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Drawings and Text In and Out of Context

The Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung once wrote that “loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.”

The artist Daniel Green is a man of very few words, but he has found his voice through his artwork. His drawings represent a continual flow of conversation, communicating the unique and extraordinary way he sees and hears the world.

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Daniel is fascinated with popular culture. Contemporary characters, including athletes, politicians, and musicians, figure prominently in his work. Outlined in ink and filled in with marker or colored pencil, Martin Luther King Jr., Madonna, Groucho Marx, Elton John, and Hillary Clinton are among the many figures he represents. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they line up in rows, and other times they stand in isolation. Stiffly rendered, the subjects do not often interact with one another. They all stand, squat, or lie on a bare background, removed from environments where we are accustomed to seeing them. There are no objects, buildings, animals, or landscapes to indicate a specific space or time. Our eyes are forced to focus on their expressive faces and bodies.

Drawing on new or reclaimed wood, Daniel surrounds his characters with rows and columns of frenetic text—soundbites from his everyday life. Sometimes underlined or written in a different color, phrases such as “I love Gilles,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” or “Earthquake Thunder” are interspersed with references to television shows, video games, movies, TV channels, times, and dates. The price of the “Ultimate Cheesecake $1.99” or the “Ultimate Ice Cream $2.99” are listed next to names and numbers. These disjointed textual references remind us of our modern world, constantly interrupted by imagery, sound, and text. Daniel’s work manages to capture and contain this cacophony.

But not all of Daniel’s text alludes to popular culture. Some words and sentences have a more personal meaning. In almost every piece, Daniel brings himself or his loved ones into focus, by referencing a family member’s birthday, the year he was born (1985), or a favorite teacher’s name. Reminders such as “Be Yourself,” “Hold up, Hang on,” “Pay Cable TV,” or “Sunday Closed” get mixed in. Green consistently mentions the streets, landmarks, and athletes of his hometown, San Francisco. Traditional Samoan garments and musical references are included from time to time—a reference to his family heritage. In the chatter of everyday distractions, he catalogues and archives, making an effort not to forget the things most important to him.

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When Daniel was a teenager, his special education teacher at Mission High School realized his artistic sensibility and brought him to Creativity Explored, an art studio in San Francisco’s Mission District for adults with developmental disabilities. The environment was ideal for Daniel—it encourages individuals to express themselves through their art when other modes of communication are less readily available. Daniel was given access to high-quality art materials, studio space, and the possibility of one day exhibiting and selling his work.

In 2008, after graduating from high school, he joined the studio full time. Independent and driven, he began with a strong point of view and built a unique and cohesive body of work. That distinct voice and aesthetic has remained consistent throughout his artistic career.

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In the nine years he has been at the art studio, Daniel has completed hundreds of drawings with a range of materials, recently trying out paper and cardboard. Some pieces are created on flat surfaces while others span a 3-D object such as a wooden cube or a piece of cement. When at his desk, he focuses intently on his work, bringing each piece to completion before moving on to the next. On his lunch break he often watches videos or listens to music for inspiration.

Daniel’s oeuvre is inarguably contemporary, but he does not try to contextualize it within the greater contemporary art movement. He works in his own world, with his own language, free from the constraints and stresses common to artists who are navigating the art market. Perhaps this is why Daniel’s work feels so fresh and uninhibited. He has the freedom to make and break his own rules.

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In January 2015, Creativity Explored celebrated Daniels’ artistic accomplishments with his first comprehensive solo show. Entitled Days of Our Lives and curated by the studio’s Visual Arts Instructor Eric Larson, the exhibition included 54 unique works made by Daniel over the previous four years. The title, a reference to one of his favorite soap operas, alludes also to the autobiographical nature of his work.

At the opening reception, Larson introduced Daniel’s work and spoke of his process. When it came time to introduce the artist, Larson asked if he would like to say anything, and Daniel responded succinctly with “Street Fighter in San Francisco.” When he was later asked if he wanted to add anything else, he said “Super Street Fighter in San Francisco.” Not being able to speak conventionally about his accomplishments, Daniel summed up his success in his own few words.

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Daniel’s art has been exhibited in many prominent exhibitions both nationally and internationally. His work was featured in Create, the travelling group exhibition curated by Lawrence Rinder and Matthew Higgs, Director of New York’s White Columns, which opened at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 2011. He was also included in This Will Never Work at Southern Exposure in San Francisco, California, and in The Museum of Everything: Exhibition #4 in London, England. In 2012, his work was featured in ArtPadSF at the Phoenix Hotel and in 2013 at Art Market San Francisco. Daniel was a part of Faces at the Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco and Outsider Artists at the Oakland International Airport. In 2014, his work was exhibited at the New Zealand Outsider Art Fair in Auckland.