What’s Happening Brother: an interview with Nnamdi “eNDiO” Darlington (aka -DiO-) on Creative Discipline
Nnamdi and I met at the Guthrie’s opening night party for Floyd’s (Clyde’s) by Lynn Nottage in the summer of 2019. I had just moved to Minneapolis on a Playwright’s Center’s Jerome Fellowship, and I was introducing myself to the local arts community. Nnamdi and I started a conversation about our hair. At the time he was a University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater acting student. His is the third conversation in my Creative Discipline series.
“... my philosophy is that everything I do is connected.”
TS In a recent article I define Creative Discipline as the ability to complete a single project from idea to creation to development to production. However, it may also be defined as one’s creative practice e.g. cinematographer, dancer, or sculptor. How would you describe your creative discipline?
ND My creative discipline is one I would describe as all encompassing and holistic especially when it comes to how I shift between different mediums and methods to express the stories in my life. My inception into being an artist is in visual art, yet my passion for music-making and theatre training informs everything that I create. I used to feel conflicted in the lane I was told to focus on or pursue but nowadays my philosophy is that everything I do is connected. When I’m painting, I’m immersed in music. When I’m writing a song I'm thinking visually and cinematically. When I’m reading plays or seeing shows, I get ideas for painting compositions from staging positions. At the end of the day, what connects everything is myself: the artist as a creative vessel and storyteller.
TS I love the clarity of your self-awareness. What are three things you cannot create without? And why?
ND A pen and paper. A (figurative or physical) space of peace (even amongst chaotic times.) Last thing is the most crucial: people, life, and experiences. A pen is the vehicle to express whatever is on my heart, and the paper or writing surface to retain what I express. Though there are many options for sketching, drawing, note taking that we have access to in this digital age, to me nothing beats the traditional physical medium. A space of peace can look like my own art studio (which is essential to the wellbeing of my mental health and creative practice) or even just the ability to withdraw from the outer world and be fully at peace and present with my inner world. The ability to do such is crucial because without undisturbed access to my inner creativity, it’s enormously difficult to focus on the work. Lastly, I need people and life experience to draw inspiration from. Art imitates life and life is abundant with art. I draw from these memories and experience and people all the time to manifest the stories in the works I create.
TS Walk me through your creative process? How do you create? Can you identify a routine?
ND My creative routine varies depending on the day and what I set out to create. When I’m working on a painting, I’m drawing from instinct with no set idea. I allow the environment that I'm in to influence what I’m creating. I’ll start with a face or a word or phrase, and let time, my imagination, and what's on my heart dictate what gets thrown on the canvas. As a musician, I start most songs with a beat, or a feeling, or a story that I want to tell. Some songs take 20 minutes to complete, others may take 20 days. The common thread is that I need to let the art breathe and let myself live with it. Time is the factor that allows me to discover new things in the moments I'm creating or not creating. I could watch a movie and be inspired by a quote and go throw that on the canvas or hear someone's car alarm go off down the street and instantly go throw that in a song. The life and world around me is a key factor to how I create as an artist.
My inspiration comes from the stories in my life. This could be from my own experiences, memories, and emotions, or it could come from the experiences and lives of the people around me. I’m inspired and influenced by artists that paved the way before me, Andre 3000, Prince, Kanye West, Fall Out Boy and many others when it comes to music. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, Kerry James Marshall are a few names when it comes to art. As a storyteller, I’m inspired by myths and spiritual legends, superhero comics and anime are a big reason I fell in love with long-form storytelling.
TS When do you know it’s time to abandon a project?
ND It was never truly “abandoned” if my focus comes back to it at some point. It was just not at the time or space to develop further. There’s been times when I've returned to an idea or project that has been shelved for a long time and I’ve been able to refine and rework it into something that resonates stronger with me in the moment. Honestly, the only time I've truly abandoned a project was for reasons outside of the creative process itself, such as the collaborators not being available, or having access to, or just being in a completely different mindspace and time in life.
I find it somewhat difficult to abandon projects. To be more specific, I find it tough to completely abandon ideas that stay with me for quite some time. If it lives in my head for more than a week, or I keep coming back to that concept, then it's something I know I need to investigate further. Sometimes it builds and grows into a painting or a collection. Sometimes it's a whole song or an EP. It could be an idea for a short film or a character design. And some ideas won’t work for one type of project as well as for another medium.
“I tend to collaborate when the ideas I start with have reached a wall or sense of stagnation from which an outside perspective can help reveal the blind spots in my creativity.”
TS It sounds like some of your projects are completed in collaboration. At what stage in your creative process do you invite collaborators?
