Flying Uke / Daniel George (INTERVIEW)
by Teemunny Published on Sunday, October 6, 2013
Over the summer, my friends Drura and Aurora, a lovely couple based in Lexington, Kentucky, happened to be in town. In Portlandia, they were here to attend Aurora’s week-long family reunion and her cousin’s nuptials that weekend. Before I joined the Parrishs for a memorable and decadent prix fixe dinner at the incomparable Beast restaurant, I met them at Aurora’s grandmother’s residence, somewhere in between the Brooklyn and Sellwood-Moreland neighborhoods. There was a casual get-together in progress as the Segnitz/George clan were hanging out, eating and soaking in libations here and there.
I was introduced to Daniel George, Aurora’s cousin, a working artist, printmaker, potter and sculptor based in Malibu, California. We had a brief but interesting conversation about art and culture and I told him about The Superslice. Before I hustled off to Beast with Aurora and Dru, and after the couple tucked in their adorable little girl, Coco, we exchanged information and looked forward to a talk, in the near future, about Daniel’s work, his clothing line Flying Uke and his philosophy on art. Check out the interview below as George has some interesting and enlightening things to say about nature, his craft, his humble aspirations, and the production/commerce of art.
TONY TRINH: How’s it going, Daniel? Tell me a little about your company, Flying Uke. What does the name refer to?
DANIEL GEORGE: There is a little story behind the name of my company as with most of my art and the themes found throughout it. Four years ago I took a surf trip to Chile to see about a gal and some waves. While there, I had an intense and adventurous 45 day immersion experience. I spoke only Spanish, surfed everyday and nearly drowned. A month after barely making it back stateside a massive earthquake created a tsunami that destroyed a lot of the central coast where I had been exploring. The very trees I was camping under where ripped out by the roots.
After I returned I made a poster-sized linoleum block which I intended to edition to raise money for the relief effort in Chile. The design depicted North, Central and South America. In the spirit of sending help south, the design included ukuleles flying from California down the coast to Chile.
The “Flying Uke” then became a theme throughout my printmaking and in the relief-carved surfaces of my functional ceramics. It has come to symbolize intuition, creativity, freedom, expression and is a beacon of good vibes.
From this spark I began building my company. I started by printing on recycled fabrics and hand sewing them to hats. My process involves wrangling shirts from the local thrift store in Malibu where I volunteer, deconstructing them into patches that I print with my hand-carved lino blocks. From there I hand sew them on as pockets and patches on t-shirts, hoodies, and hats.
I believe that real art happens for me when I immerse myself in the process and don’t focus on the product. I am proud that my product embodies this belief and is obviously embossed with the touch of the artist.
TRINH: That is quite the narrative, Daniel. It is intense yet inspiring. You seem like a chap who is really grounded by nature and conscious of the environment around him. Have you always been this way or was this born out of surfing and/or your artistic endeavors?
GEORGE: That was longwinded. I will try to keep it shorter but I feel I should paint the whole picture.
TRINH: Oh no, by all means, go on at your leisure. I appreciate good stories and in-depth responses.
I was home schooled until I started high school while being raised on land in a bucolic area with room to roam. I had a lot of time to interact with my environment, i.e. fort building, weapon construction, etc. When I discovered the ocean and surfing after college, it immediately taught me to become in tune with the weather patterns, tides, and from where and when the next swell is arriving. Between working with clay and surfing in the ocean, I have maintained a good water/earth elemental balance. My time in the water inspires my time on land.
I also source a lot of my materials from my environment. I recycle wood from local remodels to build furniture, collect objects and textures for mix media work, and repurpose used clothes to print on with my linocut designs. In other words, I think I would have fit right into the primal, hunter/gatherer, survival-based culture of our ancestors. So, yes I have always been very connected to my environment. Making art and surfing have helped to forge an even stronger and more spiritual connection with it while helping me to find out who I really am.
TRINH: So does the found object inform what kind of graphic you end up executing or is it about superimposing your vision onto the material of the found object?
