The Cha Cha: Danielle Cross, Caringbah
Text KATE PASCOE SQUIRES
Photography KATE PASCOE SQUIRES
Danielle Cross (or Danielle X as you might know her) is a Sydney based abstract artist whose work combines the visual forms of painting and photography. This Italian pocket rocket has a few things to say when it comes to the Slowdown. After being served some harsh lessons, she has learnt that it’s no use fighting them – you just have to learn how to dance the ‘Cha Cha’.
Talk to me about your Slowdown. How does that idea resonate with you?
The slowdown was a very foreign concept to me – something that has happened recently, more out of necessity, rather than conscious choice. Born Aries and with Italian origins, I have always had an ‘all or nothing’ attitude toward every facet of my life. Personally and professionally.
Slowdown makes me look deeper into myself, which is something that is both confronting and liberating all at the same time. Slowdown is finding strength in those vulnerable moments that happen when we change our pace. Body and mind.
You are an established artist, not afraid to explore controversial themes. Your past artworks have referenced death, loss, mental health, vices, virtues, infidelity, connections, desire, passion, intrigue, growth, imagination, temptation and the sensual side in all of us. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Looking, exploring and feeling both the light and shade. Inspiration comes from a need to provoke.
Learning to embrace the comfortable in a state of uncomfortable. Belief in our daily contrasts, contradictions. Being all or nothing, my own personal experiences have the greatest impact on my art concepts and pieces. Experiences that I feel directly, watching them unfold around me. I need the front row seat. This enables me to immerse myself completely into the art process. This is what brings the artist to the art. Art has to be felt first, then seen. Inspiration is emotive and felt through the soul before it hits the eyes. It ignites the fire in the art.
Does it ever scare you to share such personal aspects of your personality and life?
Yes completely. To share and explore such depths within oneself is the most uncomfortable aspect of what we do as artists. It strips us bare and renders you naked. It opens up our most vulnerable sides. It can physically make you sick. But I have learnt, although the hard way, that this thing we call art is high risk, high reward. To be able to give myself freely to the art, I need to explore the highs and lows of what we live through each and every day. I have to feel the mistakes, the choices we make, the regrets, the wins, the intense moments where there are no words. Because when there are no words, no labels, no white noise, the only thing left is you, just you. And ‘you’ is all we have. And ‘you’ becomes the art.
Have you ever experienced a life event that has triggered your need for slow? Was it a harsh or gentle lesson?
If I am to be completely honest, this life experience and the lead up to it was the harshest lesson I have ever learnt. So here it is, completely raw…
On a work trip to Hong Kong, only a short time after a close friend had passed in heart breaking circumstances, and after a morning conversation with a unique friend, I was going about my normal business when I was completely paralysed – I actually witnessed the hotel walls visually close in on me. I was rendered powerless until after this sensation passed over me. On reflection and diagnosis weeks later, THIS episode was the start of the hardest period of my life thus far. It was a trigger to what was to come.
Following this was a time of manic behaviour – and some of my most creative years. To know this kind of high is the most intoxicating and addictive feeling. You see the world in some immediate clarity that makes what you feel, do, say, think and believe in another dimension. The most alluring of dimensions. But with the light comes the shade. Life is also there to level you out. So with our highs come our crashing lows. Something we all feel each and every day, except it was that mine had no ceilings.
My need for slow became necessary for my survival.
It became a ‘take each day as it comes – no future, no past, just now’. And the silver lining in all of this was a trip to Bali, with a chance meeting with a yoga teacher that saw my harsh lesson transform into a gentle ‘welcome home’ experience. For the first time in my life, I stopped the thoughts, stopped the mind going and stopped getting lost. I found clarity in the light of the morning, breathing on the ocean’s edge, holding an intensely painful pose and just being. Nothing else. So with my harsh came my gentle. I was living my art inspiration first hand. I did have the front row seat.
How do you balance your social media presence with living a real, connected life?
That’s the daily juggle and struggle. We have all had to learn on the job when it comes to social media. The definition of balance is something we have all had to redefine. Social media has changed the goal posts for most creatives – it is an amazing platform to be able showcase and engage with your clients, but with that opportunity comes the negative impact that being ‘ON’ has created in our daily lives.
My personal balance has become a priority of late. But it’s still a work in progress. Whilst the landscape of platforms like Instagram have shifted and pivoted, I myself have decided to do the same. I post with an emotive agenda, whilst there are aspects of my life that I keep close. Most of my social media presence is the real connected me. Instagram is helping nurture the vulnerable side of all of us, as we are looking to engage with authenticity, rather than with the false economy of likes.
Do you ever get the opportunity to take stock during the day or are you go, go go all the time?
Morning rituals set me up for the day. Like my erratic nature, they change all the time – however they always involve stretching, breathing, listening, looking and grounding so I can mentally deal with the day and what it hands to me.
I am 100 or 0, so I’m pretty much on the go all day and then, in those sunset moments, I do take the time to stop – sometimes with a wine in hand, but I slow it all down. This sets the tone for the evening ritual of sleep. Sleep, being the most underrated therapy for mental health and balance. It is the body’s perfect reset. I think modern society has forgotten this ancient need!
Do you agree with the premise that we all need to slow down at times or do you think we can really do it all?
We can do it all for a period of time, but I deeply believe it all catches up with us at some point. Whether it comes in the form of a harsh breakdown, burnout or gentle realignments, we all do need to slow down. This is the only way I believe we engage. With ourselves and our chosen ones. It is the only way to practise being present and it is during that slow down that we feel all the great moments, the moments that make this complicated modern-day life worthwhile. Slow down gives reason to the bigger picture.
Has there ever been a time when you have surprised yourself with your strength and resilience?
Having my first daughter at the age of 23. Being totally blindsided with what parenting was all about. I learnt very quickly that strength, courage and crazy amounts of resilience was needed to parent. I still need that every day, especially as we head into the crazy teenage years (Marley 15, Evy Jude 10). Recently when I slowed down and took some moments to reflect, I honestly surprised myself when I looked at my girls and realised I was really growing up and finding myself whilst trying to help guide these two little humans into the world. I must have found strength and courage to parent all three of us at the same time.
For those of us who are walking our own slow down path and searching for the strength to deal with all that life presents, do you have any ideas to share that might assist us in our journey?
Do something each day that scares you, because in that process, we build our strength. It’s this energy and firepower that gives us the ability to meet our highs and lows. And when we meet them head on, we have the capacity to breathe and reflect on understanding that life’s obstacles are new opportunities disguised as a ‘Cha Cha’ dance.