In our next installment of Label 55 Confidential, we chat with NYC-based fine artist, Dara Piken a/k/a “Whitegrlart.”
From the age of five, Dara started drawing on the backs of her dolls heads. She then moved to the walls. Dara’s mother knew this was her passion and enrolled her into private art lessons immediately. Now, 18 years later, she is completely hooked and hasn’t looked back.
Dara spent her first two years of undergrad at the University of Michigan – Penny Stamps School of Art and Design. After her second year, the Dean told her she was not an “artist of quality” and moved her into the School of Liberal Arts. Confused, Dara protested it saying she had yet to even fail a class. They would not back down, and instead of using their judgment, Dara took her love and passion to the only city she knew would help it prosper: New York City.
She completed her Undergrad studies at the School of Visual Arts and graduated with a Bachelors in Fine Arts in 2016. In her time at SVA, Dara had improved her technique, but was seriously struggling with content. During her final year, she decided to stop trying to create what she thought people would like, and dove back into what she thought truly mattered.
Dara’s art is one of exposure; using her “seemingly privileged” upbringing as her main source as inspiration for works. Instead of trying to fit into the art world, Dara took the opposite approach. She decided to give a huge “Fuck You” to the misleading stereotype surrounding her, embellishing it in all of its glory. Paint and text are Dara’s preferred medium. Dara’s work, as well as her personality, have a satirical and relatable edge. She currently resides in downtown New York City where she is working around the clock.
We sat down with this talented artist to learn a bit more about her.
Q: How long have you been involved in the creative arts industry?
A: I can’t think of a time in my life when I wasn’t in the creative arts industry. My mom put me in private art lessons from the second she saw me finishing out my coloring books and moving on the backs of my dolls heads. However, real time, would be the day I moved to New York back in 2013. I was still in college, but living in New York, my opportunities and exposure were boundless.
Q: What are you involved in?
A: In technical terms, I would say I’m a painter; but, I think I would categorize myself as a writer. I write down everything before I paint it and my thoughts that lead me to my next idea and my next piece.
Q: How did you get involved in it?
A: I’ve been painting, coloring and drawing my entire life. I hated any subject that wasn’t art, and I used to zone out in any class that didn’t allow me to, at least, doodle while the teacher spoke. I was never going to do anything else. It was my destiny, as cheesy as that may sound.
Q: Who were some of your artistic influences?
A: I spent a semester in Barcelona and fell completely in love with Antoni Gaudi. I loved how he single-handedly created the gothic architecture of the city I felt so comfortable in. It felt like a drug trip every time I would walk down the street. There is no place like Barcelona. Leaving New York for this kind of lifestyle was influential enough. I wanted to create a space within my own art that made people feel like they were understood as well. Lena Dunham is a big artistic influence of mine as well. From the second “Girls” came on HBO, women no longer had to be a perfectly chiseled face with a perfectly sexy life to be considered influential. Suddenly the raw and realness of it became the sexy part and that influenced me to be raw and honest with myself and my craft as well.
Q: What is your favorite color or color scheme to utilize?
A: I’m really big on flesh tones with a pop of neon brightness. I’ve recently been into juxtaposing the neon on the photographs I used to paint on or the monotone paintings I started painting. It draws people in. I like the nonsense of it all.
Q: What type of medium do you prefer to use?
A: I used to be strictly oil; but, I have this strength/weakness (you decide) of “changing my mind”. I like to paint over things again and again, so it’s been acrylic all the way.
Q: Did you have any mentors to help guide your way?
A: I had a wonderful professor at School of Visual Arts, Barbara Bloemink, who single-handedly changed my life. She isn’t an artist; but, she is in the art world and saw right through me on my very first day. She and I were able to connect on such a real level, and her input always meant so much because of how well she knew me. She pushed me outside my comfort zones both with my art, and in my personal life.
Tanya Zuckerbrot, who I used to work for, said to always give 100 percent of myself in every little thing that I do. She used to say it to me in a professional manner; but, once I stopped working for her, we became so close. I go to her for advice all the time and she always used to push me to look my best, try my best, and feel my best. She is right… When I take those steps, I come up with my best work.
More recently, Domingo Zapata has been quite the mentor. I have been a fan of his for years, and at my first pop up show, he happened to be standing in the middle of the room when I looked up at one point. A friend of his ran into him down on the Lower East Side and brought him along. I asked him if he was lost. He laughed, shook my hand, and has been a great mentor since. I send a lot of my current works in progress to him. He, too, always pushes me to reach outside of my comfort zone. An art mentor should be doing just that, since art IS personal.
Q: What’s the biggest obstacle faced so far? How’d you overcome it?
A: Time Management. I’ve been saying for the last year or so that there simply aren’t enough hours in a day. Figuring out how long I will need to finish a piece, how much I need to sleep, if I need to work out, if I have enough money to not go into my freelance job, and how much of that time can be given to socializing continues to still be a struggle. There are things we, as humans, need every day; artist or not. I need to be a responsible adult and turn my phone and brain off at night so I can get those 8 hours so I can wake up at six, so I can work out at 7 and so I can get to the easel at 9. I can’t mess around anymore. Growing up sucks!
What was the most important advice you’ve been given?
A: Okay, I can’t say this was given to me personally; but, Lenny Kravitz said “I never had a Plan B. If there was a Plan B, I wouldn’t have gone through with Plan A.” He was on an interview with Howard Stern and was asked if he didn’t become a successful musician, which route he would’ve chosen. I heard this show when I was deciding whether or not to transfer out of University of Michigan. I was weighing the pros and cons of having a Michigan Liberal Arts degree which was a safe bet for any high paying job, or saying “screw it” and going all in. It was the best advice I’ve ever heard. I left Michigan the next day. I’ve been “all in” ever since.
Q: What is your most proud accomplishment to date?
A: Selling out my very first solo pop up show. The walls were filled and the room was at capacity.
Q: What’s your goal of your artwork?
A: To create pieces that are unique, sexy, fun, controversial, and to sell! There will be someone who will love you and someone who will hate you. I hope to expand my fan base and audience to as many different people as I can.
Q: Who is somebody you always wanted to work with?
A: I have a few. Richard Kern. I love how he portrays women in his videos and photographs. He puts them in such a vulnerable state and I try and get that same gist in my paintings. Chloe Wise also seems really cool. I love her work and I feel like I understand her. She’s young in the art world, like me, and has such a recognizable technique. I also would love to go back in time and work with Antoni Gaudi. I’d like to think I’m not such a scaredy cat and would lock myself in Parc Guell and take psychedelics with him. I know I’m too paranoid to ACTUALLY do it; but, a girl can dream!
Q: What does the immediate future hold for your artistic career?
A: I’m currently working on my new series “No Gameboys at the Table.” I don’t have the next date for my next exhibition quite yet; but, I’m taking this time to let my inner drive control the direction of which my pieces go, and less about a calendar date.