Anyone who’s ventured by The Roxy Theatre in the past few years has probably stopped to admire the eye-catching artwork that adorns the venue’s poster boxes. Danny Curnen (a.k.a. Danny Excess) is the artist behind most of The Roxy’s now signature aesthetic show posters, and he is now branching out into the sculptural medium with his own ten-foot tall ZZ Top-inspired Gibson GuitarTown art guitar, which will soon be installed on the fabled boulevard where he lives and works.
With numerous accolades that include being named one of the “Top 10 Poster Artists of 2012” by Creative Bloq (U.K.), creating a design for Lisa Marie Presley that will soon be on permanent display at Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and joining the creative company of other notable GuitarTown artists – such as Kat Von D, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and sculptor Eugene Daub – Curnen is definitely on the fast track to making a name for himself in the art world. (Oh, and did we also mention that he’s also a professional musician and drummer for L.A. band Love And A .38?)
How old were you when you first realized that you had real artistic ability?
I feel like everyone has artistic ability, it’s just a matter of applying yourself. I think most kids draw during their elementary school years… And for me, in high school, I really got into punk rock music. I’m from the San Francisco bay area, which was, and is, very rich in punk rock. I became really intrigued by the crude photocopy posters and flyers that all the local punk bands would put out. It was a genre of art that I could relate to and maybe even do myself.
I started collecting all of the local independent fanzines, which I would read in all the school classes that I didn't care about. I remember in my high school drafting class the teacher asked me why I wasn't paying attention… I showed him my copy of Maximum Rock N' RolI magazine and responded with "I’m busy getting a real education.” The next semester I took a graphics class at school and began working on my own T-shirts and flyers.
What challenges have you had, as far as finding a balance between making aesthetically pleasing art for a show versus the marketing of that show?
A lot of band’s agents don't see the value in poster art. Some do, but most don't… There are a few bands out there, like The Black Keys, that almost always have awesome poster art for their shows, and then there are bands that never do.
Poster art still really isn't a mainstream form of artwork, and a lot of people still don't see the value in creating a piece of art for a band or show. A lot of agents see things in terms of numbers, and they think that a huge photo of an artist with as much information as possible squeezed into the design is what sells a show.
The idea behind poster art is that by creating a work of art for an event, not only do you create an advertisement that won't be thrown away, but you create something that has thought put into it, and that people want, and will even pay money for it.
Is making art for commerce sake less valid than making art for art’s sake?
It can be, but it all depends on how you approach it. I've always looked up to the artists that make a living getting paid to do what they do, instead of getting paid to do exactly what someone tells them to do. This, to me, is the difference between a “graphic designer” and a “poster artist.” Usually when you commission a poster artist, you are paying them for their concept, their vision and their execution. Fortunately, I’m now finding myself more and more in this situation. For the most part, when a company comes to me and commissions me to create something for them, they are asking me for a concept and to do what I do.
Tell us about your Gibson GuitarTown guitar. What was your inspiration?
I have not done anything at all like this in the past, but I plan on doing a lot more projects like this. It’s great that they asked me to do this, and it’s really great that I get to create a piece that honors a legendary band such as ZZ Top.
I began this project by looking at past GuitarTown guitars, studying what I thought worked and what didn't work so well… I came up with a lot of really elaborate ideas, but started to realize that those ideas would be too expensive and very time consuming. I considered using an automotive wrap, but I felt that this route would have looked too perfect and corporate, not artistic enough.
There is something to be said about the pieces of eye candy that come in the form of imperfections. I wanted to do something hands-on. When you use your hands to create something from your heart, soul and brain, it’s not going to be technically perfect. My favorite pieces of art and music have imperfections, which, to me, give the piece character.
I decided to go in a street art/wheat paste direction, with imagery based on the ZZ Top car and their album “Eliminator.” Street art is something that I’ve always loved and am very familiar with. I did a drawing, I tweaked the drawing in Photoshop and Illustrator, and then printed the design on paper in pieces, in black and white. I then hand-cut the design with an X-Acto blade. The glue that I used to bond the design to the guitar is a homemade wheat paste. Next, I distressed the design using spray paint, watercolor, sand paper, coffee, etc. I don't think everyone will quite understand the route that I took, but that’s okay. This is the analog recording approach, not the “edit and compress everything in Pro Tools” approach.
Where do you go from here? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
There are two things that I do – art and music. I really just want to grow as much as possible as an artist. I hope that I am able to create pieces of art over the next 10 years that when I look back, I know that the things I made and created were a positive inspiration. To me, the ability to inspire others is the ultimate sign of success.
Danny Curnen’s ZZ Top inspired Gibson GuitarTown Guitar, “The Eliminator,” will be on display at the Saturday, August 3 SSMF street festival before being placed along the boulevard. for public display.
To see more of Curnen’s artwork check out www.dannyexcess.com
Photos courtesy of Genie Sanchez and Danny Curnen