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A man-made conversation

Inspired by the juxtaposition of nature and the man-made, Danielle Romero uses art to pay homage to her deep bond with nature. Over the course of a few months, she sat down at a semi-regular speed to have a digital conversation with our art director Mikal Strøm.

“The abstract forms that comprise the majority of my work are inspired by the natural world around me. Plants and landscapes, in particular, play a recurring theme. The many forms of nature convey different images and emotions to an individual; for me, they are the purest feelings of peace and excitement at once; this emotion is what I attempt to translate into my work.”

Painting and ceramics are Danielle’s main focus and comprise the majority of her body of work. On top of that, projects such as apparel design and product licensing have resulted in invaluable collaborations with clientele.

The inspiration that moves Danielle through her creative process is rooted in nature, simplicity, and architecture. Constantly striving to capture the abstract, nature provides endless variations of subtle form, colour, and texture. Her exposure to architecture and design came at an early age, from her mother, an interior designer, who taught her to appreciate the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames, and Isamu Noguchi.  Danielle’s goal for any end product is to bring the energy of the natural environment inside the home while maintaining the object’s ability to harmonize with the environment outside. These simplest of lines awaken a familiarity. They reconnect us with nature on a subconscious level.

Follow Danielle: @floraandform

Photos by: Kelsey Heinze

: You work with a variety of mediums, how did you settle on painting and ceramics?

D: The decision to focus on painting and ceramics was entirely organic. I began my artistic pursuits at a point in my life when I felt a great creative void, and the need to re-discover myself. I began taking ceramic courses at a local studio, as it had always been something I was interested in exploring. Regardless of the difficulty, I quickly fell in love with the process. The tactile nature of this medium is what draws me to it the most; the feeling of wet clay in between your hands is really sublime. For me, working with clay also evokes this connection to our primitive history, a period in which we were completed rooted in nature; because of this, it feels quite instinctual for me to continue working with clay for the rest of my life regardless of what else I am doing. Painting came to me in a very similar way. I simply bought watercolours and began experimenting while watching YouTube painting tutorials. I’ve since moved on to using acrylic paints, and I have begun the exploration into oils. To circle back to the question, I’ve decided to continue in these two mediums thus far because I feel I still have so much to learn and explore within them. However, I am constantly keeping my mind open to the next medium that grabs my attention. Plaster and cement have been calling to me for some time now, haha.

Photos by: Kelsey Heinze

M: I’ve been fascinated by cement myself, but isn’t cement is the opposite of organic? What draws you towards working in that medium?

D: Absolutely, cement tends to give off this man-made, cold, lifeless energy that we associate as the antithesis to nature. But it’s that exact juxtaposition that I find quite interesting. Funny enough, aside from nature, I have become highly inspired by architecture. My mom is an interior designer, and although I was never as taken to the medium as she is, her seeds of passion for it seem to have recently sprouted and taken root in me. I have since become very interested in the balance/harmony between nature and architecture; or more specifically, human habitation within nature. Therefore, I actually do very much love the “proper” use of cement. However, the initial spark of desire to explore working with this material came from my recent trip to Utah. I spent a week hiking in and around Zion National Park – which was one of the most incredible experiences of my life – on the flight home I spent most of the 5-hour ride starring out of the window, as I often do. By viewing from that perspective, how drastically the landscape changes from the rural, expansive natural areas of the western U.S. to the quite densely populated eastern states, specifically South Florida where I live, I was struck by the need to express the uneasiness I felt at that moment. For the past 7 years, I have lived in the more rural, agriculturally zoned area of Miami, which is about 1.5 hour from downtown and the beaches the world is familiar with. The amount of urban growth in my area over that time is astonishing, as well as frightening for me as a person that highly values a sense of solitude and being surrounded by nature. With these emotions, I decided to begin a series called In Progress, which is inspired by the loss of natural lands due to urban development. I plan on this series being quite expansive, no pun intended. What I mean, is that I foresee myself working in bits and pieces on this series for a long period of time. Hopefully, the first phase of this collection will be released in December of this year; that is if I create enough pieces I am happy with. Within this series, I hope to at some point satisfy my curiosity for working with cement.

On my end, I am currently dealing with a likely hit from hurricane Irma here in Miami, I’m in the middle of preparing/panicking at the moment so I may be out of touch until early next week.

