She captured him so perfectly: his dark shades, full lips and creative swag. The vibrant colors used to create his sweater simultaneously demonstrate her creative license and his unique style. Ironically, his name described her painting with ease: notorious. He, of course, was Notorious B.I.G. and she was was notorious for her art. A self described Jill-of-all-trades, Danielle Mastrion paints on walls, canvases, engages in graphic design and even dibs and dabs in photography. Her murals, bright, bold and culturally relevant, cover several walls in Brooklyn with socially conscious narratives. Illustrating the lives of well-known icons, her art functions like documentaries endlessly playing on city streets. But this extremely talented yet laid back street artist never imagined she’d end up creating murals.
“I come from a super fine art background and I wanted to master oil painting,”she told Frank151, an independent media company. “I didn’t go to school to become a muralist, street artist, or even [an] aerosol artist, which was the furthest thing from my mind.” Instead, she explained, her work naturally progressed from canvas to walls as a friend noticed that her paintings continued to increase in size. As a result, this technically trained Parson’s School of Design graduate found herself engrossed in the world of public art. Along with that though, she proudly carried her Brooklyn heritage. As a native New Yorker, Mastrion enjoys exploring the city’s history through her art. Her murals, for example, range from dedications to Babe Ruth to tributes to the Beastie Boys to Jay Z to Billie Holiday.
But Mastrion’s narratives are not always rooted in New York. They tell the stories of icons from all over the world. Channeling her inner activist, she painted a mural in dedication and solidarity for the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, the worldwide response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 270 Nigerian school girls. Joining her artistry with the activism of civilians, political leaders, diplomats and celebrities all across the globe, Mastrion illustrated global citizenry through her art. She’s also painted the late Nelson Mandela and Trayvon Martin. Illustrating her love for cultural icons in Europe, she created a mural for French painter and sculptor Marcel Duchamp.
One of Mastrion’s most compelling murals is “Malala Yousafzai,” the young girl from Pakistan that survived a brutal attack from the Taliban. Adorned in a fuschia hijab, Malala’s hazel eyes speak for themselves; they speak of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. The eyes, a key element in all of her art, symbolize an artist’s ability to look at the world and express his/her opinions freely and creatively.
“I didn’t think that I do this but I’ve noticed from seeing pictures of me working that I always start with the eyes,” Mastrion told Frank151. “I think if you don’t have the eyes right when it comes to making portraits then you might as well not continue.” Her precise dedication to such a small part of the face reminds me of a quote by art critic G.K. Chesterton. He said, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.” While both Mastrion and her art are full of knowledge, wisdom and cultural intelligence, the eyes of her subjects, reminds viewers of stories, people, songs, and moments in history that bypassed the mind and captures the heart.
Danielle Mastrion creates art that makes you laugh, smile and think at the same time. She’s not afraid of making bold statements. Commenting on what she’d do with a million dollars, She stated that she’d pay off student loans and then blamed the U.S. government for her debt. She also said she’d buy her mother a house off of the beach. It’s these kinds of stories that Mastrion reveals through her art: narratives that highlight humanity. But be warned, this technical artist has and continues to kick butt in live painting art battles, one of her most prized accomplishments.
With her work featured in not only New York but Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Washington DC, Israel, Mexico, Cuba, Berlin, Paris and London, it’s no question why she’s successful. What I love most though, is that this self-declared beach bum tells it like it is. I hope her artistic eye never fades and that her work continues to tell the stories we love best: those of our heroes, our advocates, our cities, our songs and our memories.