all. He’s the archetypical introvert, a deep thinker, a blunt realist, mourning the unfulfilled promises of human potential on earth. Paradoxically, his paintings also seem to convey a vague sense of hope, or perhaps it’s an indefinable expectation, and they somehow also express serenity and calm — Daniel Goldenberg’s exquisite cityscapes offer a little moment of Zen in this crazy world of ours.
Daniel Goldenberg offers Color Theory as well as Art Instruction — small groups, individual lessons, and mentoring — in his large studio in Copenhagen.
Read Goldenberg’s interesting essay What is Art?