GEORGE: The found or recycled aspects of my work depend greatly on the medium. As it relates to printmaking and Flying Uke, the found and recycled materials are more of a way to create a mixed media approach to “fashion” while imbuing value and meaning to a swatch of cloth that would be otherwise be fairly insignificant. I do, however, allow the pattern/texture of the fabric to inform my decision on the placement of the block. My goal with Flying Uke has been to use clothing and hats as a public canvas for my art as a graffiti artist would use a wall. As a potter I am very attached to uniqueness and functionality of each hand made piece. I discovered that printmaking is a way for me to soulfully reproduce an image that embodies the good vibes I want to put out into the world and therefore gets my message out even more prolifically.
I am creatively distracted as many artists are. The Artifact Tree, the local thrift store in Malibu, provides me with an unending quiver of vintage memorabilia, knick-knacks, and objects that I incorporate into mixed media sculptures and 2D work. A discarded redwood fence from a couple miles up the coast transformed into a couple dinner tables and half a dozen bed frames. I enjoy finding new meaning and function in the trash and old materials that have endured the test of time and now can flavor the present nicely.
TRINH: What artists are you inspired by and inform your work? At our site, we’re interested in this notion of culturally cross-pollinating. Everything is a remix. One “work” descends or ascends from the previous work. We’re turned off by the term “mashup” but we love the concept. Life, art…it’s all a cocktail.
GEORGE: Tony, that is a very astute observation and I resonate with the concept very much. In fact, this from the About Us section of my website is relates directly to what you are saying.
Our style is rooted in resourceful Southern handiness and cross-pollinated by the flavors of California coastal living. The flying ukulele itself is an auspicious symbol of creative freedom – a beacon of good vibes. We create unique and functional recycled headwear made from deconstructed T-shirts, each one individually printed and stitched by hand. We value the artists touch and are proud that each piece has been embossed with it. Like a covered wagon with a sail, we aim to be a dynamic vehicle for progress.
The concept of mixing and combining is an integral part of the way I live my life. My creativity and aesthetic can be applied across many mediums from the mixing flavors in the kitchen, colors on a canvas, juxtaposing materials in furniture design, playing notes on a fretboard, to the way that printmaking ultimately informed my body of work ceramics. I believe that my natural tendency to mix was nurtured by the way I was brought up. Shopping at thrift stores, building sculptures from natural materials in the woods, and learning to cook in the kitchen with my mom from a young age.
I have always been fascinated by the work of Andy Goldsworthy and enjoy the site specific and ephemeral beauty of his pieces. His process inspires me. An art piece that speaks of how it was made with its final product appeals to me. I believe that I make my best art by removing the expectation of a final product and immersing myself in the process. My mom can draw and paint photorealistically. Growing up I thought that was what the 2D was all about. Accurately capturing the essence of what I was drawing. That has always been difficult for me. In grad school I took a step back and realized that my art has much more emphasis on process/expression than precision. That realization allowed me to feel more free while creating. So I continue to use the same stick figures I have been drawing my whole life.
I really dig the work of Robert Rauschenberg. I discovered his work after already having delved deeply into the mixed media found object realm so it was like dumping creative gasoline onto an already healthy assemblage bonfire. The richness and freedom of the layers in his work combined with chunky paint and quirky combinations of objects is profound. I also very much enjoy the how the canvas for him is a starting point and his expression is not confined to its physical boundaries.
My undergrad ceramics professor Matt Long, was very influential for my clay work. He taught me to start each piece with a solid technical foundation and then decorate or manipulate from there. He is an amazing craftsman/artist and really good fella to boot. I spent a semester just learning how to make a good handle on a mug…the handle I still use on my mugs to this day.
Other heavies like Picasso, Gaudi, and Hendrix have inspired me as well. There is so much that is inspiring to me, but I also like to revel in the Malibu art-making bubble I live in and try to create from a place of innocence while trying to purely channel my creativity. I believe that everyone has it in them and if directly channeled, others will relate to the rawness of the expression. From deadmau5 to the Sagrada Família there is so much to be discovered, combined, repurposed. Life is indeed a roller coaster of a cocktail party.
