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Buried Treasure in an "A La Carte" World: The Art of Danny Joe Gibson


Danny stumbled out of the garage with red spray-paint smeared on his cheek and coming out of his nostrils.  "Almost done!" he said with a smile.  "Only 150 more to go!"  He quickly opened the kitchen cabinet and began rummaging through its contents.  A moment later he found his prize - undoubtedly a treasure for any young, hungry bachelor: it was a box of saltine crackers and a handful of salsa packets from Taco Bell.  He looked up and grinned.  "Dinner," he giggled.  He casually turned around and sauntered back into the garage, nursing his crackers and humming a happy tune.

The year was 2002, and Elevator Division (the band I was in at the time) was preparing to release a new five song CD.  Danny had designed a beautiful cardboard packaging for it (which he cut from boxes that were being thrown away at his work) and he was personally spray-painting each one by hand; about three hundred of them, if memory serves correctly.  I had never seen anything so cool!

Danny Joe Gibson is one of the most prolific, hardworking artists I know.  He is also one of the most kind-hearted and genuine people I know.  He lives and breathes compassion and creativity.  I guess you could say he has it coming out of his......nostrils.

For the past 10 years, Danny-the-artist has gone under the alias "DJG Design."  And he has built quite a reputation for himself under that name.  After moving to Kansas City in 2001, he quickly became known in the local music scene for making unique and eye-catching band posters and album covers.  Unfortunately, fledgling indie bands don't pay very well.  So, Danny has always had to work hard at a "day job" (something I admire about him).  And work hard he has.  He's done everything from janitorial work, to grounds keeping, to data entry (he even did some brief work in TV repair).  And he's never let his job get in the way of his art.  In fact, Danny is a creative machine.  He puts out more high quality art than most artists I've known who don't work a regular job at all, supposedly because they're so "devoted" to their craft.  Despite the fact that Danny's art has never earned him much money, his hard work has paid off in other, more meaningful ways.

Outside of Kansas City Danny has received all kinds of recognition and accolades for his designs; from international print magazines to art expos.  There have even been a couple of occasions when entire university design departments (students and faculty) have traveled from other states to see the DJG Design "firm" - which basically consisted of the apartment Danny was living in at the time.  After one such visit, a couple of female design students asked if they could live with him and do an "internship."  He kindly replied, "I don't think my girlfriend would be up for that" (that girlfriend is now his wife).  People all over the world are noticing the unique and beautiful artwork of Danny Joe Gibson.

Danny is going through a big transition right now as an artist.  I recently got together with him - my old friend and roommate - to talk about it over coffee.  Danny is entering a new season of life and art, and he feels his former alias, DJG Design, may not represent him as well anymore.  You see, Danny no longer feels like a "graphic designer."  Actually, he never really felt like one.  I can see why.  His art transcends the category of "graphic design."  He incorporates all kinds of tangible, gritty items into his designs, which he often arranges by hand first.  That's very different from simply manipulating images on a computer screen.  So, I've always viewed him as an artist.  But he's not entirely comfortable with that title either.  He'd rather just be known as Danny Joe Gibson, a guy who likes to create beautiful things.

When we spoke, I asked Danny if there was a theme running through all his artwork.  Here's what he had to say:
I grew up in rural Missouri.  Animals were at my feet.  Living in a big American city, it's nice to get this when I can and mostly with squirrels playing, butterflies flapping and the occasional praying mantis buzzing by or quietly creeping.  Walking to work is a big plus for book-ending my day job life stuck inside artificial air.  I'm thankful for the shelter, but I just can't help but think it wasn't meant to be this way... I like to notice squirrels and butterflies - these little worlds that are buried beneath all our junk.  That's a theme in my art - the human element buried in 'junk' - found objects that others have thrown away.

(Danny once kept a dead bird he found in a Tupperware container in our fridge.  It was in there for months.  He later incorporated it into one of his designs.  See more of his "Found Art" here.)  Danny continues:

It amazes me what we pass by every second, even in our own homes.  There is so much to our daily landscapes, inside and out.  There is so much buried on top of each other and many different worlds interacting and conversating.  I feed off much of this junk (natural and man-made) and try to tap into it as much as I can on my journeys or while in the act of making art. 

I don't really consider myself a political or "message" artist by putting the amount of found objects and trash into my work like I do to prove a point.  I just see the potential or beauty in something and run with it.  Naturally, I miss being a janitor because I got paid to rummage physically and mentally.  Our things are our souvenirs.
Because Danny finds beauty in so many things, he tends to be a collector.  As his former roommate, I can attest to this.  His workroom was filled, from ceiling to floor, with little knickknacks and souvenirs, many of which found their way into his art.  At times, Danny has described himself as a "pack-rat."  While some people may see that as a problem, Danny sees value in collecting things:
Our collections help us see our own timeline of growth and development.  We don't have that with the Internet.  Everything is electronic-instant-throw away.  Everything is "a la carte."  Maybe that's good for the environment, but it's bad in another way.  I can see positive aspects in technology with the hunting and gathering of culture.  Blogs and online areas of round-up are like lockers of curing meats.  But, I'm so thankful to grow up when I did as kids growing up right now don't know a life without the internet or instant gratification or instant audiences.

I'm slowly warming up to the idea of music floating in space, the mp3.  Though, I still don't find a connection to it like I do with something in my hand, with art accompanying...the total package and the intent of the artists who made it.  There is something special about that.  I like that there is more access to music that I may not have heard otherwise, but after a while it becomes too much of a good thing.  I listen to something and then forget about it because I've got so much to eat.
Danny shared many more fascinating thoughts with me during our time together.  I don't have time or space to write them all, but there is one more statement that stood out to me as particularly inspiring.  When speaking on art in general, Danny admitted the following:
I'm a believer in God, and I have faith through Him.  If anyone is creating, they've gotta believe there's something bigger than all this, whether they believe it's God or not.  I've always liked the idea of finding God through childlike eyes, and that I can tap into that through art and discovery.
I wish all of you reading this could know Danny as I do.  He's truly a fascinating and inspiring individual.  Perhaps the best way to get to know him would be to see his artwork in person (and meet him).  If you live in the Kansas City area, you have a great opportunity to do that very soon.

This year is the 10th anniversary of DJG Design, and many of us are celebrating in a big way.  On Friday September 2nd, Danny will be exhibiting all the band posters he's made in the last decade.  To help promote his art show, all the bands he's helped over the years have contributed songs for a compilation album, titled DJG Was Here, available for free download.  There are 35 songs total, including a new, previously unreleased Elevator Division song from yours truly.  My current musical endeavor, Pro & Contra, also makes an appearance.

To learn more about Danny and his art click here.  For more info on Danny's upcoming show and the musical project associated with it click here.  If you're in the Kansas City area, it will be an event you won't want to miss; truly a historical experience.  If you can't make it, then at least download the album.  It's free.  In the meantime, remember Danny's advice: take the time to look for buried treasure - beauty lost under the rubble in our a la carte world of disposable commodities.

Danny eventually finished spray-painting the remaining CD jackets and washed the paint off his face.  Sadly, we could never pay Danny what he deserved for all the time, creative energy, and hard work he put in to them.  We may have bought him some burritos to go with his Taco Bell salsa.  That made him happy.  A year later, in 2003, Danny won two awards for the CD design.

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