a chat with daniel jenkins

Daniel Jenkins is a visual artist based out of New Jersey.

Can you remember the first creative endeavor you ever embarked on? What’s your earliest memory with art?

From an early age my parents saw I had some artistic talent, so they always bought me stuff to draw with. By the time I was in elementary school, I had been drawing a lot and was pretty good—well, as good as a six or seven-year-old kid could be. My school had a contest every year where every student would send in a drawing of a duck. Judges would select the top three ducks, and each winner would get art supplies and some other accolades. My older brother who has NO artistic talent ended up placing in the top three ( I think he got 2nd place), and I didn't place at all. I was in the first or second grade and he was in fourth or fifth grade. Even back then, I knew he was not the artistic one so I was not only mad I didn't win, but also mad that the judges thought his work was prize worthy. He ended up getting a whole paint set because his duck won. Either my parents were hyping up my artistic talent for no reason or those judges had no taste. They most likely barely even looked at all the ducks submitted. I know I wouldn't have!

You studied art in school. What was attending the duCret School Of Art like? What do you think was the most beneficial or impactful part of an arts-based education?

I really liked going to an art trade school. I was always bored in high school, so a school that was 100% art classes was perfect for me. I felt like high school was always forcing me to learn what they wanted me to learn, instead of focusing on what I was already interested in or showed a knack for. Ironically, it also made me start focusing on independent learning and entrepreneurship. After enough art history classes, you start plotting on how not to end up like Van Gogh.

You’ve talked openly about a past health scare you had. Can you explain more, for those who might not be aware?

I was always doing art, but my other passion is music. I've played the drums for years, made beats and produced for local artists, and run [my] music website/blog and podcast. I probably would have gone to school for music, but I felt I was better at art. I never learned how to read music and felt I would be so far behind every other student. I say all that to say that I kind of put art on the back burner, and focused on producing beats for local artists and just doing music in general.

Then, my vision started messing up. If I closed one eye and had the opposite eye open, half of my vision would be gone on one side. If I switched and opened the other eye and closed the one that was previously open, half my vision would be gone on the opposite side. I went to the eye doctor and they did a bunch of tests and thought I had glaucoma. I got glasses and wore them for a month and went back take some more tests. Nothing's changed. They did more tests and told me I didn't have glaucoma, but my field of vision was split right down the middle. That usually means something is putting pressure on your optic nerves where they meet at your brain. I had to get an MRI and, sure enough, there was a brain tumor right where my optic nerves meet. Before I knew it was non-cancerous and could be removed, I thought it was about a wrap for my life. I guess it's easy to jump the the worst case scenario when you get news like that. but I just assumed a brain tumor and brain surgery meant there's a good chance it's the end.

The scare pushed you, though. How did it impact your work?

Oh yeah...I brought up all the music stuff to say that it really made me focus on art again! The neurosurgeon said if I hadn't gotten the tumor removed within six months, I would have gone completely blind, and it would have been REALLY hard to do artwork if that happened. Six months is a pretty long time, but they said the tumor most likely was growing for about five years before it got big enough to put enough pressure on my optic nerves and cause visual symptoms. On the MRI, it's dope because your eyes are these big glowing orbs. The tumor is also this big glowing orb about the size of a strawberry. It sat right where the third eye would sit, so when you look at the MRI, it's like looking at a person with three eyes, except the third one is not as symmetrical, and it's definitely not supposed to be there.

After I got out the hospital, I took that as a sign to use my visual talents because if keep them on the back burner, they could very easily be taken away from me. I did a series of portraits with three eyes. The subjects main two eyes would be closed in the piece, and the third eye would be the only eye open. I kind of did that to symbolize a couple of things. The third eye has many meanings in many different contexts, but I mean it as your life's purpose. I chose people for the portraits who I felt followed their purpose (or their third eye) and made an impact in life with it. Having the two main eyes closed was also symbolic to what literally would have happened to me if that tumor stayed. Those portraits are a reminder for me to focus on my purpose. I don't know if we are here for a reason, but there are certain things that some of us are drawn to. If you neglect them in the present, you may not always get an opportunity later to do them.

