5 Minutes With… a Day of the Dead Designer

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A skull can represent many things.

Focusing on Day of the Dead designs, Mexican illustrator Danny Sixx puts a twist on a deathly art form – and even makes it child-friendly.

What intrigues you about Day of the Dead symbolism?

In Mexico, on November 2 each year – the Day of the Dead – people honour loved ones they’ve lost. Traditionally they place colourful ‘sugar skulls’ on their graves, [these skulls are] the centrepiece of a lot of my artwork. I always try to see the positives, even in the worst-case scenarios. To me, Day of the Dead is the perfect representation of the beauty you can find in darkness. I love the idea of finding the balance between love and hate, good and evil.

Through your illustrations, you’ve taken an old tradition and given it a modern twist. How would you describe it?

Whether I’m designing an illustration for a piece of wall art, an album cover, a skateboard or a 10-foot mural for a restaurant, my art is a mixture of heavy metal, fine art, movies, business books, cartoons, people, places and even drinks I’ve tasted. It’s a collage of memories translated into art. Some of my best ideas have come when I’m at an airport or waiting between bands at a music festival.

Your art is sold around the world. Why do you think people outside of Mexico love Day of the Dead art?

I suspect it’s because death is something we all have in common. No matter what background you’re from, we’ve all been touched by loss of some kind and wonder what is beyond. I don’t think many cultures accept and appreciate death like we do in Mexico – we see the face of death every day. It’s something that is part of us and we respect the circle of life in a different way.

What has been the biggest challenge of making a name in a new country?

Definitely networking. It can be hard making connections from scratch. In Australia I’m represented by Platform72 Gallery, which has given me a great opportunity to showcase my art. In Hawaii I got an ‘in’ with the surf community just by sitting on the edge of the beach sketching. One surfer asked if I ever designed surfboards and commissioned me. Then, through word of mouth, one thing led to another.

You’re working on an animation series that teaches children Spanish. Is it a challenge to make Day of the Dead kid-friendly?

Surprisingly, it’s not at all difficult. As the person behind the pencil, I can give these characters any personalities that I want. A skull doesn’t have to represent fear or sadness. I was recently commissioned to design a beer label for drinks served at somebody’s wedding. You might not think a day celebrating love would mix with death – but it did.

You’ve designed tattoos, T-shirts and phone covers. What’s your dream project?

I have a second side of my business, Poison Cute Studio, which focus on branding, graphic design and commercial illustration. I’m starting a streetwear brand with my brother called Mahalo Rebels, inspired by the Californian rock ‘n’ roll scene mixed with surfer and biker culture. I’m also licensing more products for children, including toys and video games, based in a Mexican-themed fantasy world.

If we’re visiting Mexico, where’s the one place we should go?

I love Real De Catorce, a ghost town surrounded by hills in the middle of the Mexican desert in San Luis Potosi. It’s home of the indigenous Huichol tribe, who make amazing colourful art after ingesting the peyote cactus, which has hallucinogenic properties. It’s one of Mexico’s ‘Magic Towns’ – a label awarded by the secretariat of tourism to special places with cultural importance. It’s also where they filmed [parts of] The Mexican with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt.

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