Recall the iconic photographs of Frida Kahlo in her full body cast, head propped up by some odd contraption, painting in bed. 45-year-old filmmaker, painter and app developer Daniel Leighton is a modern day Kahlo. Leighton was born with Crohn’s Disease and was diagnosed by the age of five. This had a major impact on almost every aspect of his life, including, if not especially so, on his art. Listening to him talk about his art pieces and his entire process, it becomes immediately apparent that these works are coming from an honest and undiluted place deep within himself. He emanates sincerity and has that very specific wisdom found in people who have faced and overcome massive hardships throughout their life. CULTURE sits down with Leighton at LAAA/Gallery 825 where his solo show is currently on exhibit and gets the low down on life, art and of course his recent app, Augmented Reality.
How did “Augmented Reality” come to you? What inspired it?
When I first encountered “Augmented Reality,” and I realized what I could do with it, I became very excited. I could see a future with endless possibilities. In my work right now, I am combining film, sound, animation and interactivity.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
Love, pain, loss, connection and disconnection. Color, motion and curves. Music and movement. Expression. People and how they relate to each other and how they feel deep down inside. Beauty.
What are your thoughts on how medicinal cannabis has helped you personally?
It’s an extremely effective medicine for dealing with the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. There are also many studies from highly regarded institutions showing great promise in how medicinal marijuana can help many diseases. There is no question that it should, and will be legal everywhere. Keeping medicine away from people who need it is unconscionable.
How has the tablet and the apps you work with changed the way you make and perceive art?
One of the biggest things is immediacy. My setup time is a matter of seconds. My studio (i.e., my iPad) is available all the time. This is especially important when I go through periods of more intense illness.
Can you describe your process?
Sometimes I start with a specific idea, but more often than not, I just start drawing and see what develops. I start moving my stylus across the screen—this brings instant calm. As I do this, I’m checking in with my body, feeling into what my body is telling me—it’s this constant feedback loop, a back and forth that brings me closer and closer to the center of my being.
How did you start making art?
There wasn’t really a point where I started—it’s just always been a part of who I am. I always saw things that others didn’t and I always had an intense drive to create. I think the need to express and create was intensified by all the trauma I’ve been through, but I think I would have been an artist regardless. I didn’t always identify myself as an artist, which is kind of bizarre now that I look back on it, because, clearly, I always was one.
What challenges do you enjoy? What challenges do you dislike?
I enjoy making new stuff and constantly learning and growing as a person and an artist. I dislike willful ignorance, which many people practice particularly when it comes to dealing with their feelings and taking responsibility for their lives. Life is hard, but it’s not that complicated. Find something you love to do and do it as much as you can; make the best of whatever circumstances you find yourself in and do what you can to make them better; and spread as much love as you can to yourself and others.
Would you say your art comes from a dark place?
In a sense, yes, because it’s unexposed and people don’t necessarily want to look at that.