This is how we consume art in the era of Instagram: in an infinite scroll, in which we spend a few seconds on each image before moving on to the next one. Something that is totally impossible in front of Daniel Keogh's work. We spoke with the artist about his hypnotic mosaics populated by memes and pop culture idols.
As much as there are those who turn to NASA (because, apparently, they are the ones with the last word in this regard) to remember that the decade does not end up in 2019, but in 2020, the media have already made their bets and have conscientiously compiled the best of the this new century 10 years. And that is something definitive. The interesting thing is that, for the first time, we have faced long tops that have dedicated themselves to selecting the best memes of the decade... And what does that mean? That we already have a whole generation that is native to the meme language.
That is precisely where is Daniel Keogh, an artist born 23 years ago in Bendigo (Australia), who is also marked by another feature, very common in his generation: a purely self-taught training. Interestingly, both factors have converged into a powerfully hypnotic and deeply recognizable artistic imaginary: Keogh's works are like a kind of Where's Wally? in which there is no Wally, but that each and every one of the figures represented have an equal importance to that of Wally. Pure democracy. #WeAreWally.
Thus, the pieces of this young artist are true infinite mosaics to which you can spend minutes and minutes not only to recognize all its protagonists, most of them from pop culture and the meme world, but also to answer the big questions: why do they appear together in the same work? Is there any hidden meaning? Or is he playing with me? And why can't I look away from them? How can such a crazy ensemble be so harmonious? Why do I feel represented so colorful and nostalgic? Let's try to answer all these questions by speaking with Daniel Keogh.
You've been totally self-taught in Australia... Does that mean that there is no artistic community that you feel part of?
Yeah, I’ve never really been a part of any art community, every interaction I have with other artists is typically on the internet. So, it is sometimes awkward to navigate a world you have no peers in.
Your school guidance warned you to forget about art and consider more realistic options for your future. How did you overcome such a negative opinion?
I just kept doing it, I’d still be making art even if nobody wanted to see it. In a way they are right, it’s not an easy world to be a part of and there is an element of risk in any creative endeavor but I never really felt there was an alternative for me.
How is your usual work process?
All the drawing is done by hand on paper, I scan everything into photoshop and add color. The pieces typically take about three days.
Pop culture and cartoons are a very important part of your art. Do you have to investigate about it or is it the culture with which you grew up?
90% of them I’m familiar with, either from watching a lot of television as a kid or from spending so many hours online.
And why do you think people react so well to art based on pop culture?
Nostalgia. I think when people see something they admire repurposed or appropriated they either love it or hate it and those are both good reactions.
The same applies to memes ... Are memes the new pop culture?
Because we are so inundated with memes, they get recycled very quickly. So the turnover doesn’t allow most of them to even be seen or hold any historical significance but they are definitely an important part of internet language and I love them.
You often mention MAD Magazine as a big influence. How does this mythical magazine inspire you?
MAD Magazine parodied and poked fun at celebrity and pop culture in a way I had never been exposed to before. But being so young, I was mostly captivated by the cartoons and varying art styles.
Is there any hidden message in your works or do you prefer people to look for their own meaning?
There is meaning in all my pieces but I prefer not to spell it out to people, once you start breaking down and analyzing the work it starts to lose the magic and dismisses other people’s interpretations.
What, then, has been the craziest interpretation someone has made of any of your works?
Whenever I include any sort of religious iconography, people tend to dissect it in very strange ways, often assuming I’m taking some sort of hard stance either way.
Nowadays, we are used to reading an image in a few seconds before continuing to scroll down to the next image. And this is something you can't do with your works, because they need a lot of time to be assimilated... Is that your intention?
Yeah, ever since I’ve been drawing, people would always tell me “less is more” but I’ve adopted a “more is more” style. More content seems to garner more attention and I’ve personally always been really dense detail-oriented work.
Have you started working with any commercial brand? What are you working on now?
Not that I’m allowed to mention. I want to work with any brand who appreciates my art/vision. I definitely have dreams to illustrate for magazines like the New Yorker.
What’s the next project you’re more excited with?
I’m excited to really raise my output this year and keep making my own personal work, I’m still learning how to do this while also managing commissions. (I’m not sure I’m allowed to mention some of the stuff I’m doing just yet).