[Hurricane IRMA hits]
Photos by: Kelsey Heinze

D: I am back online after a very hectic almost two weeks of storm prep and aftermath! Our house regained electricity on Sunday night after a solid week without it. If it wasn’t for the extreme heat it wouldn’t be such an ordeal, but our house doesn’t even have access to water if the power is out, as we are not connected to the city’s water supply, but instead pump our water out of a well on our property with an electrical pump. So it wasn’t even possible to take a cold shower to escape the heat. Regardless, we are more than grateful that our home is intact, and that our property only suffered some fallen trees and fences. It is much more than we could have asked for compared to the heartbreaking damage that others have suffered because of this massive storm, not to mention the unthinkable situation the folks in the Caribbean are facing now with another cat 5-hurricane hitting as I write this email. Devastating…

I wanted to touch base, and let you know that I am ready and eager to continue our conversation. I am trying to get my house cleaned up and organized this week (we put almost all of our belongings in garbage bags in case of flooding)

“Change seems to me, to be the very nature of life itself. I have a feeling that regardless of what we humans do, the planet will still be in control and we will always be adapting and evolving to its requirements.”

Images from ObscuraShop

M: I’m happy to hear that you and your loved ones are ok and that your home is intact. I saw on you Instagram story that even your newly planted trees had stood their ground against Irma. Take care of your family and your home, and get back to me when you have the time, no rush at all.

While you are here, I thought about the last question I sent you earlier. About what’s natural and not… And am guessing you have thought about this, being in the path of a hurricane; We all agree that climate change is man-made, and we all seem to agree that it should be reversed or at least stopped… Just to be clear, I think so too because I want humans to live… But, if we see humans, and what we do and make, as a part of the evolution, i.e. the climate change as a part of the evolution, it starts to feel a bit odd to try and stop it. It somehow feels as if we are trying to stop the first sea creatures from getting out of the water and evolving into the first Ichthyostega.

Maybe our time is up, and evolution is trying to create the next species who need a warmer planet, but we’re trying to stop the evolution?

<Conversation break —> January>
Photos by: Kelsey Heinze

D: Happy New Year! I’ve finally completed the collection I spoke to you about when we first began our conversation. I was able to experiment with the cement idea and the outcome was wonderful.

In response to your statement, I find your perspective very interesting. I have held the belief for a long time that while yes, there is no question what so ever in my mind that modern human activity is contributing heavily to an imbalance we are seeing in our planet’s health, the Earth has since its birth been in constant flux. Change seems to me, to be the very nature of life itself. I have a feeling that regardless of what we humans do, the planet will still be in control and we will always be adapting and evolving to its requirements.

Images from ObscuraShop

M: Is that usually where you find your inspiration? In the juxtaposition of nature and man-made? I’ve noticed that people often differentiate between man-made and nature. When they talk about evolution, they talk about something that happened in the past. But isn’t the truth that airplanes, nuclear power plants, iPhones, and cities are just as much a part of the natural evolution as anything else?

D: Yes, I do find myself constantly inspired by this juxtaposition. I’ve always been fascinated with the way humans evolved from having a daily, necessary connection to the natural world as a means of survival, to creating their own security in a world almost entirely disconnected from those original skills. What drives my interest is in the balance of both. Like you said, these man-made creations are in essence a natural evolution. I believe everything we create is derived from our species’ historical relationship to our natural home. Exploring that shared history to create something that can represent our present and our past is what excites me.

M: Congratulations on finishing your In Progress series. I saw some snippets from an exhibition you had over the holidays… How has it all been received?

A: Thank you! It’s funny, in a way I feel a sense of completion, but on the other hand, I feel I am at a point of infancy as I plan on continuing to explore the theme of In Progress through further collections. However, for right now, I’m taking a small breather to work on other projects while the next collection develops in my mind. The exhibition at YIELD Co’s Obscura Shop has been wonderful, and I believe well received. Although it was intended to be a preview of In Progress, the work differs quite a bit from the final pieces in the collection. The paintings that were created within the short amount of time between the exhibition and shooting the collection’s catalogue is definitely a departure from my previous work and that of the exhibition. However, it is the nearest I have gotten to achieve a translation of what first sparked my inspiration for this series 8 months ago.

Images from ObscuraShop

M: Looking back at your life, why do you think you now have the urge to reconnect or inspire others to reconnect with nature?

