Houston artist Danyelle Lakin’s stoic, saucer-eyed subjects radiate exquisite apathy; See their haunting stares

Artist Danyelle Lakin developed her signature style at an early age.

“When I was young I remember my mom teaching me to draw when I was about 4 years old,” Lakin recalled. “She was explaining about where the eyes should go and the head shape and things like that. I remember thinking ‘No, I want my people to look like this instead.’ So, they just kind of, right or wrong, stuck like that.”

With their slit mouths, saucer eyes, and “little claw hands,” Lakin’s pale, haunting figures radiate exquisite apathy.

“There’s a little bit of Gothic in them with them being pale and the dark circles,” Lakin said. “I wouldn’t say they were sad, maybe a bit stoic. There’s not a lot of ones smiling and if they do smile it’s kind of like a creepy, resigned smile.”

These imaginary figures have cemented their place as Lakin’s muses. She’s painted them time and again, often against solid backgrounds on canvases two feet high. Her peculiar characters often wield the trappings of childhood — a lollipop, a rubber duck, or a teddy bear — while wearing a baby-doll dress, a costume, a tiny hat, or an enormous bow. Yet their knowing gazes speak to an insight at odds with their bits and bobs.

“It’s kind of that they’ve been, not ravaged, but you know life’s taken a toll on the characters,” Lakin said. “A lot of them are everymen, you would call them. You know, hopefully, the stories behind them resonate with people.”

When asked about her fixation on the characters, Lakin jokingly attributed it to “unresolved issues.”

“When I’m at home that’s what I keep coming back to drawing, that’s what I love to draw,” Lakin said.

Lakin’s work probes themes of living in the present: “It’s about bearing witness, noticing things more.”

“I think a lot of them are about me, as selfish as that sounds and narcissistic,” Lakin said. “I’m hoping problems that I have other people can relate to and identify with as well.”

Describing her creative process, Lakin said she often works from a title or a saying.

“There’s one like ‘A cat is always on the wrong side of the door.’” Lakin said. “That one stuck with me recently so I’ve been coming up with little sketches and ideas surrounding that theme. Themes are important and then a good story as well, and then sometimes the images will come after.”

Despite working as an artist for numerous years, Lakin said she struggles to call herself one.

“I still struggle telling people I’m an artist,” Lakin said. “It’s still strange. This year I’m starting to embrace it like ‘This is my job. This is what I do.’ It’s almost like the imposter syndrome, because the people whose work I admire, they’re in museums and galleries and I’m kind of comparing myself to that when I should just be like ‘You know what, I’m doing OK. Hopefully I’m going to keep getting better.’”

Though the title “artist” intimidates her, Lakin finds her work rewarding.

“It’s nice to create something that has meaning to other people,” Lakin said. “It’s my little contribution to the world.”

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About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.