#74: Gemma Danielle
Artist Gemma Danielle’s intricate mandala work intersects with her mastery of the healing arts as a reiki practitioner. For her, both are spiritual, referring to to inner energies and meditational journeys. And now she shares these visual therapies on a larger scale in public murals, most notably her Urban Arts Fund-supported geometric masterwork “City of the Sun,” on the Cherry Creek Greenway, which recently received national honors from the Public Art Network. Danielle took time from her latest project — raising a new son — to answer the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Gemma Danielle: I'd like to paint with Agnes Martin. Her works are states of pure existence. Some people are drawn to wild, Dalí-esque showman personalities, while I resonate more with the quiet types who work diligently in the background, not needing to be a face to the work. Martin was so innocent, humbly claiming she never had any ideas of her own, and completely relinquished all ownership of her work. She credited the work to “The Inspiration,” a vision or voices that would tell her what to create next. Before beginning a painting, she would sit in silence and wait to receive her directions from the Inspiration. She would be presented the work, fully formed in her mind's eye at a much smaller scale, and would then calculate complicated equations to scale up the works, referencing a grid. She understood the universal languages of emotion and mathematics, and her paintings seem to be tuned to a specific emotional vibration. I cry every time I stand in front of one, and that's her art. It's not the painting; it's how you feel when you're in front of one.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
I'm entirely entranced by my son, Jupiter Kaianu. I know it may be a bit trite, but I just gave birth three months ago, and naturally, his arrival has forever changed me. Seeing this little mini human, perceiving this planet with such awe and complex understanding, takes me out of the stories I have written about my life, the dramas that play out, and helps me to remember that I, too, was once born and will one day die. Plus he looks like me, so he's like a psychedelic meta mirror of my child self. I feel I am seeing the whole world through new eyes, re-examining the corners of our culture that I always took for granted. For example, I am fascinated and horrified by our society's need for police. I have been so deeply moved by his innocence and the pure, raw power of creation, and I feel I am just starting to understand the true importance of love. I am being tested in my ability to be both a mother and an artist, but he is challenging me to question what it means to make art, and why I feel the need to produce tangible works.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
The act of appropriation being the work, like The Most Famous Artist or Richard Prince. You can always tell when an artist has a true channel to pure inspiration.
That, and gallery installations of plants. Painted plants, altered plants or plants knocked over. I think it bothers me because I've been to the Amazon rainforest and experienced the jungle. I'm sure a lot of people want to see geometric line work die, too. Isn't it a wonderful experience to develop taste and opinions?
What's your day job?
I'm a mother. It's simultaneously the most difficult and most rewarding job I have ever done.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I would build and maintain a sustainable retreat facility for creative empowerment and healing. I am interested in helping others find more love, joy, health, prosperity and expression in their lives. I believe that the root cause of most physical problems is unexpressed creativity and emotion, and when someone is empowered to manifest their vision — whether that be in a work of art, a song, tending a garden or producing a meal — there is a great healing of the soul that occurs. I want to create space for transformative experiences that enable people to explore their full potential, to create lasting happiness in other's lives.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver is one of the best cities in the world, and I think it has big dreams for itself. When I moved here seven years ago, it was a bit more open, unguarded and generally friendly, but I've seen the rapid urban growth create a new sense of competition in a subtle way, I think as a symptom of the housing market. When I was pregnant, I knew I couldn't live a block off Colfax anymore, so I moved from downtown Capitol Hill to a house on top of a remote mountain in Evergreen. It's so quiet, I can hear the hummingbirds racing by our house. The trees whisper, the wind howls, and the wildflowers are spectacular. I am able to come to the city when I need to, but I always appreciate coming home to the mountain views and fresh, clean air. It's been good for me to be a bit isolated, too, as it minimizes distraction and helps me to stay focused on the work. Every day is a quiet meditation. If I am going to leave Colorado, it will be for somewhere really amazing, like Guatemala, Costa Rica or Hawaii.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Offer more grants.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Wow, I have to pick just one? There's such a beautiful range of talent to choose from. I'm a huge fan of Kristen Hatgi Sink. She exudes timeless, classic beauty in both her creations and her being. I especially love her video pieces, shown in the context of her installation work.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I'm currently stepping back from the production rampage I've been on for the past few years, and forcing myself to learn about slowing down. I've been exploring new avenues of expression, traveling, teaching workshops and offering ceremonies in our Evergreen home. Eventually I'll be relaunching my website and shop, but at the moment I'm enjoying following my muse and visions, working on a few larger and more complex pieces. I've had lots of work that I've turned down, as I'm choosing to focus on the art of raising a child, which has sometimes been difficult to accept. I went from being an artist having a baby to a mother who makes art, and I think this year will be the integration of that transformation.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I heard Poppy Breeze Sink is the next "It" girl and will be one of the most important voices in the Denver art dialogue.
Visit Gemma Danielle’s archive online and watch for her new website. See “City of the Sun” along the Cherry Creek bike path at Speer Boulevard and Blake Street.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.