I walked into Harlem Public on 149th and Broadway, very sure of the direction this piece would take. My mission: sit down with the visual artist behind GoldLink’s latest hit “Meditation,” which was produced by Kaytranada and featured Jazmine Sullivan.
I’d ask him about the inspiration behind the visuals, what the process was like, and if he was proud of the work he’d done. But as I watched Darius Moreno pull in to the busy and vibrant Harlem bar, I got a surprise I was not quite ready for—twins. Here was Darius, a visual artist of many mediums, and his fraternal sister, Dare, an actress and film maker, both with plans to shake this art world shit up. So I picked a new direction. I sat down with Darius Moreno and Dare Moreno to discuss the creative inspiration behind the “Meditation” video animation and their experience as twin creatives on the New York City art scene.
Darius is an artist in every sense of the word. Dressed in a knee length black leather jacket, I was immediately able to sense that he wears rebellion in his style. Dare is beautiful and eccentric, made of all of the things we now commonly refer to as #blackgirlmagic. She is currently producing a growing YouTube series called A Girl’s Gotta Eat! where she is working to challenge the stigma surrounding women and food, specifically addressing the intersections at which black women reside.
I sat across from Darius and Dare, wasting no time getting down to business and even less time getting to the drinks. My first question was about his relationship with GoldLink.
How did you end up getting connected to GoldLink?
Darius: “GoldLink’s manager at the time actually reached out to me. She’d seen my work somewhere else and commissioned me to do some cover art for him. I’ve been around ever since.”
Where does the inspiration behind your aesthetic come from? It’s super consistent, and I’m curious to know what drives that.
Darius: “Man, I’m inspired by so many different things. A big source of inspiration in my work is the ballroom scene. You know, vogue and all that. Women like Lil Kim. I love her. Raunchy. Explicit.But also classic southern hip hop. Project Pat is my favorite rapper. Those are the things I love.”
Dare: “Mmmhmm, yes he’s always loved Lil’ Kim. Ever since we were kids. I can confirm that, haha.”
Darius: “But seriously. Things like gold grills and flashy jewelry, the 90’s hip hop scene, Memphis rap specifically, those are the things that come to mind when I create.”
Hearing Darius confirm his inspirations was super affirming for me. The first time I watched the “Meditation” visual, I wrote down somewhere, probably on a tattered napkin or something, that it reminded me a lot of the way I imagined going out would be as a kid. Before I knew that bullets fly at clubs and drinks get thrown at brunch, if my eight year old self was asked to draw out what “grown people” do during “adult time,” I’d illustrate something a lot like a still from this video. Of course, nowhere near as technically complete and vivid as Darius. It’s quite the feat when artists are able to translate a vision into something that makes people feel.
Okay, so you guys are twins, went to performing arts school together, and moved to New York to pursue your art. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like growing up together.
Dare: “It was definitely wild, a lot of fun! My brother is like my best friend. We share a lot with each other. I’m his biggest critic, or so I think. It’s never about saying ‘oh that’s trash’ but more like ‘this could be better,’ or ‘that could be different.'”
Are your parents supportive of your artistry?
Darius: “Yes! Both of our parents are actually visual artists themselves. Our dad is an illustrator and painter, and our mom is an interior designer.”
Dare: “Which created an interesting home environment— our parents took our projects very seriously. They encouraged us and pushed us. They were our first critics. They support us.”
Darius: “Yea, and our granddad is an artist too. My dad actually inspires a lot of the work that I do. When I was 10 I started selling comic books in my neighborhood.”
How much have your parent’s individual tastes influenced your work?
Darius: “Our dad is actually good friends with Pusha T. Some of his favorite artists are N*E*R*D, The Roots, and Mos Def. He pretty much considers himself a rap connoisseur.”
Dare: “Mom loves Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Jahiem, basically everybody’s favorite auntie shit. She doesn’t change the CDs in her car often.”
Darius: “Oh, and she loves GoldLink too!”
Dare: “Yeah, they both do!”
We dug a lot deeper into the childhood that made the two artists sitting before me. From a tender age, Darius and Dare shared a love of dolls. The amount of trust between the two is illustrated in their body language. There is an aura that surrounds the two that gives off the essence of protection. Darius looks over to Dare almost as often as she checks in for him. A childlike twinkle is always apparent in their gaze to each other. They know each other. They revel in each others comfort. Darius tells me, “My bad I forgot to tell you I’d be bringing my sister. I just feel more relaxed when she’s around.”
Dare tells me more about the time she won an award in the 8th grade. It was for a book that she wrote about Darius. Dare wrote the story line and Darius illustrated the scenes. That was more than a decade ago, but the symbiosis remains. From the days of joint school projects, the two continue to lean on and support each other. Dare tells me Darius has been obsessive about his work since they were kids and not much has changed about that. True to a very “jack of all trades fashion” Darius spins magic as a make up artist for Dare from time to time. He’s very careful about trying not to sort himself into creative boxes, in fact, he doesn’t believe in them at all.
Our drinks arrive.
What was the process of making “Meditation” like? Did the sound inspire the visual or vice versa?
Darius: “The video was more inspired by the sound. I heard the song first and that gave me the vibe I wanted to go for with the song’s artwork. So I made the artwork before the video, and the video is directly inspired by the artwork. Once I made the artwork, I story-boarded quick thumbnails. I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but the animation style I used is called rotoscope. I pulled up a lot of my favorite go-go visuals, videos and pictures and printed over them. When you guys hear the album, you’ll understand that conceptually, it’s just so D.C. so it’s only right that the go-gos are represented. That’s why I wanted to include certain elements, from the drums to the fashion. It’s a tribute.”
