Interview by Sarah Sutherland
Images by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“Art should remind us we aren’t alone.
We are here to help and listen to one another.
If you can take people out of that
gallery for a second, you did something right.”
— Daniel Zovatto
Daniel Zovatto is a Costa Rican artist and actor whose first solo show, Mi Pequeña Realidad, which translates as My Little Reality, exhibited at Art Share LA and will move to Muramid Museum and Art Center in August, 2016. Zovatto has appeared in Laggies (2014), Beneath (2013), It Follows (2014) and the forthcoming Don’t Breathe (2016). His television roles include Revenge and Fear the Walking Dead.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Sarah Sutherland is an actress best known for her role as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ daughter on the Emmy-award winning Veep (2012-16). She has also appeared in Beneath the Harvest Sky (2013) and the forthcoming Cannes feature Chronic (2015).
I first met Danny in New York City. We were acting in what was mutually our first film and were introduced on set while donning our characters’ prep school uniforms. Our relationship in the film was very playful, not unlike our own now. But that first day, we didn’t address each other in the scene very directly. We just had to notice one another. What I noticed was his very generous smile, equal parts sweet and devious. He is one of the warmest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
But to leave it at that would miss the point. He is also one of the most passionate people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. He has the depth and heart and guts characteristic of any true artist, and I find that his willingness to inhabit that place extends beyond the confines of his work. It is clear in the way he lives, breathes, moves, speaks, wonders, listens, laughs.
And for this reason, I love his paintings. They are evidence. They are intensely personal little relics that are muddled with emotion, romance and childlike sentiment coupled with heartbreak and other countless contradictions. At first glance, they are bursts of mess and color; at closer examination, they are more dynamic, complicated, layered. They are littered with little messages to the viewer, like hidden treasures. One could walk among his pieces multiple times and always notice something new. They are, in equal measure, chaotic and inviting. And however lively, they dare you to be still.
Mi Pequeña Realidad is showing at Muramid Museum and Art Center in Oceanside, California, from August 1 through August 31.
Sarah Sutherland: Where are you from?
Daniel Zovatto: I’m from Costa Rica. One of the most beautiful countries in the world—ask anyone.
SS: When and how did you start making art?
DZ: I have been painting and drawing since I can remember. My first canvases were walls, most notably my own bedroom walls or my mom’s living room. Don’t blame me. I just saw empty canvases around the house.
SS: Who influenced you growing up and who influences you today?
DZ: Your first love is impossible to forget—Picasso. I remember seeing his work in person at a young age, and that became all I ever wanted to do. Seeing Guernica changed my life. I was always captivated by his freedom of expression. When I was much older, Basquiat became a huge influence. I love how both of them never let go of their inner kids. They both reminded me that it was okay. You can see it throughout their work… Or at least I can, and that’s what captivated me. I also love Kooning’s freedom. Or Pollock’s, for instance.
SS: I was amazed by the volume of your material. How does it feel to have accomplished this body of work?
DZ: Thank you. It feels good to walk into a room and see your pieces on nice white walls, perfectly lit. But I must say, if I could afford more canvases and paints, I would have more! It’s just the start for sure.
“I need noise. I like the
process to be free and conversational.”
— Daniel Zovatto
SS: Do you have rituals or a particular process when approaching your work?
DZ: I do. We all find and mold that process as we go, and it’s a continuous thing that changes. I always have music playing, the TV usually is on, and I don’t mind if the phone rings—I’ll pick it up! I need noise. I like the process to be free and conversational. I don’t usually go in with a clear idea. I let it guide me as I go. At least for now, that’s what I’m going through. But again, I think it changes because you change. That in itself is very intriguing to me.
SS: What do you want people to take from your work?
DZ: I want them to walk away with a thought, a feeling. I want a part of my work to click with them. We all live in this same world and tend to go through similar situations. Yet, we all struggle and feel alone. We act like we are the only ones going through a heartbreak or losing someone… Art should remind us we aren’t alone. We are here to help and listen to one another. I want my art to bring people together. If you can take people out of that gallery for a second, you did something right.