TRINH: Yes, Andy Goldsworthy is an interesting precedent. I see how his use of the context of land and nature could inform your way of working…your process. And then I see that organicism pass through the filter of a Rauschenberg and the amalgamation of your production starts to make sense. This commingling of an inspiration of the elemental context along with the cataclysm of pastiche. I get it. It is intriguing. Not only are you dealing with this mixture, or alchemy, or “cross-pollination” as we have termed it –I also see that you are dealing with this notion of accumulation and layering. Not only as a technique and as a process but as an allegory also. I appreciate that. It’s poetic. Here’s an opportune quote:
It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation.
I appreciate your thoughtful answers. I asked this of your cousin, Aurora, who is also an artist. I think it’s an important question to ask in this milieu as many artists have evolved or devolved into brands. How do you negotiate between commerce and art? Do you think about this? Or is it just full steam ahead with making, doing, producing? Is it a “the rewards will come later” type of thing or is it a “the reward is in the process” thing? What is the reward? Commerce? Exposure? I’m just trying to get into your motivational mind.
GEORGE: I see my interaction with the world as an energy exchange. I am a mixture of my formal training and innate aesthetic. As I have grown up and become more assured and committed to my path. The world has reacted favorably, and therefore, reinforced for me that I am on the right journey of creation and exploration. I would be doing this anyway, so why not figure a way to create a niche for myself? The challenge is to decide what is the optimal use of my skills in order to facilitate financial freedom and a good healthy way to live simply. As I mentioned before, I think that folks react to a purely channeled energy. I have this idealistic belief that if I am doing what I am supposed to with my time and energy in this life, then things will work out.
Exposure, recognition, commerce and all those good concepts, are inevitably part of the end goal, to varying degrees. Recognition is, of course, important but at what personal cost? I am a country boy from Florida who lives adjacent to Tinsel Town. Everyone here is scratching for the spotlight and lunging for the limelight. It seems to me that when a lot of folks achieve success when they forget who they are, while losing the freedom of anonymity. Keepin’ it “real” and grounded has always been a top priority for me. There is, however, a vicious lil’ catch-22 in the art world. Unless you are Banksy, anonymous recognition is hard to pull off. Then what does one do when one wants to earn money but doesn’t want to lose anonymity? That being said, folks are not beating down my door asking for an autograph and that is one of those cross that bridge if I am “lucky enough to get there” kind of thing. It may sound like I don’t want notoriety, but I do in some way. I would like to be recognized for the things that I make.
It is funny that you bring up branding and artistic commerce. I am both an art entrepreneur and a fine artist. I am selling my brand in stores but also show other stuff I make in galleries. Flying Uke for me has been an exploration in the marriage of art and fashion. By creating a brand, I can put products into the world that embody my aesthetic and can be replicated in a soulful, hand-shucked manner. I also like that it is an effective grass roots way to get my good vibes out to lots of folks. I recently watched Exit Through the Gift Shop for the first time. It made me think that my high vibration designs that are now being worn by people in my community are somehow analogous to Banksy’s adornments of public spaces. It is funny to think that there is an intersection between graffiti and fashion. Ideally, when it is up and really rolling, it will give me the time to make the more intimate one-of-a-kind pieces that I really enjoy making as well.
It always feels like some kind of stream-of-conscious diatribe when I respond to your questions –I very much enjoy this discourse.
Being an artist and having the time to make work is a reward itself. That is the cake. The icing for me is having this natural creative process bear the fruits of financial stability. I would like to continue living the good simple life I do, but maybe just own the dirt I live on and be able to build a modest home and art studio. That along with retiring my cell phone to the glove box of my truck and setting up a land line with an answering machine where people can leave me a message and I will get back to them when I can. So, in a sense, the reward is in the process of the daily production, from my creation station and anything that precipitates from it is the icing on an already delicious cake.