"I got an email from the Vatican saying 'His Holiness would like to meet you,' and I replied 'LOL.'"
Daniel Mazzone grew up surrounded by familial influences in creativity, so it's no surprise that he became an artist. However, his upbringing and lived experiences didn't initially lead to success. Spending much of his youth on the streets of Toronto and pursuing a career that wasn't for him, Daniel eventually tapped into his early influences and a desire for more, leading him to pursue his passion for a life filled with the expression of human truths and authenticity.
In this interview, we delve deep into Daniel's life, from a soon-to-be-launched documentary on his travels, the inspiration behind his art, a trip to the Vatican, to a perfectly picked Conversation Card question that had Daniel coming full circle. You'll also hear in his own words why he believes that everyone should have parts of their life story tattooed on their skin.
About our guests: Daniel Mazzone was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. As part of an artistic family, he was surrounded by a world of visual concepts and expression. His mother was an art instructor, and Mazzone became particularly interested in the composition and production of stained glass at a young age. In 2013, Mazzone began exhibiting at both the Canadian Heritage Art Company and at Hazelton Fine Art Gallery. In December 2015, he made his official Art Basel Miami debut, selling out his entire collection. http://danielmazzoneart.com/
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I got an email from the Vatican and it says, 'his Holiness would like to meet you on this date...' I wrote back "lol" very funny and they said, no, no, this is because I donate to so many charities and one of them happened to be a charity that the Pope runs.
As a thank you it was, you know, would you like to come meet the Pope? So I obviously freaked out then I made artwork for the Pope and I brought it to the Vatican. Went to meet him and it was pretty surreal. Actually, they lost the artwork that I had made from him on the way there and only found it hours before I had to go. So I actually got it in time and brought it there, so everything worked out. But yeah, it was a pretty surreal experience.
Welcome back to Root and Seed, a podcast about tradition seekers who are sparked to explore, define and celebrate their family and cultural identity. I'm your host, Anika Chabra.
Last episode we met Layla Saad, a woman who epitomizes what it means to be a good ancestor. Layla had to live in a few places and explore a few careers before she found who she was truly meant to be a best-selling author and changemaker. She chartered her own path, her own point of view, often jostling within and against norms to figure out what felt just right.
So today, we wanted to double down on the idea of what we can be when we stop trying to be what society wants.
Daniel Mazzone is such a fun guest to have next. He’s high energy, full of curiosity and he is a beautiful example of how sometimes our familial influences are not ethnic or cultural. Daniel is Italian, but is quick to note that his influence as a person, as an artist and as a philanthropist aren't driven by his Italian heritage. Instead, he inherited more of the professional and creative aspects of his family, while also being viscerally influenced by his lived experiences. Daniel is incredibly gifted, insightful and full of stories.
Coined the “Next Andy Warhol,” Daniel spent much of his youth homeless on the streets of Toronto. This experience came together with the nature and nurture parts of his artistic family to create a style that is rich in colour and visual impact. If you're not familiar with Daniel's work, we encourage you to check it out. Imagine a collage of old photos, posters and anything that Daniel can get his hands on, hand cut and assembled like stained glass with bold black lines and layers that make it feel like it just glows. His unique style is striking and heartbreakingly deep. As an artist driven by instinct, we knew exactly how we needed to start our conversation.
Were there any influences artistically that Daniel had?
Art's been in my life since I was a child. I have a lot of family members, aunts, uncles that were all artists. But most importantly, my mom was an artist as well. She did stained glass and painted porcelain dolls when we were kids. So, I think I fell in love with artwork the moment she introduced me to it. You'll see in a lot of my style with the thick black lines and the glossy finishes. I wanted my artwork to resemble stained glass.
That's beautiful. I want to just dive right in. I am so excited. I heard you went all around the world.I heard you're working on a documentary. Like I want to start big with you for some reason! So can you just talk a little bit about that trip, talk about the tour around the world and what your intentions were and what the product at the end of the day is going to be around that.
Yes, of course. With a lot of my artwork, I tell people's stories and I find materials to tell these stories. I went to 14 countries in 60 days and collected materials from around the world, took photographs, found paperwork and all these sorts of things to get better stories that were outside of North America. I would meet with different people in different countries from different cultures and religions and hear their stories and get a better understanding of things that were outside of my box. Just to push the walls of my imagination a little bit and I got to do that. I painted with children in orphanages in the Philippines. I like to be able to tell the stories of people who are less fortunate and I think the idea behind that is to create artwork that will inspire people to maybe help others, but then also to maybe stop in their own life and go, "you know, maybe I shouldn't complain about this and this and this because there's people that have it a lot worse."
Was it a pull or a push? Were you pushing against something that was happening in North America or like you were talking about that box that you felt like you were in?
Yes, it's a great question. I think for all of us we get comfortable in this situation we're in in North America. You want to buy something, it's there. You need food, it's there. Everything is just kind of on a platter and when you stay within this box you forget that not everybody has this fortunate capability around the world. Things are a lot harder for other people. So I think for me it was also a bit humbling and brings you a bit down to earth to create more meaningful artwork to sort of spread a message. It was also a trip for myself to stay grounded and be able to create better artwork.
