What do the U.S. Air Force, tattooing icon Kat Von D, and masking tape have in common? They each play a crucial role in Otis College alum Darel Carey’s journey as an artist. Growing up in Colton, CA, Darel loved to draw, but never considered it for a possible career. After high school he ran into a friend who had a similar artistic streak. She told him she’d just started tattooing and that he should try it too. Darel got a kit and practiced with a few tattoos on himself, but within a year had moved to San Diego and in 2000 joined the military as a Russian language analyst.
In 2006, Darel was just starting his second term in the military, this time training to be a Chinese language analyst, when he happened to turn on the TV. It was a commercial for the new reality show L.A. Ink starring his friend from high school: Kat Von D. “It was a total shocker,” he says. “Once I saw that it started making me think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. At one point [Kat and I] were at the same spot and whereas I went off to the military, got a job, and did what I was ‘supposed to do,’ she continued to do what she was passionate about and she succeeded at it. That was an eye-opener. That was my epiphany moment of, Okay, I need to pursue art or I’m going to end up regretting it.”
In 2012 Darel left the Air Force and enrolled in the Fine Arts program at Otis College of Art and Design. But it wasn’t until he was prepping for a group show during his senior year that he met his muse: masking tape. The artists had decided they would grid the gallery, and hang their art within it. Darel took this task upon himself, using masking tape to create lines. “It gave me an idea,” he says. “I was transforming the space just with tape and I could do that with my art too, use it as a medium.” Tape allowed him to surpass the boundaries of the wall, and its ease of deconstruction opened up a whole new world of making. The clean, straight lines also appealed to his love of tessellation, Necker cubes, and M.C. Escher as well as his interests in psychology, spatial awareness, and illusion. “[I like how] something so simple and minimalistic as lines next to each other, just put in the right way, will kind of trick the mind,” he says. Since then he’s been using masking tape to create large, mind-bending installations—parallel lines that, from the correct vantage point, can look like they’re floating in air, creating depth, or even moving.
Darel graduated in 2016, but recently returned to Otis College to create a mural to help celebrate its centennial. He chose a space that posed a new challenge for him—a wall of corrugated metal that meant he not only had to consider depth, but, because it’s outdoors, also the interplay of light and shadow at different times of the day. “For me it was the idea of how neat it might be to add an extra dimension of difficulty and of wonder—like, what could it do?” he says. It was a challenge he rose to, using paint and an air gun, building off the existing lines of the metal, and keeping the design as simple as possible to “let the light do a lot of the work.” It’s fitting that the finished mural was unveiled at the 100% Festival over Veteran’s Day weekend, a confluence of the life Darel was living and the dream he followed. “Pursue what you want to do, and explore and try different things because you may stumble upon something you feel really passionate about,” he says. “You can't know until you try.”