Artist Daren Todd, known for his vibrant colors and abstract work, is our guest artist at the Portland Book Festival 2021. We recently chatted with Daren about his work and what he loves about Portland.
You are a musician, songwriter and visual artist. Do these different creative activities inform each other? What advice do you have for other multidisciplinary artists?
I’ve been fortunate enough to do visual art as a full time job for a year now – I’ve always considered myself creative, but it wasn’t until I did that freelance leap of faith on time full that I noticed things were starting to change. This part of the journey began during the pandemic and since then it has really taken off.
It’s hard to say if my different art forms inform each other, but they draw from the same well. The area of focus and creative flow that I enter when writing a song is like the same area that I draw or paint in.“I still feel that flow today. I see art as an outlet, like a journal, using it to explore feelings and ideas that I can’t always express. Sometimes when I make music I think about the album cover or the visuals that go with it– so art and music inform each other, if I really think about it.
Last year you opened the Downstairs Gallery, with the aim of providing “support to artists based in and around the Metro Portland area who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ + or disabled, and to maintain a relevant creative practice. at present ”. Tell us about this experience, what prompted you to open the gallery? How is it going?
It was a “little stream leads to a river” experience! I painted a mural in the summer which led to more. The third mural was for a downtown yoga studio in the building, Yoga on Yamhill. They had barricaded their front windows and asked me to spruce up the boards, and also offered me the opportunity to organize an art exhibition of my work in their space downstairs. The show went really well, and from there I was able to develop the idea and invite other artists to show their work in the space. We changed the paint, turned off the lights, and refined how we were going to put on shows in space during a pandemic and when things started to reopen. I contacted my community, looking for artists who needed to be represented and contacted them to do group exhibitions. Since then, it has slowly grown to 55 artists on the roster. It’s been a slow boil, but it gets better each time – our last event in July was great! Right now I’m taking a short break to catch up on a few projects, but I’m in talks with different organizations who want to use the space for different creative projects, and there will be some exciting things to come next year!
What are some of your inspirations and influences when creating art? Has the pandemic changed your process?
My influences include popular art movements like Bauhaus, Cubism, and Modernist art. I remember having known Picasso, Braque and cubism in high school, but I did not understand how the different eras of art were built on each other. Picasso’s art only existed 100 years ago, it was alive in the 70s! In a way, it doesn’t feel like that long ago.
I have learned so much running an art business over the past year, specifically learning to value my time and price my work and services in a way that supports me. I was able to really slow down and embrace the loneliness of the pandemic and use the time to figure out what kind of life I wanted to have and what steps I needed to take to start living that way. I am so grateful for all the opportunities that have continued to present themselves to me.
Much of your recent art features abstract designs and vibrant colors. What appeals to you about this form? Is there a particular project that you are working on that you are passionate about?
I’ve always loved patterns and stripes, bright colors, and high school graffiti art. I thought I was going to be a graffiti artist, but I never had the money as a teenager to buy spray paint. My mom panicked when I painted the walls in my bedroom instead. The question always was, how do I cover large areas and leave a mark? My appreciation for the art of graffiti has led to an appreciation for other pattern-based arts – there is so much in fashion and textile design that is pattern-based which is really good because of that. gives three-dimensional application to two-dimensional art. I grew up in a very small town outside of Santa Barbara which was a great countryside and suburb. There wasn’t a lot of culture, taste, or art, so I was obsessed with San Francisco and Portland. I wanted to go to places that look and feel cool, where the place could inform my art. You can see my first forms of expression in the painting on the wall behind me. I realized that I had always drawn these shapes that I found in the world. I draw them in the margins of my notebooks, on dinner menus, everywhere. It’s really organic for me to draw curves imitating human bodies and things in nature. I am drawn to crowds, buildings, angles, lines and patterns in nature and man-made landscapes.
We would like to learn more about the art creation process for the Portland Book Festival.
I definitely let graphic design and client work guide my artistic process. I think of a creative brief trying to solve problems through a creative lens, and this process guides my work. For the Portland Book Festival, I brainstormed ideas for a week or two and had a few meetings to discuss them. It was really helpful to have a client with clear instructions and ideas! I want the work to be about what it’s used for, but still have elements of my own creative voice. I asked myself, how can I continue in this tradition of excellent work while preserving my own style? I really like the final artwork, it reminds me of an endless rain of good books falling from the sky.
How long have you lived in Portland? What do you like about working and living here? What organizations have you worked with here in Portland?
I really like it here. As the first “big city”, at least compared to the city I grew up in, I love it and it seems very accessible to me. If you come with passion and drive, and know what you’re trying to get into, there is an opportunity to get into anything. I originally came here to visit a friend in June 2017 and never left. The community opened up to me – by working in restaurants you instantly make lifelong friendships. I love the city. It will always be like home.
I’ve worked with Forward Together Action to raise money for past legislation helping marginalized people – it’s a way to be politically active without feeling like I have to run for office, and I can use the art and creativity to attract people and fundraising to help. I have also worked with Maison Blanchet on art exhibitions supporting the city’s homeless, as well as with my label It’s Future Time, a talented group of artisans, makers, painters and musicians. Someone can come to us with a crazy idea and the group gets together to make it happen.
Do you have a favorite author? What about an all-time favorite book?
When I think about my favorite book, I don’t read too much fiction – I always put things in the background using audiobooks, and I think it’s like a cheat code on life if I can learn something audibly while i am also working on or practicing art. One audiobook that I listen to over and over is Seth Godin’s The practice; it’s basically his ideas of how to manifest and nurture creativity when you’re not feeling inspired. I love the little practical tips on how to stay productive. It’s both inspiring and practical.
What book have you read recently? Do you have any recommendations?
Another book on art history that has changed my view of what has happened over the past 150 years is What are you looking at? by Will Gompertz. It cuts through the last 150 years of modern art and adds a narrative to famous names we all know like Picasso and Braque. There are so many chapters in there on how modern art came to be, and this book helped me realize how much books on Africa’s influence in modern art are currently missing. .
About the artist
Daren Todd is a young black creative and entrepreneur based in Portland, Oregon. As a queer, trans and black artist, he is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to create work that matches who he is, inside and out. He believes that as creators it is our job to do work that speaks to the world around us and helps everyone envision and move towards creating a version of the world where people like him have not only the same rights and the same support, but are encouraged to flourish and prosper. Art in all its forms has a unique ability to influence change in spaces that are often difficult to reach or neglected. He uses his creative voice to speak on behalf of those in his community who feel silenced or ignored, to educate those around him about the experiences, struggles and triumphs of his intersectional communities, and to advocate for the social justice in all its forms. As an illustrator, he enjoys using vivid colors, organic shapes and unique symbology to connect the dots to his audience, and provide a foundation of understanding and storytelling to convey the themes and ideas his clients seek out. to pass. Find his work on artlargerthanme.com
This year’s Portland Book Festival will feature virtual programming, presented by Bank of America, the week of November 8 to 12, 2021, and in-person events on Saturday, November 13, 2021 at the Portland Art Museum and Portland’5, as well as in-person writing workshops in our downtown literary art space.