Dan Lam On Mastering the Art of the Drip

The Dallas-based artist attracted hundreds of thousands of followers—and celebrity collectors—when her signature drippy, trippy sculptures went viral.

A blue plinth covered in bulbous, drippy sculptures in unnatural neon colors
An installation view of “Guttation” at Hashimoto Contemporary. Courtesy Hashimoto Contemporary

If anyone has mastered the art of the drip, it is artist Dan Lam. Her organic yet otherworldly sculptures have gone viral, attracting hundreds of thousands of new followers on social media and new opportunities. Lam is the first woman sculptor to show at Wynwood Walls, and she recently did a backpack collab with Sprayground.

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Now she has a solo show at New York’s Hashimoto Contemporary called “Guttation,” which features forty new artworks with her trademark glossy, gradient drips covered in what looks to be, at first glance, something like morning dew.

The name of the exhibition comes from biology. Cue Bill Nye: guttation is a natural process where plants push out their excess water via pores, leaving buds of water droplets around their petals or leaves. The result is a beautiful, beaded pattern.

“I was inspired by nature and organic processes, and I wanted my pieces to reflect this while still keeping to my style of drippy sculptures, but with a new take,” Lam told Observer.

A woman stands next to a bulbous, drippy sculpture in unnatural neon colors
Dan Lam at the “Guttation” opening. Courtesy Hashimoto Contemporary

Lam was born in Vietnam in 1988 and moved to the U.S. during her formative years. She graduated with a painting degree from the University of North Texas and then completed a master’s program at Arizona State University in 2014. It wasn’t until 2016 that Lam’s work took off when she started posting behind-the-scenes studio videos (like pouring paint on sculptures) on Instagram, which propelled her to virality.

Lam has since become an artist known for making what we understand to be internet-savvy pop art—it has a digital feel but is very textured and very real. She uses polyurethane, resin, paint and polymers to create sculptures so dream-like they make you question if they might actually be computer renderings. They’re not.

Her pieces have, in recent years, become more fluorescent and have more character, making it even more ironic that her work is rooted in nature. She installed a huge, globulous rainbow wall at the Meow Wolf art center in Grapevine, Texas, created a larger-than-life Squish installation at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and has exhibited everywhere from Boston to Stockholm to London. Lam’s sculpture is collected by Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus and 2 Chainz.

Lam spoke with Observer from her Dallas studio about her new show, going viral on Instagram and what it’s like working with celebrities.

What does the word guttation mean to you?

It’s a natural biological process that plants go through where they’re shedding excess water. I saw pictures of it online, and I was drawn to it. I also noticed it in my house plants. At first, I thought it was bad, like I was over-watering my plants. But if the plant has a healthy root system, guttation is a good sign. It’s just getting rid of water in a healthy way. I love the idea of shedding excess. There’s a metaphor there, like processes we go through. And I’m trying new techniques and materials that are closely linked to the process of guttation.

Are there any nature or reservation areas in Dallas that you go to for inspiration?

There are small gems—one is an urban forest that’s typically unknown to locals: The Great Trinity Forest, which is dense and marshy. Sometimes when you live in a city, you are more aware of small pieces of nature. I bike and rollerblade around, and I’ve seen trees sap up in a way similar to guttation.

A bulbous, drippy sculpture in unnatural neon colors
Detail of ‘Transpire’. Courtesy Hashimoto Contemporary

Do you feel there’s an environmental message in your work?

The natural world is my biggest visual influence. I use a lot of inorganic materials. There is a message there, something you can read into. I see the materials I use as a “timestamp of the now.” It’s what’s currently happening—fifty years ago, these materials didn’t exist. Using technology-laden materials to create something seemingly organic, which references nature, means there is a conversation going on between the natural and unnatural worlds.

Do people assume your work is digital?

Early on, when I would post my work online, people would think they were just digital renderings. In 2016, my following grew. I had my first solo show, post-grad school. When I started posting more process videos, that’s when people became more aware they were actual sculptures. The way Instagram works with changing algorithms, a lot of the audience came from outside the art bubble.

How did you grow your following?

It was organic, with follower growth coming from my process videos going viral. Art accounts would repost the work, which helped for a long time. It also fell into the “oddly satisfying” category. I got a lot of reposts.

A bulbous, drippy sculpture in unnatural neon colors
‘Pore’ at at Hashimoto Contemporary. Courtesy Hashimoto Contemporary

What are your thoughts around gradients?

For me, personally, I love gradients because they’re a shift. Things are moving. It implies movement. That complements the shapes. I grew up in the 1990s, and I was super influenced by Lisa Frank. It’s my own nostalgia, in my own way. You accrue all this life experience, and it filters out of you, sometimes in ways we can’t see. Lisa Frank totally influenced my color palette.

How do you stop people from touching your art? It’s so touch-worthy.

I did a large-scale, fifteen-foot rainbow wall at Meow Wolf in Grapevine, Texas. When you’re in art school, you are told “make art for yourself.” And you absolutely should; your work doesn’t have to be seen. But once I put my work out there, there’s a dialogue with the viewer. So much of that dialog was people touching it. I like that my artwork inspires people to touch it. But in the art world, it’s a given you can’t touch the art. It made me consider the question: “How can you make artwork that is touchable?” I’m totally open to more large-scale pieces and want to make a piece of architecture or a building.

A bulbous, drippy sculpture in unnatural neon colors
‘Tensile’ at Hashimoto Contemporary. Courtesy Hashimoto Contemporary

Have you had any conversations about your work with celebs who’ve bought it?

I worked with Miley Cyrus, who bought a new home and was working with an interior designer who picked out pieces that worked for her home. I love the aesthetic overlap of her music, design aesthetic and style, and how my work spoke to her. The same with Demi Lovato, who did a home tour with Architectural Digest, and showed off her “shroom room”—a trippy room with a few of my pieces. It’s great to see how my work is placed within a certain vision and aesthetic—where our aesthetics meet.

What advice do you have for artists who look to you as a template for success?

The best advice I can offer is for one, just focus on the work. Everything else (like social media) is secondary. If you have the work, you have the content for the internet. Sometimes it can get mixed up, and the work is secondary, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re trying to be an artist, the work should always come first. The second piece of advice is just to take care of yourself. Take care of your mind and body so you can provide the good groundwork for your best creative self.

Dan Lam On Mastering the Art of the Drip