So outside of inspiration and experience for yourself and then also for your clientele and your audience and your fans. What's the product that's coming out from this experience?
Well actually I made a piece for the airport 63 feet by 10 feet long. I was really inspired by the children I met in the orphanages and it really makes me think that children are the future of this world, so why not have them represent the artwork? And I made them out of all the materials I'd collected in all the countries to sort of make it this universal person per se, made from all cultures and religions where there's no bias or judgment.
I read that you wanted them to be ambiguous culturally.
I love that. And then can you talk a little bit about the documentary that you're working on as well?
Yeah. You know I think a documentary helps people understand an artist better and I think if you connect with the artist and understand the message, then you really appreciate the artwork more and love it more. At the end of the day sometimes people are not just buying artwork, they're buying the person. So many years I would have these Art Basel shows and shows in New York and shows all over the world. And yes, things will get sold out and people will appreciate and be amazed by the artwork, but so many times I left thinking, do people really understand what the artwork is and the meaning behind it? So I wanted to create this artwork. We've been working on it for three years, filmed the whole time I was in all those countries and I've filmed my shows, filmed family experiences and right now we're just finishing the second last edit and hopefully we'll have it in the film festival for September.
Do you have a name yet?
Yeah, it's called The Kid.
Talk to me about that.
I'm a huge Charlie Chaplin fan and he came from humble beginnings and such an inspiring person that directed his movies, made the music for his movies, acted in the movies, produced his movies and he changed the history of movies forever. And he had a very famous movie called "The Kid" about a child who is sort of left on the side of the street by his parents because they couldn't be together anymore. The mom was unfortunate and Charlie Chaplin ends up taking care of him and they love each other, but then the mother after so many years, finds the child and then he goes back to her and he is really sad. But then at the end, she sees what Charlie Chaplin did and allows him to hang out with the child again. So it's kind of like a rollercoaster of emotions. I connected in a way with the kid as my childhood wasn't the easiest, getting bounced around. It's my life story and I thought that name was appropriate.
Without spoiling it for the people, because we want to make sure that everybody goes and watches this. Can you talk a little bit about your past and your upbringing and your family life and anything you'd love to share?
Yeah, so I grew up in a house. I had young parents I don't know if they were aware of how to deal with things properly, but it wasn't a great upbringing and I was homeless from 15 to 20 and in those years I was used to feeling like the people walking by would judge homeless people as if they were lazy or drug addicted. But a lot of times, they're on the drugs because of the issue they had. And a lot of times it's mental health issues or abuse at home that leads them to go to the street and then they end up being on drugs. So I thought, wouldn't it be nice if the story of your life was on your skin like a tattoo?
So, years later when I got off the street I was on catch up mode with my life. I finished high school at 22 and I was working in a fine dining restaurant and I used to see these stockbrokers come in all the time and I thought, oh wow, these guys look like they're happy and maybe I should do that. So I started volunteering on a trading floor. I got all my licenses and courses for doing stock trading and I was just kind of miserable, to be honest.
It wasn't the right fit. You know, Monday comes and I can't wait for Friday and then Sunday comes and I have anxiety because Monday's coming again. It's just, it's really sad to wish for 80% of your life to just disappear. So I thought, well maybe it's not realistic that we all find a job that we love, but I think it is realistic to find something you love to do every day. So why not have something you love to do every day after work? I wanted to do something meaningful. So I used that concept of telling people's life stories on their skin.
And I always loved collecting materials. So the first piece I made was a John F. Kennedy piece where I had his wedding photos. I had roses in the flag because it was the national flower in the US and all these things to tell his story. So I had created over six months about four pieces and I didn't show anybody but, I was the happiest I could be because I had this outlet. One of the restaurant owners that owned the restaurant that I was working in while I was in school saw the pieces and he said, "Oh, these are great, do you mind if I hang one in the restaurant?" I said, sure and he called me four days later and says, "Hey, someone bought your painting."
And I said, "Really?" He says, "Yeah." He says, "He paid $14,000 for it."
And I'll never have that feeling again. It wasn't the money, it was the validation of something I wanted to be so much since I was a kid. So I got rid of all the furniture in my apartment, I turned it into the studio and the knock on wood, I've been busy ever since 13 years later.
Your first painting and it goes up for 14 grand. It sounds like the universe was pushing you to, do something like that, and it sounds like it was healing for you too, right? I think that's so lovely.
Tell me about your family of artists and who do you draw an inspiration from within your immediate and extended family?
I would say my mom the most just because I mean, she was there every day. So that was my forefront of art viewing, but there was always uncles who painted or they were musicians. My sister's a sculptor, my brother was really good at drawing, there was always creativity that surrounded us. So it was hard to escape being creative. My experience making artwork with my mom was probably the most influential in my artwork and my experience on the street, it's the combo of the two. If I wasn't on the street I would've never had that idea or concept of having your life story on your skin. So that plays a part on what my artwork looks like just as much as the stained glass.