After my 5th or 6th watch of the video, I jotted down more words and phrases that it brought to mind. I mention to Darius that I thought the artwork for the track was very reminiscent of the cover for Marvin Gaye’s 1976 I Want You. His eyes light up and he yells in delight, “ERNEST BARNES, YES I LOVE HIM!” Darius cites Barnes as another of his major inspirations in addition to animators like Bruce Smith who developed the nostalgic, The Proud Family. Great artists make room for constant inspiration in their lives. This happens to be true for Darius.
The bar is beginning to grow a bit more occupied and noise levels are gradually rising, but we continue the impassioned conversation among the after-work toasts and rounds of shots around us.
Have you guys had a chance to see Moonlight? Darius, I saw a tweet that referenced your work with the movie. How’d you feel about that?
— root g (@root_g) November 28, 2016
Darius: “I loved Moonlight. Visually, it was great and I think everybody should see it. I would show my kids that movie. When I was watching it, I couldn’t help but think of Paid in Full (another movie every black male should see). Other movies I draw creative inspiration from: Boyz in the Hood and Belly. Belly is probably one of the prettiest movies I’ve ever seen.”
I agree, Belly is one of the prettiest movies, I’ve ever seen. I started to think about how important nests are for artists. A nest meaning here, a place to rest and grow, but mostly, to fellowship among others like you. I wanted to know more about the ways Darius’ various artistic relationships frame his work.
Many will tell you that the New York City art scene can be cold and unforgiving. Darius says, not quite.
Is the NY art scene really as catty as people say?
Dare: “What I love is that people in New York are supportive, mostly because we’re almost all transplants from somewhere else. I feel the love in the NY art scene more than other places for sure.”
Darius: “Another one of my big inspirations is actually a close friend of mine, Brendon Hawkins. There are definitely connections to be made here. Dylan the Gypsy was the first person to ever let me make cover art for them. Granted, we went to high school together, but that’s just further proof that there really are people out here that are trying to collaborate. I’ve been here since I was 18 and have done a lot of group shows with other artists. People get really caught up in this idea of one New York art scene, but the truth is it’s easy to gain access here because there are so many different scenes. There is no single scene in New York. “
How are you gonna tell me my life is fiction? No, this is real.
Darius and Dare have found a lot of love on the streets of the New York, but art school has had its own set of challenges and rewards for the two. Coming from an Afro-Rican family home in the DMV has created interesting dynamics for the twins when finding themselves in white-dominated classrooms. Both are very proud of their background, citing it as a constant theme they always want reflected in their work. Currently residing in their mom’s childhood home in Spanish Harlem, Darius and Dare are hyper-aware of their surroundings.
How has identity influenced your work?
Dare: “Just generally, it’s a challenge having a Spanish last name. We experience colorism across cultures. Seeing the way I’m received within Afro-Latin spaces, versus the way Darius is. And then vice versa in black spaces having lighter skin and navigating feelings of belonging. School is probably when I feel the most discriminated against, though. Lots of the white people there don’t understand. Don’t understand how an artist’s background might shape their interest and perspective. And of course, sometimes they just can’t relate, culturally. DC is a tough city, but my time there is reflected in a lot of my work. I remember in high school, I would write stories about things I’d seen and experienced and teachers wouldn’t believe it. That would always blow me. Like, how are you gonna tell me my life is fiction? No, this is real.”
Darius: “One of the major things I struggle with is being boxed in. People often think it’s either illustration or fine art. ‘Pick one, you can’t do both’” That’s bullshit. A lot of fine arts teachers don’t understand different cultural background and want to disregard the illustration work. I’m not with these design boxes. That’s a thing I’ll fight against forever. Duke Ellington was where we had some of our most “black” art school experiences. I’ve had black art teachers. Black art teachers have been my toughest critics.”
Dare: “Oh yes, for sure.”
Darius: “One of my favorite moments in high school was when I got to design the White House tour book for President Obama. It was crazy because my teachers were always super critical. I went so hard in high school developing a steady work ethic, that when I got to college I could focus on being conceptual. I felt prepared. That was a thing that having black teachers, from my parents at home, to the classroom, gave me.”
I want black people in cartoons. I want gay people in cartoons. I want to bring to bring audiences together through my work.
Darius and Dare both have lofty individual goals, but what struck me most during our talk was a continued emphasis on the collective, the “we”, the “two of us”, the “together.” Aside from dreams of solo exhibits and roles on the big screen, Darius and Dare have a shared goal that could leave the world shook.
Dare: “Our own cartoon. Like, on TV. I would write, and Darius would of course illustrate.”
Darius: “A cartoon specifically for people of color. A black cartoon that’s so good it’s a classic and one day leads to a network. The mainstream moves slow in terms of representation, but even slower in the animated world. I’m glad to see all of the conversations happening about introducing diverse characters in cartoons—POC and non-heterosexual characters. But it’s still happening too slowly. I want black people in cartoons. I want gay people in cartoons. I want to bring to bring audiences together through my work.”
Dare: “We want to bring audiences together through our work.”
Darius is an artist in every sense of the word. His work captures the essence of so many of our childhoods, a visual representation of the hood rich aesthetic of the early 2000’s. But rather than relying on nostalgia as the basis of his work, Darius juxtaposes technical skill, demonstrated by energetic brush strokes, with compelling and culturally relevant subject matter, creating a look that I feel is best described as “ghetto avant-garde”, a tasteful tribute to simpler times.
What I gained in my chat with the twins was a renewed appreciation for support. Darius and Dare share not just a kinship, but an artistic kinship. They feed off of each other and support each other where it’s needed. We could all stand to be more of that for our friends and loved ones. Support manifests in many different ways— support through promotion and investment, supporting by critically engaging with our friends work and support through pushing them to be constant students of their crafts.