Dacosta Bayley: The Art of the Daruma

“People tell me that the eyes of my characters seem to draw them in,” artist Dacosta Bayley says. “The expressions on their faces communicate an honest and welcoming soul.”

The soulful quality, says Dacosta, is what attracted him to the Daruma doll, an iconic round statue that originates from ancient Buddhism. The typical Daruma has eyes that are either unpainted or painted white. When the doll’s owner colors in the left eye, it signifies commitment to an important task; coloring in the right eye symbolizes completion—and being an undaunted spirit.

“I love all things Japan,” Dacosta says. “So when I was looking for a character to redesign and came across Daruma it seemed like the perfect match. I wanted to see if I could add a modern edge to something traditional while maintaining the qualities of the original form.”

The result was the DCTO: Jibun Project (Dreams Come True Object: My Project)—a popular series of colorful vinyl art toys that present the image of the Daruma with a distinctly modern style.

“DCTO (pronounced ‘dik-toe’) is very much a future form of the traditional Daruma and it has been received very favorably by young people and older Japanese alike,” says Dacosta.

“I’ve been told that I’ve given Daruma a fresh twist and a splash of kawaii (cute),” he adds. “When people discover the story and purpose of the Daruma doll, it really resonates with them. The doll is very motivating and even simply explaining the concept to a friend who knows nothing about it is very empowering.”

“I believe my work speaks to a world of purpose,” says Dacosta. “I want to create works that ask the viewer to look at themselves and their connection to the world around them. Whether with a cute and lovable or a dynamic action character, I try to instill a sense of function to each project.”

For Dacosta, who is originally from Barbados in the West Indies and currently lives in Canada, the artistic styles of modern Japan were more than just an interest when he was growing up—they were an education.

“I’m basically self-taught,” Dacosta notes. “Didn’t find school all that useful for learning anything about art. As a child my exposure to Japanese culture was via the TV. I spent a lot of time on Saturday mornings and every day after school watching the ‘magic box.’”

“During the 1980s there was a flood of Japanese anime shows on cable,” says Dacosta. “I guess I loved the futuristic elements of anime. The crazy battling robots and the storylines seemed to always be about people fighting to find themselves and trying to protect the place they called home. The Japanese sense of design, form and use of colour is radically different than what was coming out of western animation studios. Needless to say it had a lasting impact on my style, which is a blend of Japanese anime, industrial design and graffiti.”

“DCTO is without question, emblematic of the way I see and process the world” Dacosta says. “The pursuit of the artist is at times trying. The Japanese expression ‘ichi-go ichi-e’—one life, one moment—is at the center of how I think and feel about my work and career. Sure, I have to plan for the future, but I want to experience life through my design as it happens.”

Others are sharing in that experience. The acceptance of the Daruma, says Dacosta, is part of a wider embrace of the Zen lifestyle that is especially notable in western North America.

“Ancient wisdom is finding relevance in contemporary times, and people are becoming more aware of themselves and of new possibilities for improving themselves,” Dacosta says. “It’s exciting for me to be a part of that as the DCTO: Jibun Project brings Zen to new eyes.”

May 2008

In December 2008, the Japanese American National Museum, in collaboration with Dacosta Bayley, will present Dreams to Dreams: DCTO Custom Show, an original display featuring one-of-a-kind versions of the DCTO customized by selected artists from a wide range of artistic styles and disciplines. Just in time for the New Year (traditional Daruma-buying season)!

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