In the age of WiFi and iPhones, anyone can be an icon, but not every icon can be an artist. In this case, Parker Day is both an icon and an artist.

As 2016's answer to Cindy Sherman, Day photographs Los Angeles' club kids and digital icons in the guise of different characters from a cowgirl to a clown. Each portrait has an incredibly beautiful eye-popping background, but Day's camera adds a gritty feel that makes one (myself included) wonder about the aura of the sitter.

Although Day is in Los Angeles and I am in New York, we e-mail each other about ICONS, the Internet and why the City of Angels is a place for artists.


You are currently based in Los Angeles, which is starting to be an emerging art center. What brings you to the city?

LA is amazing right now! It's a great place to be as an artist. People are driven, focused, and surprisingly supportive of one another. And that's exactly why I moved here. I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area which is now a great place to be if you're in tech and work for Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc, etc, but not such a great place to be an artist.

Your photographs are very bold, yet they have a grainy focus that brings an element of vintage film. How long did it take for you to develop your style of photography and who/what shaped your aesthetic?

The how long is hard to answer because I believe you're growing as an artist even when you're not putting brush to canvas or finger to shutter button. When I was a kid and would draw a lot (mostly comic book characters) I first noticed that theory in action. I'd take a break from drawing and then I'd come back to it even better than before. So at that young age I already understood that there's a strong component of creativity that is unseen and working beneath the surface. My aesthetic is informed by comic books, cult movies, and curious characters I've encountered throughout the years. The content though is drawn from my own processing of ideas surrounding identity and its expression. I'm fascinated with symbols and gestures -- they contain more information than anything literal ever can.

You've started a new project called ICONS, where you photograph 100 people dressed as different characters. What is the concept behind ICONS and how did you develop the idea for your project?

I started ICONS last July with the idea of exploring identity expression and show that it is largely performative and transmutable. I want there to be a fuzzy line between "real" people and imagined characters. What you perceive of another person is largely a reflection of yourself and I hope to confront people with that.

Speaking of your subjects, the majority of them are visual artists, performance artists, and club kids. Why do you choose to specifically photograph these types of people?

These are my people! They're fearless and understand what I'm doing so there's a great exchange of energy and creativity.

Another project you've recently done is a music video, where you were the art director, on the history of the vibrator featuring performance artist Dorian Electra for Refinery 29. How did you get involved in the project and what was it like to work on it?

The producer, Michael Philip Zarowny, was familiar with my work and loved what I was doing so he reached out to have a meeting with me, Dorian, the director (Weston Getto Allen) and cinematographer (Kelsey Talton). We all hit it off and it just flowed from there. It was great working on it and something I would like to explore more, perhaps even by directing a short video myself.

These days, female visual artists like yourself are given a voice/platform to elevate their art via social media and the Internet. This is a trend that established art institutions (i.e. a gallery and/or museum) have yet to fully acknowledge. What benefits are you able to reap from social media and the Internet? Are there any challenges that you've encountered while using these platforms?

The whole narrative about the art world being a boys' club or blah blah blah isn't something I subscribe to. I don't doubt that that's been the case or that people are still experiencing that, I don't mean to discredit their experience, but it's not something that's impacting me personally and I prefer to look towards opportunities and away from "obstacles." Social media and the Internet are amazingly empowering tools. Because I'm on the aged end of Millenials, I remember a pre-internet time so I'm extra grateful for and in awe of the new tools of our generation.

After you've launched ICONS, which will happen this summer, and a solo exhibition based on the book, what will you do next and what shall we anticipate?

Actually not that soon! My first solo show, presenting all 100 ICONS portraits, will be at Superchief Gallery Los Angeles in February 2017. I still have several months to refine the body of work so I'll be staying focused on that. I'd love to do a world tour of sorts and do miniseries of ICONS style portraits of people in major cities, like Tokyo, Berlin, Taipei, and London. So that might be included in this collection or be a follow-up. Really, I'm just following my inspiration and seeing where it takes me! It's turning out to be an incredible ride.