Dave Link is like Beethoven, but instead of just hearing the silences and the notes, he sees space and objects. And sometimes a fourth dimension. Sun through black window blinds stripes the showroom portion of his 1957 Costa Mesa house, where tables he's built and pictures he's framed are painstakingly displayed, punctuated by white walls and gray carpet. Link is also very careful to learn how an interview works—what's off the record and what's not—and then he speaks warily, careful of his words. He asks if the Weekly really needs his first name, whether potential customers can just use his e-mail address at the story's end.
"I don't have a bad past," he said. "My name used to be on the Classmates website, but I took it off. I almost want to be a ghost." Link is clearly hiding himself. Why he'd want to disappear is more complicated, when his matting and framing skills are top-drawer, when he's just launched a second career making small tables—when you've probably never heard of him anyway.
If you know Link at all, you know the last name from his older brother B. Otis Link, whose serial-killer playing cards were a hot item in the lowbrow art world a few years ago, or maybe you know him as chief framer to such lowbrow artists as Shag, Mark Ryden and Glenn Barr. But Link, 37, is overdue for his 15 minutes.
He has a surgeon's skill at matting, a vocation usually encompassed by making little rectangles out of big ones: four cuts and out. Link makes templates on computer before he cuts, and he does double and triple layers, framing around weirdly shaped artwork to make the borders pop, using unusually patterned frames and cutting thematic objects into the mat. For a Shag print of drunken Shriners, Link cut tiny fezzes into the mat. For a print of a hipster chick in a room with striped walls, he color-matched the stripes. He's genuinely disappointed when the colors clash in low light, and he says with a hint of sadness that he wishes the business had become more than framing someone else's work.
Yet if it had, he might not have become an artist in his own right: making singularly shaped side tables and coffee tables from solid mahogany; laminating them in exotic veneers of bloodwood, mahogany and walnut; and, on some, creating a trompe l'oeil stair-step effect from shape. That's his new gig. This, he thinks—sawing, sanding, clamping and gluing into the night—this might last.
"What I'm trying to do is to step it up, do something that'll outlive me," he said. And to challenge our eyes, which are jaded like his own. "I'm burned out on the way things look, the whole perspective issue. I think when I see shows about life on other planets like Mars, I'm always dissatisfied" because it always looks the same.
If Link's tables don't resemble flattened staircases, they flit off into the dark recesses of a biology lab somewhere. His most ambitious to date is "Lost in Transition"—a missing evolutionary link shaped like an insect. Its middle is a cocoon; one side is a bat wing with contrasting inlays and bone-shaped legs; the other is a butterfly wing supported by antennae. Shown recently at M Modern Gallery in Palm Springs, it wasn't for sale; its maker doesn't compromise.
"Not to make a million bucks, to have a ménage à trois or to bang a supermodel, but to see something for more than it is. That's what I'm after," he said. "Walt Disney would force perspective. I'm trying to override perspective." And surpass expectations.