He’d never shown his art in public until last fall when he was at a party with musicians Channel Tres and Duckwrth. Once guests began drawing on the walls, Tres encouraged Cole to participate, and his work caught the eye of another party-goer who was so taken that they asked if they could make a purchase. From there, Cole’s rapid ascent began, and a whirlwind of a year that includes his high school graduation is being capped off with “Danny Cole’s Departure,” his first solo exhibit being held at Stephan Alexander’s Ghost Gallery in Manhattan. The work was inspired by a deep period of reflection on the nature of interpersonal interactions when Cole realized that his outgoing self was more of a conscious performance than he’d previously thought.
“It was a real state of dissociation, and it came from a place of taking a step back and looking at my life, because I had always been such an extroverted person. I wanted to be friends with everybody because I found such comfort in interacting with other people," he explains. “I found what I thought people wanted me to be, and I took that role, and, as a result, any sort of communication I had, it wasn’t like anyone was communicating with me, they were communicating with whatever version of me I wanted to present. I realized nobody actually knows me.”
The color palette of “Departure” reflects the exhibit’s knotty subject matter, as bold, bright reds coexist uneasily with inky blues and steely, somber grays. More exuberant yellows and oranges highlight moments of intimacy and realization within the 10 works. Cole’s humanoid figures are both alien and familiar, as the artist’s universe channels relatable emotions into intimate and inviting pieces. Cole, who grew up as a musician, has little training (he jokingly references a high school pottery class when asked about his formal credentials), but says that hasn’t held him back from using his art to convey its intended message.
“You can teach somebody mechanics, but I think that’s the least important part about art, which is why I go for such a minimalistic approach with the stuff that I create,” he says. “Anybody can sit down long enough and learn how to make the most hyper-realistic looking art, and, of course, that takes talent, it takes commitment, but I think to actually communicate through your work and to add substance to it, that’s a skill that cannot be taught, and that’s really all I focus on is communicating through my work.”
When asked to pick one canvas that he feels best encapsulates the entire body of work, Cole highlights a piece where a single gray figure is snared between a pair of ominous floating shapes that appear as stand-ins for the world Cole found himself detaching from. The figure looks quizzically at its hands, rendered in the same shade of red as the blobs, perhaps a nod to the idea that, while we are all dealing with our own internal battles, we are nevertheless part of the very world that encroaches on others.