An Interview with Famous French Quarter Surrealist Danny DeLancey

Danny DeLancey can be found painting outside on Royal Street Street in the French Quarter almost every day. He has become popular for his Surreal depictions of a Bunnyman in a suit holding red balloons. Each painting places the Bunnyman with his back turned to the audience as he looks out onto different dreamlike landscapes. Some of the landscapes are bright and cheerful while others appear stormy and dangerous for the Bunny.

These are unusual paintings for a painter sitting out by the fence near St. Louis Cathedral. Most art in this area of French Quarter is painted to target tourists who want something reminiscent of New Orleans. But Danny’s art is unique to his own imagination and he has become famous for it.

NCM: Where are you originally from?

Danny: I’m originally from Houma, Louisiana.

NCM: What brought you to New Orleans?

Danny: I started visiting the city when I was a kid. As I got into my teens, I would drive up here with my friends. I would imagine what it must have been like to live in the French Quarter in the past. Eventually I decided that this was the best place for me to pursue the life of an artist.

NCM: What led you to become a professional artist as opposed to just having art as a hobby?

Danny: My grandmother used to draw in the margins of our TV Guides and I enjoyed flipping through them to see what she had drawn. My father also drew images and put them in our baby books. I remember drawing as a young child and even entered my first art contest when I was in Kindergarten.

When I was 15 years old, my uncle introduced me to a guy who owned a graphic design studio and I worked for him. I would go to High School until noon every day and then I would design safety posters  at Saia Moda Freight line from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Then at 6:00 pm, I would go to the graphic design studio where I learned to screen print t-shirts, custom paint cars, and paint billboards. By the time I was 17 years old, I had already done designs for Paul Mitchell, United Way, and Walk America. I did a design on an 8 1/2″x 17″ piece of paper that earned $17,500 when I was only 17 years old.

NCM: Have you had any formal artistic training?

Danny: When I got to high school, I chose art as an elective. I had taken art for two years when my art teacher recommended me for a distributive education program. I had reached the limits of what they could teach me. I was ready to go and grow on my own. So I worked at Saia half the day and then worked with the graphic design studio into the night for seven years.

NCM: What genre do you work in?

Danny:  For the most part, I’ve been painting a lot of Surrealism. I work with acrylic paint on canvas. I have worked with oils in the past, but I focus primarily on acrylic and Surrealism.

For the past seven years I have been painting the Stroll series. In this series, I have the versatility to put a character in many different situations and compositions in order to portray a message. Each painting conveys a positive message for all the viewers to see and hopefully understand.

These images are more like mental landscapes. Each image is
something that may pertain to who I am inside or what I think people are inside. Every day who are visiting New Orleans from around the world stop and talk to me.  I get ideas about the different cultures and backgrounds of people from different places around the world. And I utilize all of those ideas when it comes to creating the paintings because my market is pretty wide open right now. I have collectors in 76 countries.

NCM: What is the significance of the Bunny Man? Are these paintings autobiographical?

Danny: I wanted to paint something that had a message versus just a painting of a historical building or some jazz musicians standing on a corner under a lamp post.

At the time, my youngest daughter was stuck in Brazil.  I had just moved back from Brazil and there were problems with immigration. My two older daughters were here and my youngest was in Brazil. I was upset because I couldn’t be in two places at once. So one day I decided I was going to paint a man walking through a forest because I guess that’s how I felt. Instead of painting the head of a man, I decided to paint a rabbit head because it seemed less serious. I wanted something more whimsical and humorous.

The first day I had that first painting for sale, a guy walked by and said, ” I want to purchase that for my son!”

The next day a woman walked up and said, “What happened to that piece you were working on yesterday?”

I said, “I sold it already.”

And she said, “Oh my God! I was going to ask if you could put a splash of color and I was going to buy it from you.”

I said, “Well, I was going to paint three red balloons, but I didn’t even get to that point before the other guy bought it.”

And she said, “If you could paint one like that for me, I’ll give you $500!”

That happened seven years ago. Since then the demand for these paintings has snowballed. These paintings are now in 76 different countries as well as every state in the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska.

