The Ethereal World Of Daniel Leighton

Daniel Leighton’s recent body of work,“Permission to Enter,” combines his background in film, animation, technology into digital paintings; producing a multifaceted, esoteric, interactive experience. Try saying THAT 10 times. The exhibit is a limited edition of ten, varying in size and dimension and was recently on display at the Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 in October/November of 2015 when this interview took place. "Permission To Enter" infuses conceptual art, new media and eastern philosophy provoking a wide range of emotions from the viewer. Combining iPad paintings and an iOS application that Daniel created, (“Daniel Leighton Art + AR”), he sketches rainbow-colored images resulting in digital paintings then taking it one step further by adding the element of Augmented Reality (AR). AR allows the viewer to interact with the painting through iPhone/iPad, which Daniel programs to recognize the image and can customize with new visuals and sounds. Every single one of his paintings are a combination of iPad’s Procreate and Sketchclub apps, utilizing the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, Nomad Brush, and Sensu Brushes.
    Their Place In The Sky
    Their Place In The Sky
      Since childhood Daniel suffered from Crohn’s Disease resulting in six abdominal surgeries and many times of immense physical and emotional pain. He escaped by creating surrealistic worlds eventually encompassing a spiritual cognizance of basic human need. Art provided therapy, as it tends to do, and as technological advancements occurred Daniel now had the tools to create precisely what his imagination desired, an interactive multimedia world interchangeable and unbound between space and time.
        Away From Yesterday (An Opening)
        Away From Yesterday (An Opening)
          Reminiscent of Michel Gondry’s style (Is The Tall Man Happy, Science of Sleep) Leighton’s figures are often metaphysical and reflective. Rich in color they shape shift to tell a compelling narrative; that life is often beautiful even when painful. Each painting expresses a multitude of emotion, though adult in theme they are childlike in essence. Perhaps it's the foundation of our generation, seeking spiritual maturity but never really feeling like a grown up.
            “My first series, ‘Opening Up,’ was me trying to visually express some of the feelings I’ve had my entire life dealing with Crohn’s Disease and other traumatic events,” Daniel says. “So creating those paintings, sharing them with everyone around me, and for the first time, maybe, really being understood, changed almost everything in my life. ‘Permission to Enter’ is about stepping into a new dimension as a result of that, where a lot of old reference points or ways of being in the world no longer exist or make sense.” – Read more about Opening Up, on the Huffington Post (2013)
              When interviewing Daniel, we chatted about several things we had in common; spirituality and philosophy in relation to art, film and technology. His celestial works surrounded us as we spoke about Buddhist concepts, technological advancements and life in general. Our discussion led to an understanding of his creative process exemplifying the basic needs of the human experience... to love and be loved in return, and with that, I was permitted to enter.
                Trust The Ground
                Trust The Ground
                  Lets discuss the iOS apps you use to create your work.
                    I primarily use two – Procreate and Sketchclub. I started doing this five days after the first iPad was released. At that time I was using an app called Adobe Ideas, which I still use today for a different body of work (it’s now called Illustrator Draw). So it’s been 5 ½ years now. I always thought in images and I’ve always been making films. But it was only recently that I started drawing and painting. About a year before the iPad was released I started experimenting with different mediums. I was playing around with my iPhone when they announced they were coming out with the first iPad and I was excited to know that I was going to be able to play on a relatively huge surface.
                      Take us through the various elements that make up your process. You blend several facets of new media, including mobile/tablet devices, digital prints and augmented reality (AR).
                        I start with the black lines in Sketchclub, just because I like that look, it’s just a look. Then I export from that app, like a sketch, and import into Procreate. Some of the images have two dates, the first date is when I did the sketch and the second is the day I finished painting.
                          How long does it usually take to create a piece?
                            Like anything it depends, some pieces can take eight hours straight and then others can take a lot longer depending where I am. I put layers of color on top of each other. So some have 20 to 30 layers then I clean up the line and the details.
                              How did the concept for the entire series including the names of the pieces come about?
