Danny Cole Has Broken the Mold of a Traditional Artist, and Countless Records Along the Way

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Jelani Rice / Troy Anthony Misita / Planetary Services

“I think that Creature World's ability to magnetically attract people that have wonder in their eyes, and put them all together… That’s really special to me,” Danny Cole smiles to me, cocooned in a bean bag chair in his sun-lit Williamsburg apartment. It’s been a busy year for Danny. Over 38,000 versions of Crowd sold on OpenSea—a record-breaking quantity. He just minted a whopping 109,000 iterations of Size Creature, essentially an unorthodox mechanic for distributing the lookbook for Creature World’s on-going clothing collection.

Historically, Danny has shied away from reveling in these numbers, but in our latest conversation, he is glowing as he tells me: "I'm proud right now. 109,000 pieces. 38,000 pieces." He pauses—Danny rarely dives into the stats of his projects like this. "I'm happy to take a moment and just be like, 'We did something here, you know?'"

Over the past few months, Danny and I have frequently talked about the genesis of Creature World, how he first began producing clothing (a story involving a potential kidnapping?) and the various means through which he manages to bring people into this kaleidoscopic landscape.

In all of our myriad conversations, I've been trying to unpack why Creature World has managed to maintain relevance so tactfully over the years. "I really firmly believe that art is meant to be experienced. Art is something that is meant to swoop over you," he tells me, and it clicks. The reason is because Danny has never been particularly bogged down by medium. In every ventricle of the Danny's ever expanding universe, the goal is simple:

He just wants people to experience the Creature World.

The Genesis of Creature World

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Jelani Rice / Troy Anthony Misita / Planetary Services

In many ways, Creature World defies strict categorization. Danny doesn’t like to characterize himself as a painter; rather, the Creature World is an entity in and of itself. The avenues through which it is presented to the audience are arguably arbitrary.

"I feel silly saying that I make art. I know that it's the easiest thing to say when I'm looking for a real simple thing to tell somebody: I’m a painter. Or, ‘I run a brand.’ But for me, I just have this picture in my head of a very fun place. And I feel compelled to try to make that place the environment that I'm in.”

"So however I can work towards that, however I can make the world around me a little bit more colorful and put a smile on my face and anyone else's face in the process. That's what I like to do."

Danny grew up in a small town in Jersey, and moved to NYC right after graduating high school. When I ask him when he first began drawing, he doesn’t recount a lifelong trajectory as a painter. He began formally painting the Creatures at 17; but his practice of envisioning them and bringing them into the physical realm started as far back as preschool. 

“It was this dream that I loved drawing pictures of, and loved drawing comics of. When you do something enough times, it's this muscle memory, intuition-based habit. If you looked at my life growing up, there was never a gap in my life when I stopped drawing the Creatures.”

There was never a gap in my life when I stopped drawing the Creatures.

- Danny Cole

After scrawling the Creatures in the margins of notebooks for years, Danny first put the Creatures into a painting at 17:

“It was this awakening, transformative experience where I got lost in that world. It was as if everything else disappeared and I had the opportunity to reflect for the first time—perhaps ever—and be like, wait, why have I been drawing this thing for so long? Where did this come from? And tracing the journey back of all the times that I had drawn this same Creature to the point that I'm in preschool, in the basement of a dusty church finger painting.

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Danny's mother believes that his present-day asthma was caused by his time in the dusty church basement. / Jelani Rice / Troy Anthony Misita / Planetary Services

"It reminded me of the wonder that children emerge with, and it allowed me to hold onto that wonder. Because I had this tether.”

Danny Gets to NYC

“So in 2018, I get to New York and I'm like, I want to bring people to the Creature World. I wanna bring people to this magical world that I've been painting, that I've been getting lost in. My one big goal was, I want to take other people to the Creature World.”

In the overwhelming world that is New York City, Danny often found himself trudging through the streets with his gaze pointed towards the ground. “I got really familiar with the sidewalks in New York, and not too familiar with anything else. So I started carrying some paint in my pocket. And when I would see a great spot, I would paint a picture on the sidewalk. And I did this for a little while until one day I was like, what do I have to lose? And I started signing my name on them.”

Very quickly, messages started pouring in from people who felt great attachment to the works Danny was spreading around the city. This snowballed into Danny throwing his very first show.

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"Battle for Harmony" / Courtesy of Danny Cole

“I threw my first show independently, and so many people came out to it—hundreds of people. And I remember looking around the room at this show and seeing that people had experienced what I wanted them to experience. And part of that was that wasn't just paintings on a wall. I knew that paintings on a wall wasn't gonna cut it. So I actually took the opportunity to sit all everybody down on the floor of this space that I had, and I told them a story from the Creature World, as they could be surrounded by the art that was depicted in the story. And seeing on everybody's faces that they went where I had, you know, so hoped they could possibly go. That was enough to hook me where I was like, this is going to reward me how I wanna be rewarded.”

“So I went on this prolific run of throwing as many shows as a human possibly can, and each one was way crazier than the next.”

Then the pandemic hit.

Enter, Web3

As someone who had built a lot of community around in-person gatherings and celebrations, the pandemic required Danny to figure out other avenues through which to bring people into the Creature World. “That was when web3 came into the picture, perhaps this practice can be continued on a screen. And in that I experienced what it was like to galvanize a an international family.