Those third eye portraits are my personal favorite pieces by you. I’m interested in your choice of featuring celebrities in them. You mentioned how they took their chances and followed their purposes, but was there any other reason?

I think just being a big music fan. It's a covert way to connect with like-minded people. A lot of the people I drew for that series have been dead for fifty years already. The average person doesn't even know who they are, so for the people that do like the pieces, I know we have something in common.

You've also done a series where you did a drawing a day. Was that challenge hard to keep up with? Did you learn anything interesting about yourself through the process?

Yeah, I actually learned a lot about myself from that. Jackson Pollock said something about art being a process of self understanding for the artist. Doing a drawing a day really showed me that. I mostly learned that there's more for me to understand about myself then I thought. Doing a drawing a day eventually lead me to get very abstract. I would either get really bored drawing realistic pieces everyday or I just simply wouldn't have enough time left to do a full piece. It would be, like, ten minutes before midnight so I would have to improvise. All of them are up on my Instagram highlights. If anyone is ever extremely bored and wants to go through 365+ drawings, you can slowly see them go from realistic to very abstract as the days go on! It lead me to my current style, which is the only style on my Instagram now. If Jackson Pollock was right, I now wonder "Why do I see people like this?" I'm trying to understand why this particular style exists within me. It's like a Rorschach inkblot test.

Speaking of Pollock–you’ve stated before that people like him, Willem De Kooning and Mark Rothko, along with the abstract expressionist period in general, have been big inspirations to your current style. What drew you to those artists and movements in particular?

I love their work! I think because I went to such a traditional school, I originally hated their work. Their style seemed like the exact opposite of what I deemed "art." I always used to think if you can make a piece and it can look indistinguishable from reality, then that is the highest form of art. Now, I see art as a way to visually express who you are. Reality is already there; there's no need to show it again. But, if you can filter reality through your senses, personality and experiences and then get that on a canvas, then you have truly done something original. I think all the best artists or creatives in any field do that. They stand out from the pack simply because they found a way to be completely themselves through their art.

When looking at those paintings and movements, I get this sense of a lot of chaos, but also a lot of connection. Do you think those aspects play into your work? What themes do you feel permeate the most for you?

I think the creative mind is very chaotic. It's very ironic too, because the only time that mind slows down is when that mind is doing something creative. I'm also realizing that most non-creative people don't really understand this. I like Van Gogh a lot, and I feel his work is a great balance between chaos and connection. There's this artist Ida Yukimasa who is really great at bridging that gap too. His work is really inspiring. I tried to copy his style, but then ended up painting over the canvas because copying someone else's style just defeats the purpose of creating art as I see it. Plus, I couldn't do it even close to as good as he does!

Your choice to continue featuring people in this new phase of your work is very interesting. What draws you to them?

It may either be a fault or just a lack of models. I'd say it's a fault, because I'm still concerned about people "understanding" the pieces. If they can make out a famous face through all the chaos then they can see I'm working on something of "value." When I deleted all my work that was more traditional, I felt that too, like "Man, people won't know I can actually paint and draw if they only see these." So I'd say it's a fault based on insecurity. Even factoring someone else's arbitrary opinion into my process is a step down. I've got to get over that, to be honest.

I had a professor who would always say "You're taking a shower with your socks on" if we would take his advice on mixing colors for oil paintings, but wouldn't go all the way because we were scared of ruining the painting. This professor studied directly under Norman Rockwell, and he took a few of us under his wing. Even though the work I'm doing now is FAR from the ideas he was teaching us, I can still see I'm sometimes "taking a shower with my socks on."

Do you have any unexpected inspirations, whether in visual art or in other mediums?

