Artist of the Week: Danny Cole
It’s not often that you get the opportunity to speak with a prodigy. But if you ever do, you’ll know.
Danny Cole is an 18-year-old up-and-coming artist, and we’ve been watching his star on the rise. Fresh off of his artwork debut at an event series at MoMA PS1, Cole is a focused creative whose visual artwork has been compared to minimalistic icons like Keith Haring and the like. Primarily using paint and canvas as his medium to show the world the visions he has in his head, his artwork features line-drawn characters and bold colors. Despite his young age, Cole’s wisdom stems from a powerful sense of self-awareness and a steadfast loyalty to his personal truth—both of which are themes that he aims to communicate through his art. A high school senior who’s busy balancing his homework assignments and newfound creative endeavors, Cole is undoubtedly an artist to keep your eye on before he blows up. And with artists and brands like Portugal. The Man and VFILES knocking down his door, we’re not so sure for how much longer he’ll be maintaining his status as a rookie within the art world. Read on to check out our interview with Cole—from what it’s like to enter this industry at 18 years old to his unique, creative process, Cole gives us a peek into the new perspectives and exciting world that he’s found through art.
While Danny has been creating art since a very young age, it wasn’t until just recently that he was ready to showcase his work to the world.
“I don’t want my art to be looked at as a cool design or a cool picture, but I want people to see my art and see what it actually means to me,” says Danny. “For a long time, I was uncomfortable sharing my artwork, because I didn’t want people to just look at it as an interesting picture, I wanted them to understand it, but I wasn’t ready to share certain aspects of myself. Every time I finished a piece, I didn’t want anyone to see it, so I would destroy my work, for a long, long time. Only a few months ago did I stop doing that, and I know part of me says, ‘God I wish I hadn’t done that! I would have so many pieces!’ And another part of me knows that I really wasn’t fully ready, and I’m still not fully ready. But I really wasn’t ready to share certain parts of myself, and that was necessary.”
When Danny first began to dip his toes into the world of art, he found a financial outlet through printing his work onto clothing. While he’s still on the fence as to what extent his clothing fulfills him on a creative level, his outlook on wearable art and other creative mediums have begun to solidify.
“I actually bought this silkscreen press on Craigslist, and started making screens in my basement from my artwork,” he says. “I screened them onto vintage garments from local thrift warehouses. My clothes didn’t really feel right to me. I haven’t done stuff with clothes that I’m really passionate about. I needed to put some stuff out there and get my name out, and make some money to do what I’m doing now. I made a bunch of t-shirts even though it wasn’t very much true to me. Right now, I am in terms of clothing, feeling much more true to myself, although it won’t be out for a bit. I’m talking to VFILES right now, and I’m really trying to create wearable artwork garments, where you’re almost wearing a painting. I feel uncomfortable leaning towards consumer-type prints, but I do like the response I get to my clothes. Right now, I am primarily focusing on my paintings, but I know that’s not the only medium that I’m going to be doing forever. I’m sure I will be painting for the rest of my life, but I also do make music, and do different types of creative direction. The stuff that I screen is all based off of my artwork, but I feel a sense of discomfort in taking the basis to the designs of my artwork—which are those characters—minimizing their meaning down to how they look, and slapping them onto clothes because people think they look cool. It’s really important to me that the art stays true to it’s meaning.”
The stuff that I screen is all based off of my artwork, but I feel a sense of discomfort in taking the basis to the designs of my artwork—which are those characters—minimizing their meaning down to how they look, and slapping them onto clothes because people think they look cool. It’s really important to me that the art stays true to it’s meaning.
Despite the jovial and youthful appearance of many of his creations, Danny explained that his artwork and his creative process originally stemmed from feelings of isolation and loneliness.
“From a very young age, I’ve always been a very social person,” he says. “I like interacting with other people, and I thrive when I have people to talk to, people that care about me, but I developed this really strong dissociation or a disconnect from the world around me, the people around me. It’s made it so when I’ve had friendships, best friends, relationships, it almost feels like I’m putting on some sort of performance. I just feel like I’m doing what is expected of me, I’m acting in the way that I think people expect to see. I’m not doing that anymore, but I was for the longest time.”
