Q&A With Genius Goofball Polymath Danny Sangra

by Kylie Obermeier

A conversation with the artist/photographer/filmmaker ahead of his new show, 'Yeah Sure, Real Mature', opening in L.A. tomorrow at Alldayeveryday space

When Danny Sangra was a kid, he would regularly get in trouble for scrawling eye patches and off-kilter Sonic the Hedgehogs in the beauty magazines at his parent’s hair salons. Today, Sangra is an artist renowned for his DIY aesthetic and multi-disciplinary range—illustration, photography, writing and film—but he still loves scribbling over magazine pages.

The artist’s latest exhibit ‘Yeah Sure, Real Mature,’ will grace the walls of Downtown space Alldayeveryday from June 1 to 4. Sangra’s work may now garner the title of appropriative mass-media collage, but at heart, it’s imbued with the same mischief that got Sangra in trouble at the salon. He frequently reworks images from vintage porno magazines with cartoon-y doodles that both poke fun and intrigue: an image of a woman is altered with the phrase “so wet” in squishy, dripping letters, but the skeezy humor is contrasted with something giving pause to the laughter drawn in delicate cursive just above: “left to dance Alone.”

Sangra work is inspired by his travels to places like California and Paris and this collection is no different, representing a four-year span of the artist “soaking up ideas” on the road. The hyperactive drawings feel like a peak into the artist’s whirlwind consciousness without any explanation, but that’s just all the more invitation for viewers to soak up an idea or two and recontextualize it like the master himself.

We spoke to Sangra about working in different mediums, his travels and the value of humor:

There’s a certain subversive streak in your commercial work that sets it apart from normal advertising. Do you ever struggle to reconcile your penchant for subversion with the needs of a brand? Do you ever face resistance as you set out to execute your ideas?

Most of the time brands come to me because they like my approach. I think they know what they are getting into if they work with me. However there's obviously certain ideas I can't run wild with. I've worked with brands for so many years I've found we always strike a good balance of what I'm happy with and what they are happy with. Ultimately ideas are restricted too much, both parties will be unhappy with the result.

Is there anyone or anything in particular that you would credit for the formation of your distinct visual identity? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition of filmmakers or visual artists?

I'd say William Klein would be the one that has become the biggest influence. Not necessarily visually but he started as a painter then went into photography and film. He had his own style and approach. I've never really thought about what I'm part of. I love making films the most but creating images seems to natural to me. I would say that I bring my approach to making art into my film making. I never went to film school so I've always felt like I was just finding new ways to explore ideas Do you have a method for keeping track of ideas, or for facilitating creativity?

When and where do you find yourself to be most creative?

I write more than anything else these days. I constantly write notes. Words, conversations etc. Those tend to ignite a project. I'll hear a phrase and then I'll either think of a film I can make with it or how it could become a series of images. I tend to have a few months of bursts of work. Then I'll spend a couple of months quiet. I'll travel around and soak up ideas. Then it's starts all over again. Travel or boredom usually inspires most of my creativity. Taking a look through your Instagram, you spend a lot of time traveling.

Any recent experiences or settings that you found particularly inspiring?

I've been spending more and more time in California. It's definitely inspired me more over the past few years. I think it's the light in California and what it does to the colours. I spend a lot of time in Paris and it's the place I can always reset my attitude. If I've gone off track, Paris reminds me of the mindset I should be in when creating new work. Aside from the places I visit, it's the people I meet. I'll always end up meeting someone I want to make a film with.

How did your development as a creative producer unfold? Did you start with visual art and then move to film? Why do you think you have gravitated toward the mediums you work in?

I studied graphic design at St Martins. It's a college that's known for having an open approach to solving creative problems. Growing up I think my dad thought I'd do photography or film but it was an expensive field. So I gravitated to visual arts more. Then I spent 10 years as a freelance artist/designer before I stepped into film. Film started when I got bored of commercial illustration and film making became more accessible. Film making allows me to create my own stories and see the character come to life. It also fulfills my desire to create cinematic images. Drawing for me now has become far more personal. I can run riot and talk in a stream of consciousness. It's very freeing and I think it enables me to expand across other mediums.

When do you know if an idea will lend itself to a film vs. visual art piece or other?

It's instant for me. I immediately know but I could tell you how exactly. Maybe for film I'm reactive to something I consider a scene, a place that a story can unfold. Then I start thinking of characters and what they would do etc For drawing it's more physical. I see something I can draw on or take apart or manipulate to convey an idea. I wish I had a better explanation!

What is the value of a sense of humor in the art world?

I think you need humour across the board in general. Humour allows for more interaction. It seeks to unify rather than segregate (most of the time). I have a difficult time when I see people taking art too seriously. Art shouldn't be elitist it should inspire. Humour is just another tool to create a response. I tend to use humour as a cloaking device.

What’s your biggest vice?

Wow that came out the blue. I don't think I have anything I would consider a vice. If I did, there's no way I'd tell you....y'know, IF I had a vice.

How did you find the process of moving from shorts to your first full feature for “Goldbricks In Bloom”?

Goldbricks In Bloom was an easy transition in creating the story.  I describe Goldbricks as something like if you were to super glue all my short films together, you'd get Goldbricks. However feature films are a different beast when you are making them. There's nothing quick and easy about that process. Especially if it's a super low budget (which mine was). When I make a short film, it's finished and put out quickly. Goldbricks was completed 2 years before it was released. I chose not to play the festival game and went a different route. Most features never get to see the light of day. Making Goldbricks made me realize that anyone who makes a feature length film deserves credit. It's just so difficult to make low budget features. Everyone works crazy hours, it's physically demanding and it grinds your energy BUT it becomes the thing you are most proud of. We made Goldbricks In 12 days with 8 crew members and a bunch of locations. Anyone that worked on it all came out thinking 'If I can do that, everything else is easy'.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I want to be able make the things I want to make. To continue laughing on set and meeting people that want to be part of my projects. I never want to stop moving forward.

Written by Kylie Obermeier
Interviewed by Sid Feddema