I try to find inspiration in anything. There's a documentary called "Dreams Of Sushi" I saw on Netflix that was really inspiring. This Sushi Chef dedicated his life to his craft, and it just follows his journey and thought process. To me, lessons of anyone pursuing one particular thing can be applied to anyone else pursuing a particular thing in another field. There's also a documentary on YouTube about the creators of the video game Cuphead. They started making a video game with no knowledge of the industry or anything; they just had a love for games. I learned a lot from that one too. There's a common link between most stories. I read a lot, and I can see a common theme between The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Fountainhead, The Inner World Of Jimi Hendrix and Steve Jobs' biography. We're all human, so shouldn't there be a lot of links between everyone?

The progression of your work is fascinating. How do you hope to continue growing as an artist? Do you have any future projects on the drawing board?

Thank you! The drawing-a-day series was really just practice for me. A lot of people kept liking them, so I changed my idea on what a "finished piece" was. Just because it's in a sketch book doesn't mean it's not a finished piece. I began posting those, but the original idea was to start putting them on canvas. I want to do them on canvas with the same feel as a Rothko. Those are high ambitions but that's how I see it in my head. I've done a lot of full mixed-media oil, charcoal, and acrylic paintings already in that same style on canvas; I just haven't had the time or capabilities to properly photograph them yet. I'm going to do a lot more, and I plan to make them rather large. The completed ones I have now aren't as big as I would like, but they will do for now.

Aside from visual art, you also do a lot with music. Can you talk a bit about your work in hip hop and past collaborations?

Now I'm gonna just shout out mad people, haha! I started out listening to a lot of golden era hip-hop like Public Enemy, Slick Rick, and De La Soul. I listened to the songs they sampled and then I got into making beats. I eventually produced for Dres of Black Sheep and Jarobi from A Tribe Called Quest's debut collaborative album. We did three songs; only one made the album and another was a one-off single. But the people I'm constantly doing music with and also inspired by are Aime, Jay Gatsby, Martin X, LKHD and madebyXXII. They're all really dope and making moves. I did a full album with Sahu, an artist out of Newark, New Jersey. He's like a mystery man; he does it all from mixing and mastering to shooting and editing music videos. Life is strange though. Right around the time we finished doing a full album, we both had major events happen in life (me with the brain tumor, him losing his place and his recording studio). We did complete the album, so I plan on doing something with it still.

How do you feel that experience of making music ties into your artwork? Do you ever feel that certain aspects intersect during the process?

I definitely feel they come from the same place. Doing either calms down the chaotic, creative mind. Most creative people usually dabble in some other avenue of the arts a little bit sometime in their life. It all comes from the need to create. I do wonder where [that need] comes from.

Do you listen to music as you work? Who are some of your favorite artists?

Yes, all the time! I listen to everything pretty much (so much so I started a music site and a podcast). Some of my favorites, in no particular order: The Doors, Slick Rick, John Coltrane, Carlos Santana, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, Jay Electronica, Slipknot, Nine Inch Nails, A Tribe Called Quest, XXXTENTACION, Bad Brains, Miles Davis, System Of A Down, Travis Scott, The Roots, and Nirvana. There's so many, but those are some of the ones who stick out right off the top of my head.

What do you think is the best piece of advice you’ve received about making art?

Face to face advice? I went to Alonzo Adams' studio and got to see a lot of his works in progress. I showed him my work and he pretty much just said to "keep practicing," but just seeing his work and being in his studio was inspiring enough. I met TMNK (The Me Nobody Knows) randomly at an old job I had and showed him my work. He said I "have the skill, now just get known!"That was good to hear from somebody like that. He was showing me pictures of him at galleries overseas hanging out with Kanye West. It made me think it was possible to succeed. He left the corporate world to pursue art way later in his life and made a big impact. He's since passed away, but he followed his life's purpose. That's enough advice right there.

Are there any local artists that you know that we should be paying attention to?

Definitely all the music artists I named. Those are just the ones I personally know and work with, but from doing the podcast, I know a lot more who are really talented too. I forgot to mention The Khan Artist before. He's another dual creative; he raps and he's also a really talented illustrator.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Click the link in my IG bio and buy a print or a t-shirt! All proceeds go toward The Center For Research Into The Heebie Jeebies!

Catch up with Daniel here and here.

Words by Carly.