However, once Danny began to recognize and reconcile those feelings of isolation, that’s when his creativity and vision truly began to flourish.
“Once I started leaning into that, I realized there was no one in my life who I really connected with. It led me to think about, is this something I can even do? I realized as of yet, maybe not. I want to say that it’s not forever, but this really was troubling for me. And as a result, I started to cut people out of my life, leave everything behind. The idea that everything I was doing was so meaningless with this lack of connection, it just pushed me entirely away from wanting to interact if I thought they were meaningless. I don’t want to say that my artwork is something I created, but it’s more something I found inside my head. It feels like something I discovered, but I know it’s something that came from my own creation. This world appeared in my head. It was so, so foreign, and it didn’t feel like an alternate universe, or an alien planet, but it felt like something completely separate that I had never seen before. I felt so comfortable.”
This world appeared in my head. It was so, so foreign, and it didn’t feel like an alternate universe, or an alien planet, but it felt like something completely separate that I had never seen before. I felt so comfortable.
Now, Cole’s artwork not only serves as a medium for him to express his creative vision, but as a medium for human connection as well.
“I’ve really been able to find my voice through painting. As I started spending a lot more time in this world which made me feel so comfortable, I found such a safe place in my own head with no one else around, I didn’t want to do anything else. So I didn’t do anything else, and I completely isolated myself. I took every person out of my life, and spent my time trying to put what was in my head, into something physical that I could see and touch. Ultimately, I do want people to see this, and I’m at this point where I want people to see this. But if people are seeing this, I want them to see it for exactly what it is to me. My hope is that somebody might see it, and really understand the place it comes from and understand what this means to me. I think even if it’s not personally with me, it’s just a connection with my work, it’s still a real human connection,” says Cole.
However, those feelings of isolation haven’t completely gone away either.
“This has all been very fresh for me, having my work out there, talking about these feelings, and putting them into words. It’s something that I’m still struggling with,” says Cole. “I’m definitely meeting more people through this, that have similar interests to me and act in a similar way, and who I really enjoy being around. But to say that all of a sudden, I’m really feeling that I’m connecting with people around me and feeling safe and comfortable — no I can’t say that [laughs].”
“I don’t want to push away certain feelings just because they make me feel uncomfortable, I just want to be so true to myself. In the act of creating, I have been able to learn so much about myself, and I’m continuing to. But the most important thing for me is for everything to be natural and truthful.”
When asked about his creative influences and how his work (and himself) are often compared to Keith Haring, Danny found the notion both humorous and humbling.
“This is so funny because people have been saying that to me recently, and I’ve just been trying to push it away,” he says. “Not all minimalistic art is the same. I actually know nothing about art, and I can not stress that enough. I learned who Basquiat was last week. I know so few artists. I still have such an appreciation for art, and I love seeing other people’s art, and internalizing my own interpretations of them, trying to get a window into their art the way that I wish people would do with my art.”
I still have such an appreciation for art, and I love seeing other people’s art, and internalizing my own interpretations of them, trying to get a window into their art the way that I wish people would do with my art.
And at the ripe young age of 18 years old, it’s impossible to say what the future will hold for Danny, or how his artwork might change as he gets older. As of now, he’s facing a crucial crossroads—college or his creative work, but Cole prefers to take things one step at a time.
“The fact that my artwork is so much a reflection of myself, I think that will always be a constant. I know that will always be a constant. If I change as a person, I’m sure that will be reflected in my work,” says Cole. “I’m definitely in an early part of my life, but at the same time, I have had so many growth experiences that have brought me to the point of where I am now. I finally am at the point where I really have been discovering who I am, and have a pretty good idea of who I am as a person and as an artist. I believe that you’ll always be able to look at my art, and think, “nobody could have made this except for Cole.”
Images courtesy of Ant Soulo
Stay tuned to Milk for more up-and-coming artists to watch.