Can you explore that idea of telling your life story on your skin?
Let's say your skin was covered with pieces of information that kind of told your story. The ups and the downs and the tough part of who you are and the happy moments. I think that if people saw you this way they wouldn't be so quick to judge you. They would hopefully be empathetic before making any judgment on you. That's the concept of having your life story on your skin because without that we just look at people and judge a book by its cover. Not so much the information or the details of their ups and downs.
It's funny because it's a surface thing when you talk about being on skin, but there's a depth to the way that you describe it that you get, I think from, people's stories. I love this concept and I love this idea that your art tells a story and I love that you are telling the story of you. Is there a piece that you feel tells a story of Daniel Mazzoni?
That's a great question. I don't think one piece is the answer. I think it's all of them because all of them are made because of my experience. So all of them have a piece of me. They're all because of my story.
If you saw me, I'd be nodding because I think, anything is a sum of the parts, right? So great answer, I'm with you on that.
I know you said culture doesn't necessarily influence your present-day sort of expression and how you're bringing things to the world, but you did get to meet the Pope. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah, I got an email from the Vatican and it says, his Holiness would like to meet you on this date. I wrote back "LOL," very funny. And they said, no, no, this is because I donate to so many charities and one of them happened to be a charity that the Pope runs. As a thank you would you like to come meet the Pope? So I obviously freaked out. Then I made artwork for the Pope and I brought it to the Vatican. Went to meet him and it was pretty surreal actually. They lost the artwork that I had made from him on the way there and only found it hours before I had to go. So I actually got it in time and brought it there. So everything worked out, but yeah, it was a pretty surreal experience. I actually was invited to go back again this year.
Awesome. You’ve got to tell me if your mother was proud?
Oh yeah! Are you kidding me? My grandmother had her friends come over just to touch my hand.
That’s so great! You’ve been touched by the Pope. I love that. Oh, that’s so fun!
My very last question, Jen and I have launched these conversation cards. Where you can serve up the question to whomever and you have a conversation with people and it kind of helps to break the barrier and get people talking about stories. So almost in a oracle card type of fashion, I picked one for you already. So the way the question is worded is how does our family give back to the community? I've read a lot about how you do that and I'd love to hear you answer that question.
Giving back to the community starts with the charity work I do. Helping children and women as well. My mom was also homeless at one point so apart from the children's charity, just last year I did some charity work for the Shoebox Project, which helps women in need, women that are in shelters.
So I made this big mural that was for people to donate money and then we raised one and a half million dollars for that and it was great and I told my mom about it and she says, "Oh, the Shoebox Project." She says, "I'm really happy you did that for them." And I said, "Oh, thanks." And she says, "That's the company that helped me when I was homeless." And I had no idea. And every year she makes. These gifts for the women in women's shelters as well because now she can. So it was nice that we kind of came full circle from that, but it starts with helping someone else, before yourself, if you can. Everybody needs a helping hand so I think that's how I give.
See, it was a good question for you.
It was a good one.
I could tell that it would be a good one. Okay. Do you wanna tell us anything else? Is there anything else you want our audience and community to know?
One piece of advice I would leave everybody with is: do what you're supposed to do. Don't do what you think society wants you to do and be the person you're supposed to be, not what you think people want you to be. And that’s it. And I think if you follow that, you’ll lead a nice path.
It really seems like we can't escape who we're truly meant to be and often that is influenced by generations past. So be who you are supposed to be.
We learned so much from this conversation, including being inspired to adopt confidence to not let societal pressures keep us sheltered or keep us from reclaiming our true self. Daniel told us he didn't really have ties to his Italian culture other than his love for Italian food. Yes, he is obviously proud of his heritage, but in terms of traditions and histories he doesn't really need those to honour himself and his family in his life and creations.
The idea of having your life story painted on your skin really resonated with us. At Root and Seed, we often talk about how the more you know about your history the more confident and empowered you can be. And we think Daniel's sentiment about the empathy we would have for other people if we just knew their stories speaks to the potential of connection when we do share our stories.
Connection via empathy is such a powerful theme for us especially next month as we enter Mental Health Awareness Month in May. We are so excited to introduce you to Dr. Jenny Wang. Ph.D., Acclaimed author and the force behind the Asians For Mental Health Directory. She has a warmth to her that is breaking stereotypes and making change for good. Influencing people in and outside the Asian community.
Root & Seed is hosted by me, Anika Chabra, executive produced by Jenn Siripong Mandel and edited by Emily Groleau and Camille Blais. Bye for now.
Hosted by: Anika Chabra
Brought to you by: Root & Seed
Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel
Editing by: Emily Groleau
Sound Editing by: Camille Blais
Music credit: Something 'bout July (Instrumental) by RYYZN
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
Free Download / Stream: http://bit.ly/-_something-bout-july
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