Sean Danconia is a cutting edge artist hailing from Montreal, Canada. He displays his love of Pop-Culture through the inventive world of color and creativity. Through Danconia’s imaginative lens, characters adopt new personalities, the world morphs as we know it, and eastern and western culture are fused in a fantastic and larger than life coalescence. Sean has found much success within his works with projects incorporating characters from General Mills, Disney, King Features and many more through his comic-inspired style.
Q 1 || Did living in Hong Kong really take your art to a new level of immersion, from adoration to true understanding of a culture? How long did you live there?
I grew up partially in Toronto, eventually moving there to live full time as an adult.
In Toronto, so-called “Western Culture” was surrounded by both Chinese (HK) and and to a lesser degree, Japanese culture (and Italian, Portuguese, and so on). The “whites” were the minorities. Not that I noticed. True culture is a conversation that has been taking place over 1000’s of years. But modern people – especially Americans – believe that you are what you see in the mirror, for the most part. Or what your parents were. I found that Chinese were much smarter than that and still are.
And I was very different. I dragged my Mom to Chinese bookstores as a kid rummaging around for manga, which I recognized by the Kanji and small character icons on the sides of the books. The patrons in the store, sort of amazed and very kind, would all help me look for books by Leiji Matsumoto (who was my favorite) and Tezuka. There was NO manga available in english at this time except for a rarity like Barefoot Gen, or something that Frederick L. Schodt published.
As an adult, I had been traveling back and forth to Hong Kong for many years for my work, so the culture influence was already firmly in place. Before moving to LA, I lived in Wanchai for about 1.5 years.
The long answer is YES. Hong Kong, both via Toronto’s ExPat community, plus novels (both Chinese and Western), and living there blew my mind open. And completely changed my Art.
The net takeaway that I got from it was that Chinese saw themselves, and are in fact very heroic people. Their visual art, food, clothing, philosophy, mythology, etc. is all about refinement of spirit—in all things. Very similar to Japan, but the outward expression is often different.
They are not scared of color. Of images of beautiful people and amazing creatures. Heavy symbolism, all connected to intellectual growth and spiritual ascension.
This mindset is not specific to China, but it is still alive there and growing whereas in the US, it’s in steep decline. American Universities teach kids here to have contempt for themselves, their freedom and life itself. Which is why I long to go back to The Middle Kingdom, as they call it. (no relation to Tolkien)
Q 2 || I noticed you have tattoos, do you vary with the type of pieces you have on your body, or are they also an extension of your art?
When I was 21, and way before Ed Hardy or the popularization of Tattoo art, I had a desire to get an Asian tattoo like I saw in the movies. For whatever reason, I felt like I needed a dragon. So I had a little Chinese dragon placed on my arm. It was done in the famous style of this artist from HK that decorated all the drunk sailors. Eventually found out that I was a Fire Dragon, in Chinese astrology but that was a coincidence. (maybe)
A few years later, I introduced Japanese and Asian tattoo art in fashion, at the massive tradeshow Magic (Pool / Project) in Las Vegas. I was first, as far as I know. Also first with Asian pop-culture in general, anime and manga at Magic. Before Toki Doki or any of those guys existed. And when it took off, I was a little ashamed that I didn’t have the elaborate work that I saw in my favorite Yakuza films from Japan. Especially since my buddies all got their sleeves of fake-Japanese art, and trashed my little Chinese dragon. Boo hoo.
I waited for years to find an Irezumi master that could both integrate my current tattoo, and finally put into form what I felt I was on the inside. Your tattoo should show a glimpse of your spirit, made real in physical form. And that’s what he’s working on now. It’s done in the traditional style so I can hide it when necessary. And I often do. Not necessary in LA but if you travel, especially in Asia, you don’t want a tattoo showing. Headaches everywhere.
The art itself is connected to the story of The Water Margin (All Men Are Brothers). Starting with an etching of a dragon engraved around Mt. Liang Shan, where the heroes used to congregate…and a snake wrapping around that (chest). Other side is behind the mountain…waterfall with the legend of the Koi who swims upstream and is granted the right to become a Dragon (chest). And that takes me to my back, where the Dragon emerges from the water and rises to the sky (Sho Ryu – Rising Dragon, which we remember from Street Fighter “ShoRyuKen!” lol).
My artist will not tattoo my sort of art on men’s bodies. So my work does not get to go on me. That stays on the wall. Need to respect what each person does, and the integrity of their work. That’s why you choose it after all.
For me, Tattoos bring you a little closer to physically representing what you should, could and ought to be. And hopefully are becoming, every day of your life.
Q 3 || I love the spins you put on traditional cartoons and movies, mixing nostalgia with the imaginative modern world- in a way the work you create allows the audience to enter a state more similar to a childhood. Is there any connection between specific past experiences and the pieces you create?
I never create anything without a purpose. So I throw in my loves, battles, likes, desires, dreams, etc. into my work. What I do NOT do, is focus on the negative in my work. I love art that says that life is great- because it is, even when you’re getting hit in the head and knocked down. Because you need to get up again. The fun part is not so much the winning, but the battle to get there which is why we prefer challenging videogames over ridiculously easy. On the other hand, I don’t want to fight a losing battle.
In Japanese, there is a lot of honor in fighting those kinds of fights. Where you know you can’t win. Like Ashita No Joe. And I suppose being an artist is like fighting a losing battle much of the time. But you can win. And I have at times.
In regards to childhood, YES. Youth is a quality that once you have it, it’s yours forever. Some people give it up. I never did. I don’t like the so-called adult world. It doesn’t exist for me. I live in the world I made. And in the future, with augmented reality, this will be even easier for people. But for me, it’s more interesting to make that world you desire actually real, here and today.
