By: Genevieve Carlson 

Before The Canvas came to Williamsburg, it was a warehouse sitting vacant on Bedford Avenue. A young artist named Danny Cole had recently moved to the area, and in his comings and goings, noticed that the warehouse always seemed to be closed. In particular, the big, blank garage door out front called his attention. “Every time I walked past it,” he recalls, “I felt like it was literally asking me to go out in the middle of the night and turn the whole thing into a big mural.”

Soon the temptation of that blank Canvas became too much; he bought paint and got his team together. But before they could go through with it, Danny received an email from Devin Gilmartin, co-founder and President of The Canvas,  regarding that same empty warehouse on Bedford Avenue. It was the space which he was about to turn into the first location of The Canvas, and he wrote to Danny asking for a meeting.

“He’s talking about this space, and days earlier I was plotting to deface the entire garage. I was like, holy shit, if I had not waited this dude would have found out who I was immediately from our mutual friend and probably been upset with me! I emailed him back, ‘Yo, call me ASAP I have something so funny to tell you.’”

In the two years that have passed since then, Danny Cole and the Canvas have collaborated on various projects. At 20 years old, Cole is an accomplished painter and multidisciplinary artist whose work has been covered by Milk Media and Rolling Stone. He has garnered exposure from collaborations with well-known artists including Portugal. The Man, Matt Schulz, and Beck, and he was recently featured in a campaign by Converse. Since moving to New York City, Cole has hosted multiple successful art shows and experiential events, even conducting group experiments on lucid dreaming. Working with questions of individuality and collective experience, Cole’s art depicts an imaginary realm in graphic shapes and vibrant colors. This realm is home to beings that are human-like but not quite, which are referred to simply as creatures.

The aesthetic of Cole’s art is often minimalistic, and the intention behind it is simple: to connect with others. The Creature World represents a space outside of the conventions of society, unlocking a potential for connection with oneself and others that is not always accessible in daily life. Cole says that images of the Creature World came to him in response to feelings of anxiety and dissociation. “Any time I felt that the world around me was too much for me, [...] I could dream of this universe that I felt I was in tune with– that I belonged in.” In this imaginary universe, Cole describes feeling “the freedom to just exist,” removed from any pressure or fear. And while this was rewarding for Cole on his own, he found that it drove him even further away from those who could not fully understand.

"You talk to other people and say ‘oh there's this imaginary world,’ and they're like, “Are you crazy?” [...] But if I say I have an imagination that doesn’t mean I’m crazy. I have to consciously make sure I can hold onto an imagination when so many people don’t want you to have one. And I wanted that to stop. I wanted people to be able to join me in this place that I saw as a complete utopia. So I took to Welcome Creature, like welcoming people into that universe with the creature. I said ‘Okay, well let’s find as many ways as we can to bring other people into The Creature World.”

Led by Cole, Welcome Creature has grown into a collective of artists endeavoring to share the Creature World and the possibilities it has to offer through a variety of mediums. Much of the time that implies painting on canvas or swiping K-60 markers on pavement.

“When I walk, I’ll be in my head and I’ll say, what is something that I could really benefit from hearing right now? I’ll draw a picture that represents that. I’ll add words. [...] I’m sure if there’s something I need to hear right now, somebody else is going to want to hear that too.”

Apart from painting, street art, and screenprinting, Cole is excited about Welcome Creature projects which take place in a live setting and use more interactive mediums. In Summer 2019, Cole collaborated with the young chef Jake Hetnarski to host an experiential event at Studio 525 in Chelsea. The audience was guided through the Creature World by sound and taste, listening to Cole narrate a series of stories while enjoying Hetnarski’s corresponding 7-course dinner. 

Imaginative and even surreal, the multidisciplinary design of the show reflects Cole’s previous experimentation with lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming occurs when physical signals trick the brain into believing the body is asleep. It then generates vivid hallucinations while the individual remains conscious, granting the person control over how their dreams unfold. Over the course of months, Cole consulted with experts in order to learn how to place someone in a lucid dreaming state. This culminated in a series of experiments placing groups of people under a lucid dream state and going on a collective hallucination-journey through the Creature World. Cole calls this visual cognition. He achieved this by using his artwork to create familiarity with the visuals of the Creature World that the brain uses as a point of departure. From there, Cole designed music and sounds to help images take form inside the mind.

“I have tried to replicate what I see as an external/internal version of echolocation, playing noises I feel will act as if they are bouncing off the insides of your head, helping images to start to take form.” The results of these experiments have been remarkable. 

“Every single person that experiences it, and I’ve done it in small and big groups, they tell stories of what they’ve seen, and everybody gets it. That is rewarding, to be sitting with all these people and be like, ‘yeah I know exactly what you’re fucking talking about.’ That feels so good. [...] A lot of people talk about water, a lot of people talk about honey and molasses, something sticky, something sweet, [...] being inside some sort of structure, whether a dome or a curved structure. There are definitely patterns, but, you know what, I don’t have any idea why. I just accept it at face value.”

The images and patterns that people discuss in the experiments
have in turn inspired Cole’s paintings and drawings, contributing to the overall feeling that Welcome Creature is a collective, shared effort. For Cole, the value of the experiment does not lie in its success or reproducibility, though they have proven to be both successful and reproducible. It is more so that they create a shared experience and collective understanding. 
“Lucid dreaming is just one thing. Welcome Creature overall is, how can you bring people into the Creature World to experience that together? It feels really good to experience it together. I feel like a lot of the things I do, I can’t do alone.” 

We are thrilled to have Danny Cole as an inspiring part of our community, and will continue to support his art and creativity at The Canvas.