Eye on the Street: The Visual Language of Daniel Gibson

"Stay Sweet"
"Stay Sweet."

In Partnership with Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center Mexicali Rose is a grass roots communitarian organization dedicated to providing free access to artistic media for the community youth of Mexicali, Baja California.

Daniel Gibson's ear to the ground and eye-on-the-street, desert-rat creations have been supplying Imperial County art enthusiasts with a much needed jolt of inspiration (especially to those kids who have been told they can't "afford" to be artists) via an exploration of his Chicano neighborhood upbringing through the eyes of a child growing up fast amid palm trees, 40-ouncer beers, and improvised ramps for BMX wheelies. "Growing up in the desert still affects my art making, I tend to draw from that experience. Some of my first drawings were of the desert horizon with ocotillo plants and Mt. Signal. We used to watch people from Mexico trekking across the blazing hot desert, kids and families drinking from water jugs," states Gibson. His relationship with and new ideas in relation to identity live on in memories, beyond the found objects and traditional surfaces he works for audiences on. Gibson is a truly contemporary Chicano artist because he makes you feel like an immigrant trapped in his own land, left to his own devices. Loneliness, despair, alcoholism, self-help, love and hate are illustrated by the softer tattooed hands of a first generation artist, changing up the tones, catching dead fish in a multicolored Salton Sea, commemorating the sound of a kid getting beat up on the corner by a gangbanger.

"Budweiser Town"
"Budweiser Town."
"Nature Always Wins"
"Nature Always Wins."

Daniel Gibson's language is delivered by red-hot, cobwebbed, sun-bathed low riding misfit loser characters calling out, "Send Help," while staying weird in brown town. Dashes of surrealism abide by the law of his concrete jungle abode, in a simultaneously sweet and heartless universe where nature always wins. Gibson's output is bred by his indispensable draw towards creation, something he views as a therapeutic and expressive flow of visions and beliefs, real life situations and overwhelming dreams, comprised of a combination of elements incomparably extricated with a whiff of vato attitude. His recent sobriety positively affecting his productivity in a prolific diversity, Gibson's work has served to show the inner workings of his heart and soul trying to outlast California's mechanic insanity and day-to-day.

"I Don't Feel Empty Anymore"
"I Don't Feel Empty Anymore."

Daniel Gibson hails from a peculiar desert upbringing, later having moved throughout various cities such as San Diego and San Francisco as a young adult, hauling inspiration and life experience from all of his California places of residence. "Growing up in the Imperial Valley is only weird when I ask about other people's upbringing. We first moved from Yuma, Arizona, to Plaster City, California, where my father worked for 30 years. Plaster City is not a city but a drywall factory in the desert, I feel like growing up out there gave me an early sense of being an outsider," states Gibson. Gibson's work usually ties in to this desert daze somehow, harking back to the best of times and the worse of times. "It always felt like you were forgotten out there. There was only a post office with no store, just a Coke machine in a truckers' trailer (where I would get to see the traveling lot lizards). When we moved to El Centro, CA, it felt like a big city to me, or a real city," he affirms.

"Nana Smoked Raleighs"
"Nana Smoked Raleighs."
"Sad Girl"
"Sad Girl."

After dropping out of Art Center College of Design to give music a try, Gibson settled in Los Angeles, a metropolis he considers ideal for art making because one can become invisible there. "I don't knock art schools, I think art schools are a good place to hide, meet like minds and work on your craft. Art school taught me how to steal art supplies and work long hours. Being in a band in L.A. was like playing for 30 minutes and partying for two weeks, we didn't get too much done but we sure did have fun," affirms Gibson. Nonetheless, his talent would garner him praise, invitations to group and solo shows and even jobs as a designer for Levi's and Lucky Brand Jeans. It is this particular, homegrown quality that gives Gibson's work its allure; it is an allegiance and a devoted, loyal body of work that continues to personify the world to its creator.

Daniel Gibson's self-proclaimed "cartoon brain" seems to speak to the multiculturally misled, assimilating a street and art culture that is very distinctly Califas. "I don't really latch on to art movements or try and stick to a certain style. I try and take a naive approach, make a mark on a surface and see where it takes me. I love to watch how people get inspired to do or make something," explains Gibson. In 2004, he curated the first of the now annual Viva el Valle group art shows in Imperial Valley, a winter happening that groups established and amateur artists related to Imperial County under the same roof. Now a tradition, the annual arts and music festival that Gibson created boasts a pride in belonging to a quirky Imperial Valley, which both locals and natives living abroad to the agricultural mecca look forward to connecting with every year. Long gone are the days when his friends and family exclaimed, "Don't draw like that!" "I'm really just trying to figure things out, art to me has always been an escape, a meditation or a way of making sense of our lives. I really don't know where I would be if I didn't have art in my life or a cartoon brain to make life interesting. I don't think I am good at anything I love to do, but I just do it because I love it, I just love that I have this exhaust to get things I'm thinking or feeling out of me," states Gibson.

"Don't Try"
"Don't Try."
"Sleep Tight"
"Sleep Tight."

Gibson's body of work is a record and testament to consistency in a place typically devoid of artistic understanding. Now based in Los Angeles, with roots planted firmly in the soil of Imperial County, his arguments in favor of artistic undertaking bear resonance in all of the SoCal cities he's inhabited and incorporated into his work. Inspired by cholo writing, family, wandering, derailments, just to name a few elements, Gibson continues to experiment, somewhat privately, with limited means and, at often times, seemingly nothing but heart. Sincere and brutally honest, he continues to search for himself and lose himself in his persistent oeuvre. "I don't necessarily know what this all means to me," affirms Gibson.


Daniel Gibson's work and latest creations can be seen on his website.

Story continues below

"El Payaso Knows"
"El Payaso Knows."
"Slayer Face"
"Slayer Face."
"Send Help"
"Send Help."
Sea Sick Desert Ratz
"Sea Sick Desert Ratz."
Daniel Gibson portrait
Daniel Gibson.
"Born To Lose"
"Born To Lose."

Dig this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading

Full Episodes