Smile Politely

Exploring the mind of multifaceted artist Keenan Dailey

On Thursday November 14th, I interviewed Keenan Dailey, a second-year Graphic Design MFA candidate. From a young age, Dailey would trace comic books and study visual images from his family’s library. He was always inspired by science fiction and graphic novels, which later developed into his creation of Afrofuturistic art. Dailey recently received the Student ACE Award for his work, which evokes thought and conversation pertaining to social justice and black activism. So far, he has created about 1,000 works in various mediums and has two permanent installations of his Black and Latino Male Summit Series. One is in Cafe & Co and the other is at the BNAAC. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dailey at BrewLab and exploring his mind during a contemplative conversation.

On finding his specific art style/voice?

Dailey has gone through several evolutions in his artistic career. He started at the University of Illinois as an undeclared mechanical engineering student but switched over to graphic design. In 2014, he began making graphics using the image editor, GIMP, as well as drawing on a tablet he had been gifted a few years prior. He would explore science fiction and fantasy in the illustrations he made. Dailey would try various methods of art making and expression, which is how he ended up taking three acting classes at the University.
In 2016 Dailey released the First Decade, an album consisting of 10 tracks, which he had produced and advertised himself. The focus of the project was on perfecting the tonal sound, which is “the way in which my emotions can be articulated through audio”, according to Dailey.

In 2016 Dailey released the First Decade, an album consisting of 10 tracks, which he had produced and advertised himself. The focus of the project was on perfecting the tonal sound, which is “the way in which my emotions can be articulated through audio”, according to Dailey. Each tone must be imperative and flow together as a cohesive whole. Dailey has produced 150 tracks and released 3 projects to date. In 2018 Dailey released Quasar, an album that derives its name from celestial bodies that emit large amounts of energy. It consists of 14 tracks and is available on Apple Music, iTunes, SoundCloud, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, and Google Play.

Between 2017 and 2018 Dailey created the Black and Latino Male Summit series. During this time, he wanted to achieve technical mastery. It was also then that his first film, Greene, debuted.


© Keenan Dailey, Black and Latino Male Summit Series, 2018

On what he wants people to get out of his work

Dailey’s work addresses African American trauma. He was raised on the south side of Peoria by single mother and they did not always have the financial means necessary to get by. Dailey reflects upon his own trauma and the trauma of others around him that share similar experiences. His objective is to take that energy from his own and others’ emotional states and convert it into hope. Afrofuturism allows him to do so. Dailey is extremely passionate about creating a voice for others within his pieces. “Finding a way to represent or show possibility to those that are disenfranchised and marginalized in similar ways that I have been before in my own past has become like extremely relevant to my work and my journey,” Dailey reflects.

On what or where he gains inspiration, and who his favorite artists are

Dailey gains inspiration from silence and introspection. He takes the time to convert emotional states, energy, and memories into tones and feelings. Dailey is fascinated with Beeple, a 3D artist who plays on horror, attacking capitalism and group thinking. Beeple’s crazy science fiction horror aesthetic is unique and promotes Dailey to come up with his own complex concepts. Another source of inspiration for Dailey is Paul Robertson, who creates intriguing pixel animations. Robertson incorporates Japanese body horror in his work, while pushing the boundaries of representation. Lastly, The Matrix is a huge influence for Dailey who is captivated by the reflection on reflecting on the state of reality. Like the film, Dailey spends a lot of time contemplating the meaning of everything around him and using his art to frame these pensive thoughts.

On earning an MFA at the same school where he completed his BFA

Dailey really enjoys continuing his studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Earning a MFA in Graphic Design has allowed him to become more rooted and closer to the community. He has been able to do more tabling events and share his art with the public, as well as meet new people and talk about his work in person. Additionally, in the college of Art and Design, professors switch often, which leads to a different experience in graduate studies.

I discussed my own desire to pursue a MFA in studio art with Dailey. I enjoy the projects I am assigned in my program but I have a strong urge to make my own work. There is a certain design aesthetic that is necessary for class and it only allows for very limited experimentation. Faced with a similar problem, Dailey would strive to make the best project in the class, even though it pushed design boundaries. Dailey’s advice is to not wait. Since I am fascinated with grunge design his advice is to start working now. His enthusiasm about it is motivational and since our conversation I have already created one piece.

On his relationship with the Urbana Champaign community, specifically the art community

Dailey believes that he became adopted by the community while working on his first short film, Labyrinth. Not knowing anything about movie production, it forced him to reach out to Champaign Movie Makers, as well as Illini Film and Video. He took advantage of existing resources to build his artistic portfolio. Dailey became deeply rooted in the community with his newer film Greene, a no-budget psychological drama that depicts the story of a 28-year old gallery owner who suffers from depression. To create this film Greene had to connect with Champaign Casting Call, Champaign Screen Writers and Pizza Protagonist Productions. Before our interview, I was not aware of these various film organizations. Dailey taught me a lot about the importance of film making in our community.

© Keenan Dailey, scene from Greene, 2017

On the importance of the arts

For Dailey art is a way to foster communication between the self and others. Dailey “feel[s] like we all have an internal projection of our speculative self. We all have an internal version of what we hope to be or dream to be or aspire to be or even the things that we compare ourselves to or are afraid of becoming”. According to Dailey, art can influence people and change us. He firmly believes that artists are responsible for having the ability to shape another person’s speculative self through different mediums. That is why the meaning behind artwork is so important. Dailey uses his own work to represent the disenfranchised, marginalized or many people that are emotionally oppressed. He promotes social justice and advocacy which educates the viewers of his pieces and forces them to think about pertinent issues in our society. It is an understatement to say that Dailey is an inspiration. He is always creating new work and pushing himself to explore digital art, theatre, film, music, and other mediums. His artwork is bold, and like himself, is an invaluable part of our community.

Photos courtesy of Keenan Dailey

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