Occasionally in life, one will alight upon a creator – be they an artist, designer, writer or musician – with the ability to transform the seemingly ‘everyday’ into something extraordinary. Danny Sangra is one such rarity, well and truly blessed with the Midas touch. Perhaps that’s why it came as no surprise to us when he caught the eye of those in-the-know at Burberry.
First commissioned to illustrate the storied brand’s archive, followed by a Snapchat takeover and Augmented Reality collaboration during its London Fashion Week show last September, Danny’s latest project sees him let loose with the label’s signature Doodle bag – as well as on Burberry store windows across the globe!
So, as he gears up to a live event at London’s Regent Street flagship, we spoke to the man himself to learn about the art of being Danny Sangra...
When it comes to your history with illustration, a little bird told us that you used to draw and doodle across magazines when you were young. Is that true?
Yes, it was over hair and beauty magazines in my mum’s salon, which is kind of where I grew up. I'm not sure what I'd draw exactly… ‘classic’ stuff like blacked-out teeth (obviously), but then I guess I'd just do streams of consciousness. I used to draw a lot of cartoons and write song lyrics I'd hear on the radio at that exact moment.
Given that you work so closely with colour – for example, the palette of your Doodle bag with Burberry is so bright and primary – it may come as a surprise to most people that you’re actually colour blind. Does this inform or affect your work at all?
I've always been very specific about colour – because I have to be! Really that's more for my film work though. For the bag collection, it was actually dictated by the Augmented Reality project I did previously with Burberry. Because I was painting in Virtual Reality, and the colour had to pop against whatever real-life situation people chose to use the app, I went for primary colours. Then, when it came to designing the bags, we felt it would be good to keep the world cohesive, which is why I made the bags bright unlike the archive illustration pieces.
Who would you cite as your main inspirations as an illustrator and director comparatively?
William Klein would have to be the all-round person I admire the most. I remember when I was making the transition from illustration to film, his piece ‘Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?’ was a huge reason in why I felt comfortable with the approach I had. He had been a painter before anything else and he still retains that sensibility of how he creates images. For illustration and art, Ray Johnson was a major turning point for me when I saw a retrospective of his work. Specifically for film, it's Aki Kaurismäki, Jean-Luc Godard and Woody Allen. There are others, but those are my go-to directors. These days, I actually write more than I make films or draw. I'm not a heavy reader as I lack the patience, but I'm trying! I find reading gives me the most inspiration.
On the subject of writing, the text you’ve used across the Doodle bag includes almost-throwaway exclamations or phrases we might hear and use every day. Why did these make the cut? What was your initial starting point?
This has happened over time. Just before I moved into film, I was actually getting bored with illustration – I began writing and stopped drawing. This is what led to me working in film. I guess, because I was comfortable drawing, I found I was writing all these notes and so I started photographing them. It felt really raw. To be honest, my last show was 80% writing. Most of this comes from dialogues I've written or things I've heard. I don't like writing statements that seem conclusive; that feels tacky to me. So, typically, I write things that need to be deciphered. However, for the Burberry project, from the beginning it was meant to be very British – but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just 'Big Ben’ and ’London Bus' British! I was born in Yorkshire, but have lived in London almost half my life; I wanted a lot of colloquialisms which I knew would bring a humour to the project.
You’re so right! There’s a definite wit at play here. How would you describe your sense of humour, and how does it intertwine with your work?
With my personal work, I tend to not hold much back! I think the humour comes from me not trying to sell the work; I'm just writing whatever is on my mind, from either my own points of view or my characters’ points of view. I don't really try make stuff funny, it's just the way it comes out. There's an awkwardness to the way I present it that adds to it – you either relate to my work or you don’t, I’m not trying to hook you in!
A phrase that particularly caught our eye on the Doodle bag was ‘Welcome To My Brain’. We’re curious, what does a day in the brain of Danny Sangra look like?
I'm typically working on multiple projects and I don't write down things in calendars… So I imagine it would look like a war zone with ideas fighting for attention!
Among these multiple projects is your collaboration with Burberry on the Doodle bag! What is it about the brand that resonates with you as an artist?
This is actually the first time I've worked with Burberry, however it's been split into multiple projects. It all started back in the summer, when they asked me to illustrate over their archive of advertising. They then asked me to take over their Snapchat for the show (they know I don't use Snapchat, so that was a brave move!). Then, we did the Augmented Reality app, followed by the Doodle bags and the live event tour. I've actually spent half a year working with them, and what surprised me was how much freedom they have given me. Usually, with companies of that size, there's tons of restrictions – but Christopher and the team have just let me get on with what I do. Obviously, I reacted to the fact it's an illustrious British brand that is so engrained in the culture. Whatever I did, it had to feel honest.
What can we expect from your live windows at the Burberry store in London? Do you have a game-plan, or will you find inspiration on the day?
I've had some things in mind… I knew I would write “How do you say roast beef Yorkshire pudding” in the Tokyo store window, but I didn't know I was going to lay down and pretend I was asleep! I've kept every window on the tour 'internationally local' – but once I'm in the window, who knows! I've been getting away with more and more as this tour progresses. I want people on the street to stop and take it in. I don't just want some pretty windows.
Visit Burberry's flagship store at 121 Regent Street to see Danny in action; on Friday 8th December 11am-1pm, Danny will be illustrating the store windows; on Friday 8th December and Saturday 9th December at selected times, Danny will be customising and illustrating Burberry Doodle bags. All images courtesy of Burberry.