                                “A Substance Called Understanding”, comes from a quote by the Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He is where I first heard of mindfulness “Love is made of a substance called 'understanding,' and understanding is the outcome of your looking deeply." It’s what I want to do with myself and for others. So this was originally inspired by two of my favorite people and then it morphed into my wife and I.
                                  A Substance Called Understanding
                                  A Substance Called Understanding
                                    Your creative process uses all five senses; creating a balanced energy you even incorporate the colors of the chakras. Your art symbolizes collective consciousness experimenting ancient philosophies with new media. A juxtapose in concept, which is kind of funny to think about. How do these characters that play into the narrative of your images come about?
                                      I’ll see start to see faces emerge, then other shapes, like there’s a dog. It was a little after we lost ours, it allowed us to connect, here at the heart center. There is a parental figure with a wonderful relationship; this represents the inner child and the nervous system. In relation to color, there are certain colors I’ve always gravitated towards since I was a child. This particular one was during the time that those beautiful orange tulips were in bloom; I was buying them for my wife Anna.
                                        At this moment I am getting step by step tour on how Augmented Reality plays a part in Daniel's work. Looking through Daniel’s iPad I watch the painting hanging on the wall animate on the screen, with each tap another element is added. Figures on the paintings begin to float and move around, then additional visuals and sounds effects arrive as Daniel graciously entertains me and I in turn am speechless.
                                          Daniel Leighton Art + AR App Demo from Daniel Leighton on Vimeo.
                                            They are just meeting, there is this back and forth, and now they’re so you see how the hearts are nuzzling and the hearts are triggering each other. The app detects each painting, and then knows which layer to give it on each point. And if you tap here… “I love you” is recited…Tell me if you want to soak this in.
                                              Um... YES... It took at least 20 minutes to regain my composure.
                                                You can download the app to your phone to view more of it. The “I love you” voices aren’t in the live version of the app yet but that’s what’s really cool about this is that I update the app and then the image will get an upgrade, for instance the couple who bought this piece has two kids and I recorded all four of their voices so now when they point their iPhone or iPad onto the image they’ll have a customized way to hear their voices repeat, ‘I love you.’
                                                  Just in case you were wondering, my mind was still blown.
                                                    Permission To Enter
                                                    Permission To Enter
                                                      Tell me about “Permission To Enter,” the title of the show and this piece.
                                                        “Permission To Enter” is about being bombarded by other peoples energy, Voicemail’s, Texts, E-Mails… it’s like we have less and less time for ourselves. This guy (pointing to the image) is trying to find space – this shape takes the form of a snail and for me it’s part of slowing down, which is like helping him with all the chaos. One night we were walking our dog and it was one of those days that it actually rained in LA, so it was wet, all of a sudden we heard this crunch – and then realized we accidently stepped on a snail – so this represents that type of moment – slowing down and being present.“Permission To Enter” applies to all the pieces. Whether it is emotionally, physically or intimately. It’s like when someone has been out and you’ve been at home, and the other person walks in, the energies are different -like two different people in two different places.
                                                          Part Two Coming Soon.
                                                            About Daniel Leighton : Daniel Leighton is a Los Angeles-based contemporary artist whose work arises from resurrected memories and persisting visions. His early career encapsulated the imagery of his mind through video art, technology and theory and has presently summoned expression through digital painting. Being faced with his mortality since childhood due to a chronic illness (Crohn’s Disease), the workings of the body are crucial and revered. As Leighton paints, he follows his physical pain to a place of physical relief. This results in an emotional landscape, which he uses to find connection to self and to other. Leighton received the prestigious Regents and Chancellors Scholarship from UC Berkeley where he graduated cum laude with a BA in film. He has had previous solo exhibits at WAAS Gallery in Dallas, TX and the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA). Leighton’s work has been featured in numerous group shows, curated by the likes of Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Mat Gleason of Coagula Curatorial, and art critics Peter Frank and Shana Nys Dambrot. He has done two presentations at the Apple Store in Santa Monica on art and technology.
                                                                      Daniel Leighton's Art + AR (APP)