I found Daniel's nascent Instagram page @inkdispensary reading through interesting hashtags on the platform. Go give him a follow! Social media is truly what you make of it. These platforms can be used to spew vitriol and induce a kind of robotic dopamine drip, or they can be harnessed as wonderful exploration tools to build new relationships. We love finding artists late at night, uncovering creative minds and styles.
In any relationship, some connections come easier than others. I knew Daniel would be a great fit in our Artist of the Month series. Immediately drawn to his artistic perspective and nuance, we needed to get the back story on his beautiful style.
We selected a custom piece for our Print of the Month, as Daniel usually delivers his work on scroll and brocade. Be sure to check out his prints as we have a limited run and supply for these prints.
Let's start from the beginning. Tell us about your roots - how you got started as an artist and your foundational influences.+
I was born and raised in a bi-cultural Chinese-American family in Los Angeles. From as early as I can remember I was always into drawing and making art, and fortunately for me, my tiger mom and grandmother insisted that I take traditional Chinese painting lessons from a young age. So at 5 or 6 years old I was learning how to paint and write calligraphy from this incredible mentor 宋秀珍 “Song XiuZhen”, who I still apprentice under, although Covid has put our sessions on hold.
My cross-cultural upbringing helped me navigate a number of cultural identities and respective attitudes toward cannabis, and ultimately gave me a broader perspective toward its sociocultural implications. While cannabis was generally accepted by the Western half of my family (although not necessarily condoned), it was a completely different story for the Chinese half who continue to denounce it.
I eventually began to experiment with painting cannabis using traditional Chinese brush painting, and shifted my focus toward addressing a Chinese-American audience. While cannabis has only recently begun to gain mainstream appeal, to many, especially the Chinese, it is still considered taboo, bringing to mind images of an unfamiliar culture to be cautious and critical of.
On the other hand, Chinese painting is one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in the world. It remains one of the highest art forms in Chinese culture and still is to this day. There was something I found very provocative about combining a familiar and deeply rooted tradition of Chinese painting with something as stigmatized and controversial as cannabis, and that was how the series was conceived.
You have a website called Ink Dispensary. What is it and what sets you apart as an artist?+
Ink Dispensary www.inkdispensary.com is really just a play on words to convey this idea of being a purveyor of ink paintings while alluding to cannabis.
I studied architecture for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees – I’ve worked in architecture and urban planning in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and now in project management for a major league sports team in Los Angeles.
Creating art has always been a passion of mine and I’m proud to have continued to paint in one medium or another alongside my professional career. As for what sets my work apart from others, I’m not aware of any other artist that is painting cannabis as a subject matter in国画 “guo hua” style.
Why Cannabis? Do you see a potential customer in actual dispensaries?+
Again, I think I grew frustrated by the stigma surrounding cannabis use and how a vast majority of cannabis art only seemed to perpetuate the stereotypical stoner iconography of kaleidoscopic color patterns and pot-leaf motifs. As the industry employs increasingly sophisticated branding and marketing strategies to dissociate from these countercultural connotations, I think there’s enormous potential for artwork that elevates the image of cannabis to aid in this rebranding effort.
What artists do you admire the most and how does your architecture background influence your technical art process?+
There are so many artists I admire, but when it comes to Chinese painting I’m particularly drawn to the work of Wu GuanZhong, who’s considered a pioneer of modern Chinese painting. As his artistic career unfolded, he became especially intrigued by modern art in the West, eventually attending the renowned Ecole Nacionale Superieur des Beaux Arts in Paris and studying the works of Picasso and Cezanne, among others.
His work fused both Chinese and Western art to create a new, hybrid aesthetic that foregrounded architecture and the built environment, subject matters that were typically relegated to the backdrop in traditional Chinese painting. This idea of fusing East and West, and shifting the focus toward subjects that were often hidden or overlooked particularly resonates with my own life and work.As for architecture influencing my art process, I would say that it’s actually the other way around – I attribute much of my design and aesthetic sensibility to painting which I feel has informed how I go about designing architecture.
How does mindfulness play a role in your life, and do you have a routine to stay balanced?+
I think that when you’re engaged in the creative process of making art, you’re engaged in practicing mindfulness. There is a certain level of focus, concentration and intentionality that you’re forced to maintain when making art, and this is especially true of traditional Chinese painting. It is an artform that requires precise control and unflinching commitment to each stroke before the brush even comes in contact with the paper. And after each stroke is made, you are taught acceptance, for there is no way of erasing, or even altering the mark you just made. It really is an unforgiving artform that punishes perfectionism and instead promotes fluidity and the idea of flow, a lesson I feel that can be applied to all aspects of life.
Aside from painting, I enjoy meditating, cycling and more recently, running. There’s no real routine just yet but I do try to fit in at least one of these activities a day to keep focused.
Does cannabis help you create?+
Yes and no - I don’t think cannabis necessarily helps with production, but it certainly encourages a sort of creative fluidity that aids in the more experimental or, let’s call it, R&D phase of testing new concepts or compositions.
What impact would you like to make on the art and cannabis genre?+
Ultimately, I think my work is about bringing two seemingly disparate cultures together in harmony – to elevate the perception of cannabis by pairing it with the elegance and deep-rooted history of traditional Chinese art.