Known for her murals which span across the world, Danielle Mastrion uses her natural born talent and acquired skills to immortalize the the likes of Biggie Smalls, Bob Marley and MCA of the Beastie Boys to name a few. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York her murals add finesse to the urban landscape and beyond.
Her work has been featured in Mass Appeal, Rolling Stone, Spin Magazine & Billboard Magazine. She's one of the artists that make an impact in our culture through her community-based work and local initiatives, bringing together youth and creativity.
How has your technique or style developed since you started painting murals?
I think technique comes with practice & taking the time to study the medium; style is something that comes naturally. My very first mural, on 5POINTZ (rest in paint) - was the 1st time I ever picked up a spray can. I mixed cans & brush for the thin lines, because I literally didn't know how to do it. My 1st color piece, the Biggie at The Bushwick Collective, is all blocks of color because I didn't know how to blend. I've made sure to take the time & watch how fellow artists I admire paint, not be afraid to ask questions, and practice, practice, practice. So my technical skills with a can have improved greatly; but they are no where near where Id like to take them. You can always improve and learn more. That applies to anything in life.
I think my style has remained true to form. Big, bold areas of bright colors. I think my use of colors & my palette define my style; people say they can spot one of my pieces from far away because of the colors. I still color-block, but at least now I've learned to blend and fade :)
How do you choose the subjects of your murals?
I've always been a portrait painter, even as a little girl. When I first started painting murals, I leaned towards famous people, because they are easily recognized, and mostly musicians, because music is the universal language. Everyone can relate to music. And hometown heroes- Beastie Boys, MCA, Biggie, Sinatra...
But it was a learning experience. I started seeing just how visible- and impactful- these walls were, especially in a city like NYC with millions of eyes on them daily. I started having young girls approach me while painting, because they had 'never seen a woman do that'. I realized I had a medium to have a voice & with that came a little more responsibility with what exactly I was painting. I wanted my work to educate; to inspire; to ask 'who is that? What did they do that was important?' My first inspirational figure I painted was Malala Yousafzai - 2 years before she won the Nobel Prize. I said 'SHE deserves to be commemorated. More people need to know her story.' The next was Maya Angelou (twice); since then, Mandela, Frida Kahlo; Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dorothy Day...even local 'heroes' . It makes me sad when i have to paint a memorial wall, but even those- young kids shot in their homes in Bed Stuy- Jessie Davis Jr; Trayvon Martin; Mike Brown; anti violence pieces...
I will still paint celebrities- (shout out to Spike Lee painted 🏾 at The Breukelen) but If I can educate or advocate, I try to.
And Sometimes...I just want to have fun painting a tropical bright colored mermaid
What obstacles have you encountered as an artist working often times in public spaces?
There are a lot. There's critique & there's also safety issues, especially being a woman out on the street.
People may not like what you are painting. They shout out insults, or voice their opinions. You have to be open to it and be gracious & keep it moving. I've had a lot of safety issues being a woman painting- usually 'stuck' in one area, often times up on ladders, where there's no where to go. I've gotten threatened; I've gotten assaulted at walls, shoved into gates, cans sprayed in my face, harassed, you name it. I've just learned to be smart; always have someone with me or at least close by & a phone call away. Not to paint at night unless someone is with me. Its real out there. I'm not afraid at all; I've just learned to be smart & safe at all times.
As an artist who has worked in many different countries, what can you tell us about the response overseas as compared to america?
The international painting world is very different than the NYC painting world; which is crazy considering what an international city we are. Murals, Street Art, Graff, it all blends internationally & is considered a highly respectable, valuable form of at & skill set. Its regarded higher internationally, I think. Also- there's no separation of Murals, Graff, Street Art- it all blends. The huge 'crews' I've met abroad- Europe, South America- the crews have the portrait artists. The realists. The background artists. The letterers. The character painters. They put on huge productions of all these styles combined. They've figured out that its all aerosol art. Here, there's still a huge divide between 'graff' and 'murals' and 'street art'; there's a lot of hate; a lot of labels. I wish we could all play together like the crews I've seen abroad do. That's why I love participating in international mural/graff festivals. I learn so much seeing how they do it. When I painted in Brazil this year- EVERY SINGLE WALL was a collab. Its like they don't do solo walls- everyone WANTS to jam out together & blend.
You have participated in many community projects and have worked with children to explore the arts, what do you think is lacking in urban areas in regards to promoting creativity in the youth?
I think city wide, the cutting of art programs is a tragedy. Art, music, theater, physical education- children need to play. They need to have imagination, and explore to learn what they love. What they have a passion for. Their minds are growing all the time and that energy NEEDS to go somewhere. Or you get 'behavioral problems'. ADD. Depression in kids. They act out, because they have no outlet- whether its art or sports or music or theater. Children chill out when you let then run around a little. When you let them zone out with some crayons. Art is SO IMPORTANT to children & I think the overall morale of our youth would improve if they had more creative outlets.
What are your favorite parts of NYC- and why?
Exploring 'abandoned' waterfronts. I grew up in South Brooklyn on the water- Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Sea Gate, Rockaway is 15 mins from me...people don't see NYC as a beach town but my NYC is. We're all a bunch of islands & peninsulas :) So finding the creeks; Finding the hidden gems of privacy & beauty; that's my favorite NYC. The boardwalk; the beach. Coney Island has always & will always be where my heart is.
As a native New Yorker, have you felt that gentrification has changed the face of the city and if so what changes have you experienced as an artist?
Yes. I don't recognize the NYC I grew up with anymore. Especially in Brooklyn. There's a Mason/ Dixon line in Brooklyn; that's not my Brooklyn. Its sad to know I can't afford to live in my own Borough anymore.
As an artist, it hurts because the areas that you could once feasibly get a studio space in are completely unaffordable. There are no affordable work spaces for working artists who make a living off their work anymore.
It sucks that artists/gentrification seem to go hand in hand. I work as a historian / tour guide in NYC as well, & have studied this. The areas the artists first started coming to & taking over- SoHo, Chelsea, Dumbo, Williamsburg- these were abandoned, no longer in use industrial districts. No one was getting kicked out or displaced. There wasn't anything there! Now, people are getting displaced, and that's not okay. Its no longer abandoned warehouses getting taken over for cheap work spaces; these are residential neighborhoods with living, breathing communities that are getting pushed out. That...I'm not about.
If you could go back in time to experience a cultural movement or scene which would it be and why?
Id go back to late 70's / early 80's downtown NYC. Soho, LES, Chelsea...Basquiat, Haring, Warhol, Madonna, the graff writers on the trains...all that. You could be a broke artist and have a huge space to work & create. It was a creative free for all. There was a creative pulse in the city then, I believe, that I would have loved to witness.
What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the upcoming year?
I just finished the 1st part of my largest mural to date, at Luna Park in Coney Island. It's a 3-part mural; the one I just finished is 100' x 25' - the largest mural in Coney Island & I think that part of South Brooklyn. I will begin the 2nd wall for Luna Park in March & will be working on that March - April. Currently, I am flying down to Canoa, Ecuador to paint in a mural festival aiding in the Earthquake Relief effort in that part of Ecuador; then I fly to Miami for Art Basel, where I have pieces in a show & three murals lined up.