An Interview with Danatoon!
By Beccah McLoughlin
Dana Owens, aka Danatoon, is a local Albany, NY artist with talent and creativity pouring out of every crack and crevice. And his messages and ambitions are the polar opposite of boring. I was able to meet with him in his Lark Street studio, The Machine, this past week for an interview. And here it is...
Beccah: Besides an artist, what do you consider yourself? Do you think you have a purpose?
Dana: To create and organize.
Beccah: So when you are creating, do you have in mind what you want to do? Do you plan ahead or sketch things out?
Dana: Sometimes, sometimes I kind of just improvise; the creating process for me... I'll start, I'll give myself a problem and try to work from that. So, for example, I start a lot with squiggles and then I kind of work off of that. A lot of these paintings were started with simple strokes. But it depends on what the project is. I also play music, so it's a lot like jammin' where you just kind of see where it takes you.
Beccah: Do you ever go back into your old stuff and edit them or once it's done it's done?
Dana: There have been several occasions where I'll go barreling through some old stuff and find something and I'm like "oh, yea, I could fix this up." Sometimes you gotta know when to stop or else you can overwork shit.
Beccah: Yea, I know how that goes. Do you have a favorite medium or style?
Dana: I'm a cartoonist by nature, so just by being a cartoonist I think that kind of has a humorous connotation with it, so a lot of my work just always has humor in it.
Beccah: Do you think you work, the ones with "squiggles" are telling a story?
Dana: No, not really. It's just fun to look at. You asked me what one of my favorite purposes was, to create fun environments and fun experiences for people. So the work that I do, I want it to be visually appealing but also have somebody just look at it and smile, which also goes along with being a cartoonist.
Beccah: Do you have a favorite piece?
Dana: Yea, I love them all.
Beccah: Good answer! Do you ever do something and you hate it, and then you go back and think it's great?
Dana: I'm very impatient; if something doesn't strike me as interesting initially, I kind of just lose interest. But I'm also learning that you have to work through issues. Art is very parallel to life. You have to work through those issues, figure out how to make it work.
Beccah: How long does a piece usually take you? Do you work on one at a time or go back and forth?
Dana: It's very hard to me to focus so I'm most likely working on a bunch of different shit. But they vary in time, it doesn't have to take a lot of time.
Beccah: Is art your career? What do you think a dream job as an artist would be for you?
Dana: Oh, I'm living the dream! That's what's great about Albany; you get in with the right group of people and you can get pretty far and you never know where that can lead to.
Beccah: Do you have any major influences?
Dana: The Far Side. An old comic strip from the late 80's-early 90's.
Beccah: So you like to caption your stuff. You get requests for drawings?
Dana: Yea, well I leave the ideas up to the fans because it's such a fun city. Everyone loves the city so they should be entitled to submit ideas. And what's cool, I give everyone credit, the people who submit the ideas-it's only fair.
Beccah: Do you ever do work at local festivals, like Tulip Fest?
Dana: Yea, actually we're planning a big fashion show after Tulip Fest. Were trying to capitalize the walking traffic. After Tulip Fest everyone heads to Lark street. We're trying to gain exposure, spread the word; word travels fast in a small city. So were lucky about that. We have big plans-more than Albany and Lark street. People in NYC all say "oh, Albany is so corrupt," but that's the politics-that's not the people that live here, ya know? And it sucks and I wanna change that. There's so many cities like Albany, more than like Manhattan and that's what I want to attract.
*We started looking at some of the shows that he had done in the past. One at the Daily Grind where he invited a local beat-boxer and a local rapper to perform. He borrowed lights from a friend and was able to showcase his work along with a free-style performance.
Beccah: Do you think stuff like that brings more attention to your art? Could it take away from it?
Dana: Not at all. The cool thing about art is that whether or not they're diggin' it or kind of turned off by it, it will still affect them somehow. And everyone that was at that show will tell somebody what they saw. That is how you become a famous artist. By wowing the crowd.
Beccah: Do you ever feel like you need to limit what you do in your art for the audiences sake?
Dana: No, not at all. The way I see it, the more avenues you travel, the more possibilities you have in the long run. It's all potential business. It's all about what you want out of it.
Beccah: And that seems to be working for you!
Dana: The only thing I regret is not spending enough time in one particular space. I kind of float around. But I'm starting to learn how to do it.
Beccah: So you're always learning? Do you think there will ever be a point where you've reached a plateau?
Dana: I hope not! I don't know what I would do if I couldn't create. I'd figure out a way. There will never be a plateau.
Beccah: Do you ever collaborate with other artists?
Dana: Sometimes, I mean not so much with work itself. Like this place (The Machine), I consider a giant collaboration. I've never really tried actually.
Beccah: How do you think that would work out?
Dana: Well artists are very controlling. I control what I want my painting to look like. But then again, it could be like a jam session. But it'd be interesting to try.
Beccah: Do you ever keep the doors open to the public so people can watch you work?
Dana: Yea, that's the whole concept of this place. Essentially, galleries always show the end product of a creative process. But at the Machine we want people to see the creative process in action. Ever watch the show "How It's Made?" It's like the most fascinating thing. And it's like "oh, this is how toothpicks are made," like, I didn't know how toothpicks were made but I'm fuckin' fascinated! It was cool to watch-that's the concept.
Beccah: Are you open to suggestions? Do you get offended by any of it?
Dana: I'll hear 'em out. They'll be like "you should put this hear! Put a dog there!" I'm like "no. Thank you, I appreciate your input." But no, not at all. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. If somebody doesn't like my work, I say "don't look at it. Close your eyes." But I've been very lucky. People love my shit. People like me as a character. They like what I produce and I enjoy doing it. I love doing it. That's what I'm here for. To entertain.