Artist and illustrator Danielle Chenette has described her work as a process of removal and reinvention. There are hints, sometimes, in her illustrations, which appear often in the New York Times Book Review and others, of the boxy figurativism of Schoolhouse Rock, the just-off-kilter palette of Dr. Seuss, various Disney abstractions. For those who grew up on a diet of these analogue classics, Chenette offers pieces that feel like your familiar childhood maintains as seen through a modern, acid-like lens. Removal of the exact via psychedelic reinvention, if you will.
The Massachusetts-born, California-based illustrator, who also releases her own comic books, started as a political cartoonist while still a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. Today, her illustrations still have a topical bent. Her editorial commissions have touched upon the mania (and isolation) of dating in the digital age, social media and gun violence, living life through the proxy of a cell phone. When rendered in colored pencils and fat-tipped Crayolas, as she occasionally does, Chenette’s pieces seem to insert the technological today into our innocent, pre-internet past. The effect is a jarring one. The outward appearance of childlike wonder communicated at first glance boils with social commentary just beneath, as though life in the 21st century was being documented by a 10-year-old far too wise and cunning for her age.
Chenette let us in and around her Los Angeles studio to talk boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, a spectral Devon Sawa, and crashing with strangers on the floor of a Texas living room.
Place of residence:
Los Angeles, CA.
Part-time illustrator, part-time incense maker at PF Candle Co.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
An animator on a kids cartoon show!
Quote to live by:
“Sometimes not getting what you want is the greatest gift.”
First job you ever had:
Data entry during the summer at my mom’s medical research company. Ugh.
Least favorite part of your day:
That period between just finishing up your food and knowing you need to start cleaning up after dinner but you’re full and satisfied and the last thing you want to do is get up.
Windows down, the song you’re playing is:
“Some” by Steve Lacy.
Three guilty pleasures:
Boxed macaroni and cheese (the Spongebob shapes), Wendy Williams, the Casper movie from 1995.
If you had to watch one movie on repeat for eternity, what would it be?
Probably Wayne’s World. My sister and I have watched it thousands of times and I still love it.
You have a million dollars to spend on art, you buy…
Vintage Sesame Street memorabilia.
Plane, train or automobile for a trip?
What IS your favorite trip?
In 2010, I visited a dear friend in East Texas and we drove to Austin to bum around the outskirts of SXSW. We stayed in a small apartment that belonged to a friend of a friend and we crashed with about 20 other strangers on the floor. It was an incredible trip fueled exclusively by Jack in the Box tacos. I still can’t drink Sailor Jerry Rum.
Personal travel ethos:
You can sleep when you’re dead!
Drink of choice:
Any Polar Soda product. My flavor is Orange Dry!
Beach house or tree house:
Tree house. I love the woods.
Where was the best meal you ever had and what was it?
One of the best meals I’ve ever had was a Chicago hot dog (mustard, pickles, hot peppers, onions, relish, and celery salt) with crinkle cheese fries from Portillo’s in Chicago. Man, I’m drooling just thinking about it now.
What is the best news you ever received?
My twin sister travelled abroad and lived in rural Southern China for about six months and got really sick while living there. There were a couple of intense weeks but she finally pulled out of sickness and recovered. Learning she was going to be ok and could come home was probably the best news ever.
Who or what is largely overrated? Explain.
Telling people you’re marrying your “BEST friend.” It feels redundant to me.
Briefly describe the best concert you have ever gone to.
I went by myself to see Ginger Baker (legendary drummer of the ’60s) at a small venue in Chicago while I was living there. It was an extremely moving experience—it was like percussion I had never experienced before. It was like he was drumming with melody. My mind grew at that show and I still carry it with me.
Where do you go for inspiration, peace of mind?
The fields and woods of my hometown.