D: Well, for me, nature has been in the forefront of my mind at all the phases of my life thus far. As a kid, I spent what seemed like all of my spare time outdoors in my yard (garden), or fishing and camping with my dad. My father instilled a love of nature in me at a very early age, and all of our family travels were based on nature whether it was skiing, hiking, horseback riding etc. He also gave me my fascination with plants. I would say my teenage years were probably the time in my life that I was most “disconnected” with nature, but even then, I loved going to the beach and generally just being outside. Nature has been a consistent source of grounding for me, so even at my most “disconnected” I always gravitated toward the outdoors to feel calm, and at peace. I used to walk around my yard in a rainstorm if I was bored, and if I was anxious (a feeling I used to suffer from more often than not), I’d just walk around the yard looking at the trees. I think this is the reason I find passion in creating art that attempts to emit this relationship. Perhaps more than an urge to inspire others to reconnect with nature, I have the desire to pay homage to this thing that I have had such a deep bond with my entire life. Inspiring others to have the same is a bonus that may help ensure this connection continues within future generations.

Photos by: Jessica Pages

M: I love that. As an artist exploring the intersection between man-made and basic natural building blocks, how do you see the future? How will your grandchildren experience the world and further… do you play with the ideas of distant future?

D: To be honest, I’m terrible at imagining the future. I’ve never liked it. The dreaded question all of my life has been where do you see yourself in 5, 10 or 15 years. So, where do I see humanity, nature, and the world? I’m not quite sure. A large part of me believes that the earth and its inhabitants go through periods of radical resets. There’s something tugging within me that believe ancient civilizations were not too different from ours today, technology and all. Something happened that reset society, and we may be coming upon a reset sooner than later. Hah, this is the kind of talk that makes people think you’re crazy… but no, all fantastical ideas aside, I think the future will be what it always has been; an ever-changing motion of energy transfer from one thing to another. That’s the best I have for a vision of the future… haha… not much I know…

Photos by: Jessica Pages

M: Not too crazy in my opinion … at some point in eternal time, everything and anything will happen. But do you feel like you’re in the driving seat of the road trip that is life, or are you in the passenger seat with a blindfold or maybe a roadmap?

D: Well, in my opinion, this is likely the most personal question anyone can be asked as it alludes to one’s spiritual or non-spiritual beliefs. For me, this is a topic for a lifetime worth of conversation, but I’ll do my best to condense my personal outlook on it as best I can. In my 32 years of life, I’ve gone through a few different phases where my response to this question would be quite different. As I stand now, with all of my experiences thus far, my belief is that I am not here by accident. About 5 years ago, right before I began painting actually, I realized that I needed to believe that I am not in this life unintentionally. Whether true in the collective reality we all consciously acknowledge or not, for the sake of my happiness as an individual, I needed the affirmation that I, and everything else in this life, has purpose and meaning. This notion is me taking control of that insufferable question that has tormented me since I first witnessed the earthly difference between life and death. Why am I alive? Every individual has their own answer to that question if they choose to ask it. I believe that even if similar in theory, no two answers will ever be identical, as in my opinion, the answer comes from a place that is so complex it is impossible to replicate. For example, for me, it may simply be an attribute of the part of my personality that has a lot of trouble accomplishing things if I can’t see the purpose or end result. Regardless, it has changed me in many ways – for the better, and I believe it will continue to do so until my time here is done. To circle back to the question/metaphor, I believe I’m the driver of the car but I do have a roadmap, and along this trip I may choose to take a side road (and likely many), but I will always be lead back to the main road that I’m supposed to be on for this very personal and individually tailored journey. Notably, no one else is in the car with me that’s for certain…

Photo by: Jessica Pages

M: Thanks Danielle, I’m happy to hear you are in such a good place. Circling back to your work, how do you decide when your paintings are done? Do you have the end result planned out beforehand, or do you stop when it feels finished?

D: At the moment, I do not plan my paintings all the way through to their completion. I always begin with a specific direction; for example, with my new series In Progress, I knew that I wanted the main theme of all the pieces to revolve around mortar/cement. Where I went from there was somewhat of a catharsis flow of experimentation. For me, restraining myself from overworking a piece is the most difficult part of the process. Some pieces speak loudly, which make it easy to recognize that they are complete, however, others are much more mysterious and require longer reflection to be sure they are finished and not overworked.

Thanks for taking the time Danielle, It’s been lovely.