"It was really something special. I think during the pandemic, everybody was really longing for connection. And to be able to create a space for people to find that with each other was really special. I always said about the Creature that what I really loved about it was how open-ended it is.

For me, art is: can I make something that's able to scream at you?

- Danny Cole

"I felt that it could act as a bridge. If I look at a Creature and I sort of see myself in it, and you look at a creature and you see yourself in it, that I might be able to look at you and be like, 'Well, you and I aren't so different.'

“I saw it happen in the form of all of these little art pieces that people began to use as their identities on the internet. Creature World's connotation on average was accepting, loving, it was very human, despite it being a creature.

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Jelani Rice / Troy Anthony Misita / Planetary Services

"For me, my art is not that I'm the greatest painter. For me, art is: can I make something that's able to scream at you? And in that groundwork, a painting and a digital art piece are the same thing."

Throughout our conversation about the project, Danny is clearly immensely grateful for the community it built. But we also get a bit into how the practice of making a purely art project in that era wasn't without its obstacles:

"This buzzword was introduced: utility. What does this thing do? Because unlike paintings, when you're making things in these blockchain formats, they're capable of doing some pretty crazy things. And that led us to... create things that we hoped could further immerse people in the artwork."

"Creature World very simply leads with what we're making, as opposed to categorizing ourselves as: this is NFT artwork."

While numerous projects promised utility that was consistently tied to some sort of financial gain, it could be an uphill battle to be someone who was really just trying to communicate something to their audience. There were numerous demands that the digital asset must be a ticket, an entry pass to something more:

“Really the only thing that we feel particularly qualified and feel strongly about sharing as artists, is the creativity. So we're like, all right, you have these art pieces. Let's see if we can give you the ability to experience them, more than you've ever been able to experience an art piece before.

“As I'm trying to use this technology to further immerse people in the experience of an art piece, my counterparts are like: ‘I'm going to create a new currency’ and ‘I'm gonna give you money.’ ‘You wanna be a millionaire? I'm gonna pay you to have my thing.’

"Some of our proudest releases were forced to compete with promises of financial rewards, which we saw as unsustainable.

“It's not that I think it's bad for Creature World to exist as an NFT, it's just that it's the same way that I would never want to be boxed into like: you are a painter. You're a clothing designer. You're an NFT artist. I'm not. I'm just making the Creature World.”

Getting into clothing

“You hear the horror stories about, oh don’t meet up with a stranger from Craigslist,” Danny tells me as he begins to dive into the story of how he got his first screen-printing equipment, which he uses to this day—”because it’s all phenomenal stuff.” I just have to tell this story because it is such a silly little tale.

“I got this guy on Craigslist, he had amazing screen printing stuff. I was like, ‘Cool dude. I'll pull up to you after school.' So I go to his storage unit, and I get there and he opens it up and he's like, ‘Oh, the stuff's not actually here. It must be at my house.’

“And I'm like, ‘Okay, let's go to your house!’” Danny giggles to me, realizing how insane it sounds in retrospect. “So I go to his house with him and he walks in is like, ‘Oh, it's probably in the basement.’ I'm feeling a little bit uncomfortable, but I got my eyes on the prize. And I'm about to get some screen printing equipment.

"So he leads me into his basement and there's a room, and then you have to walk through to get to another room, kind of a railroad. And we get to this final room. It's an empty room with a folding table. 

A folding table that has a gun on it. I’m kind of stopped in my tracks. And he walks up to the table and he picks up the gun, and I'm like, ‘Fuck.’ It’s a rifle. He picks it up and he's like, ‘Oh, my son must have left this here.’ And then he puts it back down and he opens up this side door.

And sure enough there's a ton of screen printing equipment in there. And he gives it to me.”

This screen printing equipment is what Danny uses to this day, although his recent collection includes a myriad of other production techniques. His first collection was with advisry last year, and I agree with Danny that is one of “the only examples of quote-unquote IP in web3 that was embraced by pop culture audiences.” I found myself wearing my Creature World sweater vest around NYFW to pretty insane acclaim from attendees. 

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I ask Danny why he's bringing the Creature World into clothing, to which he has a thoughtful response:

"The super simple answer is that I'm searching for a way that this artwork that I love is able to find a home in my everyday life, is able to be something that I can take with me wherever I go.

"And with the debut Creature World solo collection, there was a focus on, can we toe the line of something that captures the same pop art essence, but feels perhaps a little bit more camouflaged?"

"When I was throwing these shows, the biggest issue for me was the Creature World was only able to be alive for an hour or two hours. For me, what it looks like for us to level up is for our creations to be things that you can get lost in for greater amounts of time."

Danny leaves me with one of his most blunt categorizations as we wrap up one of our conversations, with a big grin:

My life mission is to make some fun pictures.

- Danny Cole

The clothing collection, Size Creature and Crowd are just more pieces in the puzzle which bring Creature World into more and more aspects of the real world. Remember, it isn't an art project, or an NFT collection or a clothing brand. Creature World is an actual world. The means through which we catch glimpses of it are purely incidental.

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