On my way to interview Precious Child some weeks back, I met Daniel Crook… it was a happy accident. Daniel is a young musician and painter based in Los Angeles. Our first discussion was about his paintings, the process behind each piece and how to question masculinity in a society that is led by toxic ideas on that very subject. We resumed the discussion later and broadened the topic to include gender and other social constructs. As a side note, his look probably inspired a favorite American Horror Story character, Liz Taylor. You definitely want to check out his Facebook page for pics.
Daniel, you are a musician and a painter, how does that work?
Well, at the moment I’m attempting to maintain a balance between two “over the counter” jobs and my careers as a painter and musician. There isn’t much time left for friends or family for now but I’m hoping to figure that out sometime this year.
And how did you start to paint?
From a very young age, I’ve been encouraged in the arts, first by my family and later by my peers. My father was a graphic artist who designed and built muscle cars and rice rockets. When it came to his toys, he would do it all, conceptualize, rationalize, design, build and even do custom paintwork. My mother and grandmother bought me supplies for every birthday and Christmas. Growing up an hour away from town, I spent many hours of my life at the desk copying the figures in comic books and graphic novels, albeit, terribly. This particular series began around seven years ago.
Yes, tell us about this series.
Realizing that I never quite felt a belonging in this world due to my sexual identity, I began asking questions, as most young queers do, surrounding the hetero-normative narrative that seemingly encompassed the world at large. After years of self-study and some time spent in junior colleges, I began unlocking a history that didn’t make sense to the world we lived in. We seemingly existed in this amnesiac state when it came to our own identities. Our history of global queerdom and sexual fluidity had been erased and made hard to find. I wanted to know more about what had informed this modern narrative surrounding what I call ‘the cult of masculinity’. Who better to ask than people who belonged to that tribe? I began asking hetero-identifying men to stand for me while I talked with them about the foundations of their identity. This process engages the model in an environment that they’re unfamiliar with. They have to stand and be observed for hours by another man, one that they have been taught to believe is a direct threat to their social and sexual reputation. The conditions alone seem to remove some of their cognitive bias, allowing them to speak more freely than they traditionally may with their peers.
Do you feel your subjects benefit from these sessions, and do you feel a change in your own approach to masculinity?
I’ve seen many men kind of breathe into the experience and experience a great deal of relief thereafter. I’ve also seen a very small handful of men experience this almost desperate return to their illusion. You know, when trying to pick apart the framework of a person, you have to consider how ready or brave they are. I’m asking people to look in the mirror at someone they may not recognize. This can be either liberating or terrifying, depending on their history.
In reference to my views, I’ve gone from viewing modern masculine training as a sickness to seeing it at as an intelligent system. Between historical references and my actual conversations over the years, I’ve noticed some patterns that lead me to believe that the cult of masculinity may actually belong to a quite old military-industrial complex.
Why exposing nudity in your work?
Well, the nudity is actually less about the viewer than it is the subject. These paintings are an end result of something that I feel is greater on purpose. Do we see enough nudity as it is? Yes, but only through a very narrow lens. Often, nudity is used to either turn us on or to objectify the subject. Classical works by many of the masters seem to show the damsel in distress or the woman presenting herself for you, the viewer. She is rarely a force, much less a person. Nudity in our modern age is used as a way to sell something whether it be a film, a book or a body spray; we seemingly only see the body as a means to an end. I’m hoping to kind of shift that focuses by removing most of the identifying features of the individuals standing for me. By removing those identifying features, one is forced to look only at what society considers “the weapon”: the male genitalia, in stark contrast and in high focus. The torso, the vestibule of the organs whose functions we are totally unaware of, with the exception of the genitals, is avoided by the eye. You first see these brightly colored dicks and, while they shouldn’t have this effect, you are a bit shocked, maybe they even bring out a little laughter even. I want people to have to spend some time asking themselves about these people without the aid of their attraction Level.
How about your use of colors and shapes?
The colors and shapes are representative of my own viewpoint. I see heterosexual and often homosexual men as these piles of rocks, haphazardly thrown on top of one another by society at large. If one stone is removed, the pile comes crashing down. This comes from my experiences growing up in a small, conservative town in which I spent most of my formative sexual years sleeping with men who did not identify as queer or gay. Most of these men were reputable heterosexuals whose very lives as they’d known them would be dismantled if anyone found out. I was able to be an earthquake. Ever since childhood, I have been attempting how to be both the earthquake as well as the person sifting through the wreckage and aiding in its rebuilding.
You engage in a dialogue about gender with your art, what do you think gender is, and what way forward do you see in society to ease the pains around that matter?
Wow, well, I don’t think we have really come to understand gender yet. I know that I haven’t. One day I feel more feminine, the next I feel more masculine. My own journey with gender may be never ending but that’s just me. I know many trans individuals whose experiences differ greatly and, in my own opinion, no one gets to tell you what you are. We need to stop second-guessing or interrogating people about their gender. If a woman does not present or have the genitals that you think a woman should have, A. That’s really none of your business and B. You don’t get to tell them how to feel or experience themselves. Moving forward, we need to stop interrupting one another. We need to be a generation of listeners, lovers and supporters.
Besides gender, do you feel people suffer from other sorts of smothering molds?
Absolutely, within a capitalist society we are informed and programmed even before we can speak to believe a great many things about ourselves. Very little room is given to us to develop ourselves free of the institutions that directly profit off of us. The ways in which we are narrowed are vast. I use sexuality as a platform because it is one of our most basic foundations. It is a foundation that is largely used against us in the “free market” and it is one in which we very much define ourselves. It informs our clothing, what businesses we frequent, what scents we buy, what cities we live in etc.
How do you deal with your own molds?
I have a slew of panic-related disorders stemming from my childhood that began quite young. I’ve been dealing with what I consider to be a misfire that uses fear as both a trigger and a weapon. After choosing to end medication, I began building little systems in my life that would put me into what my brain would see as scary situations repetitiously. I found that if I subjected myself to those situations over and over and over again, eventually I could retrain what I call my ‘reward center’ and the attacks would stop happening. I try to apply this to my life in general. I challenge myself as often as I can whether it’s walking through a loud environment that overwhelms me or putting myself in a new sexual situation that scares me.
What future do you see for your career as painter or musician, and any specific plans for the rest of 2018?
While I daydream often about my little home in Europe, the house I buy for my mother or the travel that could inform my future work, I don’t really have a solid idea of my future. As with the work I’ve described here, I try not to answer myself too often. I try to just remain curious, to see where I end up naturally, without the stress of control.
I am exhibiting a selection of these works for one night on June 1st at Gallery One One Six Two in Echo Park before beginning a large-scale commission for the Four Seasons Hotel in Calistoga California to be installed later this summer.
More about Daniel Crook HERE.