Most of my work represents the movies, animation and creative projects I would have liked to have developed. My background was in film and I wanted to make lots of amazing movies. But the industry at the time didn’t allow for very much originality and so I dumped that idea. Ironically, that industry sought me out eventually to develop some of my work into reality. Still pushing that forward but I much prefer the simplicity and integrity of Fine Art.
Q 4 || Your style is highly futuristic, yet doesn’t come off as the traditionally dystopian/utopian future, instead it feels like a truly realistic experience. Did you have this specific goal in mind when creating your art or did your art shape your views as time went on?
Bang on. The general push is for the future to be bleak. Like the Dark Knight or the recent Star Trek movie poster. (Dark Knight comics were great though) “Cool” is now defined as shit. Basically. Except look at Blade Runner. Dystopian…and yet…sort of not. Sort of better than that and inspiring. You get your cake there, and can eat it too. There is hope with Harrison sitting down to have noodles at a future Daikokuya, chasing hot killer android snake-lady-geishas.
As to Utopian sensibilities, those are usually Marxist in orientation and I don’t want to eat octopus every day, as Tony Montana so succinctly puts it. (actually, I love octopus) I don’t like equality. Under the law – YES. But not in art. Not in life. Inequality is the great equalizer actually. The rich may get richer, but their kids are f-ing douchebags. And there is a reason for that, and it’s not money. It’s a lack of refinement created by pressure. So who the hell wants that.
Back in China, I saw 80+ years old ladies dragging huge loads of bricks up the street. And I was stopped from helping them. Because they are bloody diamonds. That’s what pressure in life creates – coal to diamond. And Huge Face. And that’s the sort of world I want to portray in my work. Idealized forms of beauty, heroism, love, even evil – if it’s handled correctly. A “good” bad guy goes a long way to make a visual narrative great.
I aim to kick contemporary pop-culture in the balls to be frank. I want to dial “H” for Hero and hear someone pick up the phone.
Keep in mind that in our world, Government and Media usually want to own your mind or your wallet. (and soul) I aim to keep and promote all three.
While I don’t like the political party itself for various reasons, I would say that my art is more Libertarian or Classical Liberal than Utopian, Dystopian, Marxist, etc. Even if it’s Hello Kitty or Astroboy, the art is aspirational – it shows you a part of man’s mind in action and represent a core humanistic value (which was so Tezuka). The “kawaii” sensibility can be wonderful if it’s not treated as a gimmick or a cult, as I see lately.
Q 5 || In your artist biography, you say you’ve had a constant Bond-esque theme throughout your life. Do you think this affected how you portray women in your works, as the image of the “Bond girl” is iconic?
The Bond girl is dead in Bond films, for the most part. Haven’t seen one since Roger Moore. Except shockingly, the have Monica Belluci in Spectre. She was a Bond girl for most of her life but never got cast in those roles.
But what is the Bond girl? Another objectified woman? NO. The Bond girl was sexy and dominant. She could kiss and kill. She was equal, in some ways, superior in others and on occasion – would willingly submit to Bond. I don’t think that women are inferior to men. In fact, I often believe that they are far superior, more rational and easier to get along with. Bond was after his equal, and in the old films, they were often considered “evil”. What does that tell you? Now they’re just presented as Bitchy (and usually eastern european for the sake of Political Correctness).
The sort of woman I want to see made real in my work, is similar to Fuji Junko as Oryu in Red Peony Gambler (thank you Quentin). Or Kaji Meiko. Italian, Japanese and Chinese women know how to balance strength and sexuality quite well. In the US and Canada, girls are taught to separate those aspects of themselves and often dump one for the other. I would like to see women portrayed as heroic in their own right. And in my art and the stories they’re based on, they are.
Q 6 || Many of your pieces have been incorporated into major brands like Disney. Have you experienced any pressure in attempts to influence your work since becoming so popular?
Regarding Disney, they do require changes at times but they’re amazing people to work with, and have been huge supporters of my work so I have no complaints there. That opportunity has been the greatest honor of my career. Not because they’re big and powerful but because I grew up loving those characters, and still do. Major influence on my work, and the work of those who influenced me (like Tezuka). I’ve worked with them for a few years and the experience has been wholly positive.
Most of the other companies pretty much leave me to do my thing. The art is so complex, they normally don’t even know where to begin to change it anyway, so that works in my favor.
The only spot I ever worked with that had a “Decision by Committee” philosophy in place was a handbag company in Montreal called “Cabrelli”. And they gave me my start (still grateful for that). They would have me design something my way, then rip it apart, have me do it their way, and then they would complain that it didn’t look good anymore. It took them about 3 years before they would let me design things without taking a poll amongst 10 people in the office. By then, I was done with that experience and moved to Toronto. Years later, my buddy who I hired and still works there, showed me one of their trend boards and unknowingly, they had a shoe I designed for New Balance as part of their “inspirations” for that season. I smiled.
Q 7 || Do you have any new projects coming up, or are there any brands you would specifically like to work with in the future?
I recently launched a new brand called SupaPop which I’m quite busy getting art and animation developed for. Working with some great companies here in the US and abroad. SupaPop is about a Time-Capsule-Toy-City from 1966 that POPs! open in 2016. Inside if the Future of the Past! That’s my pitch. Working on an adult SciFi project as well, where the story will initially be told through my art.
There are many brands that I love that I would be thrilled to work with. Levis is the top of the pack. Would like to go back to their retro roots and do some sick “motopsycho” homage. Tezuka Productions would be a dream. As would Matsumoto Leiji’s company. King Features. Nintendo. Le Sportsac. Seiko. Sony. Adidas. I kind of like underdogs or old-school firms. I want to update the work that they had that I grew up loving. Also a big fan of Tesla. (Nikola and the cars)