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Finding Home

Q&A with Dani Williams

Interviewed by Miles Brewster

Dani Williams (24’) is a 19 year old Latinx painter without a home. Over the course of their life they have lived in seven different states, experiencing tons of different environments. But they have always considered Costa Rica their home, despite never actually living there. Their art is raw and full of vibrant colors and emotion, reflective of their Costa Rican roots. I was able to sit down with Dani and talk about their upbringing, influences, process and the impact they want to have through their art.

Talk to me about where you are from.

I’ve lived in seven different states, which definitely plays a part in how crazy and chaotic my artwork is. A lot of it delves into moving between different places.

So you don't have a place that you consider home?

I consider my home to be Costa Rica because my family is there, but I have never lived there long term. I don’t got no home

Speaking of Costa Rica, how would you identify yourself ethnically speaking?

I definitely consider myself to be Latinx. Costa Rica is a big part of my art because Costa Rica has been the one recurring thing in my life.

What influence has Costa Rica had on your art?

So my abuela was a painter, and I grew up seeing her paintings. So much Latin art is just so vibrant and that is something that categorizes it. It’s also something that categorizes my art in particular. When you go to Costa Rica and you see these gorgeous natural colors, people that are so vibrant, kind and loving, this culture really translates to painting. In Latin America you are able to really grasp on to your art because there are so many artists.

What do you think drew you to painting at a young age?

I just love being able to express myself. All my artwork back then, and today as well, is very abstract expressionist I’d say. It was a way for me to express everything that was going on in my life, with moving, with my parents, with family and my identity too. As I’ve grown more into my Latino heritage and my queerness, art has been a perfect outlet to show those identities that are personal to me.

Tell me about your process when you paint. Do you usually have a concrete idea when you start a piece or is it a more natural process?

I took AP art for two years and in the class we would make “thumbnails”, which are miniature ideas of paintings that you’re going to make. I used to hate this because I love painting from a sense of not knowing what’s going to happen. I love putting it together like a puzzle piece. I’m trying to get better at planning things out. For most of my art history I’ve definitely done things based on how my heart feels in the moment. I usually put down a base. I choose a material because I like to use mixed media a lot, and from there I build up the piece. This is because compositionally I have to think about how the colors are going to go together and how the shapes go together. I put patches of color over the painting and ask myself “does this look good here?” and then I’ll kinda go with the flow and keep reworking until I feel like its done.

So that makes me wonder, how do you know you’re done with a painting? For example, in this piece, how did you know you were finished?

Its kind of just a feeling. I have paintings in my basement that I made like 5 years ago. One of the pieces I made recently I started in 8th grade and I finished a year ago because I was like “I kind of want to finish this up”. It's just that happens in the moment, even though that sounds like some bullshit. [they laugh]. I think you can also tell from an artistic standpoint as well. Is the composition flowing okay? Do I have enough contrast? How are the textures fitting together? But also from an emotional standpoint like, is this the emotion I was trying to get across.

What are the emotions you are trying to evoke in a piece like this?

So this piece was made at the height of Covid. I had just moved from Utah to Massachusetts in the middle of my senior year. I didn’t know anybody, my parents were getting a divorce, it was just rough on rough. So in this piece I just put all my emotions on to the canvas I just splattered that you know? I think you can really see that. My favorite colors to play with are blue and red because what emotions do they evoke? Sadness, passion, burning. So I really like to put those emotions at the forefront and showcase that.

Okay, so with a mixed media piece like this how is the process different? What materials did you use?

So this is a collage. It's a mixture of copper, cellophane, paper, wallpaper and pastel. I like to experiment a lot with different mediums, especially as an abstract artist. So with this one, I approached it like a puzzle piece and just built up. I think that's the biggest difference, I can just move something physically. But I love this piece because it's different from what I usually do and collage is really fun.

Now what about this last piece?

Well growing up I saw a lot of masks, abstracted masks that are common in Latin America. Masks play a big role especially in my Abeula’s indigenous culture. So with this piece I really wanted to apply myself into the masks that I saw growing up. Another thing that ties this piece with my Costa Rican identity was natural growth. When you go to Costa Rica you see all these beautiful jungles and when you mix that with the masks. What do you get? I think you get this piece.

What do you want for yourself and your career? And more generally, what do you want your impact to be?

So right now I’m pursuing an art history major which has been super helpful. Learning about the past has really given me insight into my own personal art. I also love looking at other people’s art and curating art. It's not just about the process of making art. As for where I want to go with it? I don’t know yet. I’m still thinking about whether I want to pursue the historical/academic side of painting or do I want to pursue the applicable side of painting. I kind of want to do both. Something I’ve been interested in is art activism in the community. Making art accessible to minority communities especially. Providing an outlet for emotional support and trauma through art. The art world is really white exclusive.

High class too...

Exactly! It's like high class, and “sophisticated”, and “you don’t belong here”, you know what I mean? So I want to change that dynamic and that's part of the reason I’m going into art history and the fine arts. I want it to be accessible to youth of color. For them to have that outlet and to see themselves in museums and know that you don’t have to be the freaking white Van Gogh to be a fine artist. Your art matters and your traditional art matters. A lot of the time we make black and brown art to seem primitive when in reality it's just as valuable as European art and so I want to go in and try to change those mindsets.

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