ND I tend to collaborate when the ideas I start with have reached a wall or sense of stagnation from which an outside perspective can help reveal the blind spots in my creativity. That can manifest on a small scale like a song I’m working on that I feel “stuck” with, or something is not clicking to where I need an outside musical ear, or something like a screenplay where multiple perspectives can help provide insight to a character that I overlooked. When I’m doing art (mostly when I’m curating but sometimes when I’m painting) I will collaborate with other artists from the jump because it's easier to flesh out creative ideas together. Not to mention, the process can flow faster and smoother if you have the right group of collaborators where everyone knows their role. I have seen truly remarkable and memorable events, experiences, and creation, birthed from that nature of collaboration and it’s one of my favorite aspects of being an artist; to be able to mesh creative minds to create a work that is bigger than anyone else could have done alone absolutely fulfills my spirit and energizes me.
TS How important is it for you to finish a project from start to finish?
ND Honestly, I start A LOT of projects I don’t finish quite often. I like to joke and say it's my “toxic artist trait” but in reality it is something I am aiming to improve on. I think the follow-through is one of the most crucial and underlooked aspects of the process. Artists should be able to see a project through to its completion and let it go into the world with as much intention as it took to start creating it.
TS What creative obstacles do you face? Personal or professional.
ND Outside of the obstacles that the creative process itself brings, my biggest challenges in the past have been getting my own creative space, the freedom in my schedule to commit time to my practice as well as the resources to create to the fullest of my vision. Especially keeping in mind what is essential to me for creating, having my own space of peace where I can dictate the setting, atmosphere, and set up that best optimizes my workflow is a major accomplishment. Plus, now that I’m finished with school I have the freedom to dictate my own schedule and devote the time I want and need to my artistic career as well as expand the network of people and places that I’m connected with to aid in the execution of my projects. Nowadays, my biggest challenge personally and creatively is time. Or to be more specific, it’s balance and time management. There's only so many hours in the day that I can dedicate to my practice, so where I’m at now is refining my schedule and process to give me the best work-life balance amidst all my ongoing projects.
TS What tips do you have for creatives who may be facing their own creative challenges?
ND The biggest advice I would give is to reach out and ask for help. I am fortunate enough to know creatives in my community who share a similar mindset and goals which has not only made collaboration easier, but has also helped me solve some of the creative challenges I faced such as a studio space or a limited network. I especially recommend connecting with artists that are elders and have more experience than you; they have been instrumental in my own personal and artistic growth by sharing their wisdom, opportunities, and resources. To add on, if one is struggling to connect with those in their community it doesn't hurt to offer help as much if not more than you ask for it. I’ve found it humbling and it makes people more receptive to what you have on your plate if they see you’re interested in them and what they’re doing.
TS What projects are you currently working on and where can our readers follow and find your work? And/or What projects are you excited about?
ND Man, at any given moment I’m working on what feels like a million different projects at a time. I just wrapped up curating and artistic directing an outdoor art fair in collaboration with the Legacy Building as part of their Soul of the Southside Festival. I enjoy the new challenges that these curatorial projects present and I’m looking forward to cultivating more spaces, especially working with the folks at the Legacy Building. We’ve been having a successful run of immersive art shows this past year and are transitioning into opening up a gallery space for emerging and early career artists in the near future. Personally, I’m writing and developing a solo show that synergizes art, music, performance, and film into one immersive and interactive experience centered around my next musical project. Speaking of performance, I’m getting back into theater spaces via working as the music director for The Jones Classical Theater Ensemble. We’re putting on a production of Midsummer Night's Dream as part of the MN Shakespeare Festival in July as well as a production of Hamlet in Chicago in September. I’m mad excited to expand my music composition and production skills as well as bring a hip-hop and modern flavor to classical theatre. Oh, and I’m currently working on my first screenplay with some longtime friends and collaborators as part of a project and brand (that I can’t speak too much about at this time.) It’s definitely going to be a fun and exciting project to make, let alone share with the world, so stay tuned in. I’m currently working on relaunching my website so, until then, you can find me and know more about what I’m working on via instagram @_endio and @dio.mpls.
Nnamdi “eNDiO” Darlington (aka DiO) is an emerging multi-disciplinary artist and curator. He’s currently based in the Twin Cities and, as an artist of many dimensions, his work lives within the intersection of music, visual art, film, and theater. His practice is centered around storytelling, connection through universal emotions and experiences, and free expression. His work revolves around grappling with an upbringing as “a black body in white spaces'' and “shining light on the Unseen”; whether it's the underrepresented communities in our world or the hidden truths within our souls. Influenced by African heritage, hip-hop culture, American and Japanese comics, he creates stories within his paintings that are multilayered (both literally and figuratively) which stylistically blends representational portraiture and neo-expressionist abstraction.
Main Image: From the Soul of the Southside Festival, Juneteenth 2023. Photo Cred: Janika Webster
Images in gallery:
eNDiO in Da Garden (studio), July 2023. Photo Cred: Venus Imari
From the Soul of the Southside Festival, Juneteenth 2023. Photo Cred: Janika Webste