SS: What motivates and inspires you?
DZ: Color. Emotion. Stories. Moments. Working inspires me.
SS: What emotions most fuel your work?
DZ: I like to think it’s the whole spectrum of emotions. I tend not to limit myself by approaching a blank canvas with a specific emotion. I tend to dwell with the emotions as they come. Usually music, a word, someone on the phone, whatever it may be, triggers my mind and takes me somewhere. I use all of it to guide me. I listen and let things come and go naturally. Nothing should be overthought… It’s funny because “Express Yourself” by NWA is playing right now.
SS: What are your favorite colors to work with and why?
DZ: Yellow. I love yellow. I remember being told yellow was a bad idea—that a yellow canvas would never sell! I love yellow. I also love reds, blues. White is a great color. I’m learning to play around with it. Colors are a very important part of my work. I use colors to emote what I’m feeling. It’s the only language we all speak.
SS: What does Batman signify to you? And Bambi?
DZ: It’s very interesting that you asked about these two together. I treated both as diaries really. They sat in my studio for about a year. I would write and draw little things randomly when I felt like I needed to. It was a long process but a very real one because it was all personal to me. They opened a door I hadn’t trusted to open before, and it made me grow as an artist. Words are powerful.
SS: What does your work reveal about you personally?
DZ: Maybe that a lot goes on in my mind. I am always questioning, trying to find the core of things. I guess my work shows a mix of the emotions we all go through daily: doubt, fear, love.
SS: What era in art history intrigues you most and why?
DZ: Expressionism. I guess it’s what I can relate to the most. It’s much more expressive, free; a personal depiction, a fuck you. I also love Picasso’s cubism. Some of my favorite pieces of his are from that era. What the 1970s and ’80s brought to art is dope—Keith, Basquiat, ‘street art’—all very expressive as well.
SS: Do you approach acting differently from painting? In which ways are they similar?
DZ: Painting allows me to hide in a room and not be seen. That is, until that piece is sitting in my living room or hopefully a gallery somewhere. With painting, your emotions, thoughts and art will live on the canvas forever. With acting, you’re much more exposed in the moment. Everything is much more ‘personal.’ Both are forms of art that channel emotions and messages that you hope will affect people. In the end, artists are messengers. Whatever the format, it’s our duty to address important parts of humanity that we as society tend to forget.
“I love yellow.
I remember being told yellow was a bad idea—
that a yellow canvas would never sell!”
— Daniel Zovatto
SS: What’s your favorite book, film and music right now?
DZ: I’m reading a book about dreams. It’s pretty crazy. I’m listening to a lot of Fela Kuti and Charles Mingus while I work. The movie Inside Out is beautiful. It came out last year, but watch it.
SS: Tell me about the project you are raising money for in Costa Rica.
DZ: I partnered up with Joanne Tawfilis and Natalia Carvajal to make the first mural in Costa Rica by orphaned kids. Joanne owns the first mural museum in the world, the Muramid Mural Museum & Art Center, which has over 5000 murals. Natalia is Miss Eco Universe, and is actually a childhood friend of mine [from Costa Rica]. The three of us decided to create this program where we will help kids discuss things like, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” “What animal would you be if you could be an animal?” We want to bring together kids who haven’t had the easiest of lives, and forget about that for a bit by connecting through art.
SS:Tell me about Art Share LA and what makes that space unique.
DZ: It’s definitely the people there who make it unique. Man, the history of that place. I had a blast and learned a lot. You also get to meet folks, like [artist] Terry [Ellsworth], who really change your life. That’s rare, an oddity. I was truly lucky to have my first show there. There couldn’t be a better venue.
SS: How do you take your coffee?
DZ: Milk and sugar. The Latino latte does it.
SS: What is your drink of choice?
DZ: Tennessee mule—basically a Moscow mule but with whiskey instead.
SS: Who was your first kiss?
DZ: I was 11. She was from Sweden. What can I say? I’m very international.