Daniel Militonian is pure imagination. Gifted with the ability to create fantasy on canvas, he moves through his career and life with a quiet confidence and a commitment to community. Both are on display at his new shop on Melrose.
Born in Russia, Daniel’s earliest memories of drawing date back to 6 years old, but he’s sure he was at least a doodler from earlier on. He and his family moved to America in 1992 when he was 10 years old. They landed in the Silver Lake area. He continued keeping drawing as a hobby, but exceled into advanced art honors in high school. He also had private traditional art instruction. He recalls, “I was taught the old school masters’ way of drawing.”
After graduating from the Art Institute with a degree in Animation, Daniel went into the big studio system, working on films like “Fantastic Four” and “Finding Nemo.” He was making decent money and had steady work, contrary to what he grew up hearing: that you can’t make money with art.
He never stopped his doodling, which was now being filtered through more consumption of mass media, through relationships, through exploring the deep recesses of his mind.
In 2012, Daniel was contacted to enter an art competition in Santa Monica. The format was giant canvases (approximately 8 ft. x 4 ft.), and the painting was done live on the spot. Naturally, he won. And people took notice of his unique perspective.
Daniel draws with acrylic markers on canvas. Describing the style as “Salvador Dali meets the Simpsons,” his work combines pop culture influences, surrealism, absurdism. Pieces are abundantly colorful, full of movement, and rich with story. Inspired by James Jean, (“the best living artist, in my opinion.”), his weird little characters from childhood doodles “took an adult mind to develop into this, but the craziness was all there.”
He started getting suggestions to “take this to Venice. They’re trippy, people will like them.” So he gave it a shot. Setting up on the famous boardwalk with a few pre-made canvases and the gear to create live, he took the next step toward becoming a self-supporting solo artist.
“Everyone thought I was crazy – my girlfriend at the time, my parents,” Daniel remembers. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I knew I was sitting in a cubicle making so much money. Now I’m sitting outside at the beach all day with people telling me how great my art is, making the same if not more money, doing what I love. It just made sense.” So he eventually quit his animation gig and worked full-time, year-long, in Venice.
He grew the business slowly and consciously. “It was the ultimate dream to get a shop. I didn’t expect it to happen the way it did, but you meet the right people who believe in you,” Daniel said, in reference specifically to his business partner Michael Cassidy. “He believed in me and saw something I saw too.”
They met on Venice; Mike is a happy customer and fan of his work. They started a quick friendship with much in common. “We were always talking about our dreams, and he was telling me his ideas. I thought I could help make this happen,” said Mike, a long-time entrepreneur.
They talked about Melrose having “the vibe, the coolness” and “a lot to offer – and art is just one aspect of it.” Daniel wanted “a window I could paint in” so when driving by the space which had just became available, Daniel knew “it was meant to be.”
Daniel and Mike are fans and part of the skate community. They love the street graffiti scene on Melrose. And they are deeply supporting of the cannabis community.
“I make so secret about it – I smoke a ton of weed. My dream is to draw and smoke cannabis at the same time. Those two go together well for me,” said Daniel. “It doesn’t improve imagination – if it’s in there, nothing’s going to bring it out or take it away – but it makes it easier for me to get in the zone where I have access to that world.”
Weed also brings people together. Especially at Dunkee’s parties. Held on the 20th of each month, the “Dunkeelundia” events are for card holders only. “Instead of wine we have weed,” said Mike. There’s food, a DJ, vendors, and Daniel live-paints with another artist.
So Dunkee’s is a workspace, a party spot, and it’s also an art shop. The walls, and even the ceilings (grab the 3D glasses for a real surprise), are filled with canvases and tapestries of all sizes. The work represents some of his first (see the Ninja Turtles) but is constantly refreshing with new pieces. They can be purchased in many sizes. He also has high-quality apparel, stickers, and dab mats.
Every piece, whether on canvas or a t-shirt, has a story (you can read them all on the website). Inspired by love, happiness, music, each is infused with the faith and gratitude of the artist. Daniel has managed to turn his solo creating into a communal experience that Melrose visitors, and fans around the world, all enjoy. “Everything happened the way it needed to happen, and it’s the perfect thing to happen.”
7325 Melrose Avenue, LA 90046