The Stroll series is essentially about being positive, having a sense of humor, and holding onto the the things that are dear to you as you follow your path in life.

The cane in the images represents something that ails you. So the message is  about not letting whatever ails you or hurts you hold you back. The tuxedo represents feeling positive about yourself and trying to attract other positive things in your life. And the rabbit’s head represents being whimsical and having a sense of humor. The three red balloons represent my three daughters. And I now have an additional fourth balloon that is normally floating around because, when my oldest daughter told me she was pregnant I added a balloon for the grand baby. I never moved the fourth balloon down to the Bunny’s hand because most collectors look for odd numbered items in a composition.

NCM: How long does it take you to complete a painting?

Danny: The longest I’ve worked on a painting is two weeks and the shortest amount of time I’ve ever done a painting is probably in an hour and 45 minutes. It depends on what I’m painting. If it’s a black and white piece, it takes less time than color pieces. Sometimes I can do a large black and white painting in half a day. Abstract paintings also don’t take me quite as long

NCM: Do you find that it is easier to paint a figurative painting than an abstract painting?

Danny: I like to plan what I am going to paint on a particular day, the day before. In my mind I know if I plan to do an abstract or figurative painting and what color palette I want to use. If it is a commission, I pretty much know what the client is expecting from me. In the graphic design studio I learned that you need to have deadlines and meet your customer’s expectations.

NCM: What made you decide to paint in public?

Danny: When I am painting on the sidewalk, I get more foot traffic in one day than most galleries get in a month. The cost of working out here is much better. I don’t have to pay 50% to a gallery. Yes, it gets hot and I have to worry about bad weather. But it is a much better trade off.

NCM: Whose work inspires you the most? Do you have any artistic heroes?

Danny: When I was younger I was intrigued by Salvador Dali and Michelangelo because I was introduced to their work in high school. More recently I have enjoyed contemporary artists like Jeremy Mann.

There has been a certain evolution in the products and materials that artists have available to them. There is also a big shift in the mindset and perspective of artists today versus the artists of the past. Today we have so many distractions with computers, cell phones, TV,  and radio. When if you go back 300 years when none of these things existed and artists could focus in on their work.

The number one aspect of being a good artist is having patience. Another critical trait is being able to focus on your work in spite of all of the chaos that is happening around you.

NCM: What do you wish you knew about painting versus other mediums before you got started?

Danny: I used to sketch with pencil because it gave me the ability to create graduated shading and certain three dimensional aspects. But I wish I had known much earlier on that paint was so easy to manipulate and use. Paint can give you so much depth and emotion just from the choice of color palette.

I think it hit me once I started painting seven days a week and once you do it in public. For example, I get reactions when I use certain colors. People will stop and watch me and have positive reactions as I make my color choices. Everyone can identify with a green field, a blue sky, or a red balloon. It has some subconscious connection.

NCM: How tough is it to live the life of an artist?

Danny: It is a lifestyle. There is no guaranteed paycheck. I don’t have a boss paying my health insurance. When you have kids, that adds another layer of responsibility as well. Every material that I use also has to be paid for. So, when I sell a painting, my prices are going to reflect all of those variables.

NCM: How do you come up with a profitable pricing structure for your art?

Danny: When I first started selling the Stroll Series seven years ago. The paintings sold for $300. Those paintings now sell for around $3,000 because the demand and my cost of living has gone up. At this point, I am looking at branding the series and possibly creating merchandise around it.

NCM: How do you deal with negative criticism?

Danny: I have never heard any negative criticism, but I know how I feel about my work. I’m very confident in it and even if I heard negative criticism, I wouldn’t let it knock me down.

NCM: Where can people find your work?

Danny: Most days, I am usually out here painting on Royal Street. In the evenings, when I am done for the day, my paintings are at the Carriage Way Gallery on 711 Royal Street. And I also post my paintings on my Facebook page. I have two pages on Instagram: DeLancey Art and the Stroll Series. Bruno and Company Auction House will sometimes auction paintings for me.

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