STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Danny Iacona lets his art do the talking for him.
And he hopes you hear his messages loud and clear.
The 31-year-old Staten Islander heads up Fortune Canvas, a unique project he started in September 2018 aimed at creating inspirational art for all to discover.
Iacona, an Oakwood Heights resident, graffitis meaningful words and phrases — both those said by famous figures and those he creates himself — onto canvases he either hands out for free to passersby or hangs in random locations around Staten Island and New York City for people to pick up and take home.
And it’s all in the name of helping others.
“I started [canvas painting] … with the intention to maybe help someone through what I’ve been through,” said the Moore Catholic alumnus.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to do two things: art and help people. I truly believe Fortune Canvas allows me to do both. I believe words are very powerful, and we underestimate the power of the words that we speak. Not just the words we say to each other, but the words that we say to ourselves.”
HIS START IN ART
Iacona, who attended Our Lady Queen of Peace from first to eighth grade, described himself as a shy, insecure kid unable and unsure of how to express himself.
“Everyone needs to express themselves somehow in this world, or else they’ll go crazy,” he said. “I feel like I had so much bottled up already.”
Fast forward to his sophomore year at Moore Catholic, and Iacona realized what was missing from his life.
“I would take the train to high school every day and I’d look out the window, and I’d see graffiti. And when I looked at that, I saw it as an expression.”
Graffiti, Iacona said, gave him a sense of excitement — and a means to convey all that he’d been holding onto.
“I didn’t [do graffiti] because I wanted to break the law, obviously. It’s illegal. [But] when I found art, I just went all in. It gave me a voice, without having to speak.
“Perfect for a shy person, right?” he joked.
For five years, Iacona used graffiti to express himself. Eventually, however, his approach evolved.
“I was at a friend’s house, and he had canvases up on his walls that he painted. And just like me looking out the window on the train, I looked at his walls and got inspired to try canvases. That pretty much changed my whole direction of how I was expressing my talent.”
It also caused a period of reflection.
“I realize if there was some sort of canvas work that I saw earlier in my life before I saw the graffiti, or if I was able to see the graffiti and the canvas work, I would have been able to make a choice. But back then, all I saw was the graffiti.”
With that, Iacona turned a corner.
FORTUNE CANVAS IS BORN
Throughout his 20s, Iacona continued to paint canvases and pick up work as a talented logo painter and artist for various New York City businesses.
But he was still trying to find his niche and felt he was in some sort of “hole.”
“One of my favorite motivational speakers, William ‘King’ Hollis, says, ‘The best gifts come from the bottom.’ And I truly believe that I was in that hole to find Fortune Canvas.”
In an a-ha moment, Iacona realized if he could express positivity through his art, he could “open up somebody’s mind.”
But to do that, he needed to think outside the box.
HOW FORTUNE CANVAS WORKS
Iacona takes a powerful quote — whether his own words or one said by an inspirational figure — and stencils them onto a canvas he graffitied himself. He then either gives the work away directly to a person nearby, or leaves the canvas in a random place with a piece of tape that reads “take me.”
“People started finding them, and posting them on Instagram,” said Iacona, “and then their friends saw, and started following me [on social media].”
Iacona started engaging with his followers, asking them to name a location for him to drop a canvas.
“So if you said Great Kills, I’d go to Great Kills and hang it in a random place in the area, and tag that person. … If someone takes the canvas, and they hang it up, where they can see it every day, they’re subconsciously training their brain to live that.”
From there, Iacona decided he would begin hanging his canvases around the city for the taking. He began documenting his process and interactions on YouTube, asking people to choose the next featured quote from a 365-page book he put together.
And if someone doesn’t like what he created?
“If you’re thinking too much about what people perceive you as, it’s gonna affect your work. … At the end of the day, I want people to like what I do, but it doesn’t affect me. … I learned to tap into my intuition, and I just do what I feel.”
CANVAS FOR LATE PRINCIPAL
While each of his works are meaningful, one piece in particular stands out for Iacona.
This past June, Iacona was contacted by a teacher at PS 20 wondering if Iacona could take on a special commission. The Port Richmond school had lost its principal, Marie A. Munoz, ahead of the 2020-21 school year, and the teacher wanted to memorialize the late leader.
“If I could do one thing with my art, it would be to heal somebody, to bring back good memories of somebody,” said Iacona, who noted the teacher reached out to him after finding one of his Fortune Canvases “randomly” on the Island.
“So, I painted Marie, and the teacher had the idea to hang it on the school so that in the morning, the teachers and the students would be able to see it as they walked in. It was the last day of school when I got the canvas finished … which was also Marie’s birthday. It worked out perfectly, [like it was] meant to be.”
“That piece touched me. A lot of the time, I’m on autopilot … but certain pieces make me take in what art actually is and what I can offer to the world. And that definitely opened my eyes to how powerful art can be.”
ART ON THE BOARDWALK
Recently, the Advance/SILive.com caught up with Iacona on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk in South Beach.
He was in the middle of painting a canvas when a woman, Amy Zapata, approached him to check out his work.
“I asked her if she was into any type of quotes, like something that meant something to her, that might have reminded her of a loved one. She looked at me and said, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact I have a tattoo of my husband’s words who passed away [in January].’ She got it to remind her of him.”
Iacona would end up going to Zapata’s house three hours later with a custom canvas of the quote that was tattooed on her arm.
“That’s the reason I do what I do.”
Iacona wrapped up his boardwalk session by gifting a canvas straight off the easel to Shunna Moore and her 2-year-old twin girls, Nubia and Inari Landin.
It read, “You had to be who you were, to become who you are” — an Iacona original.
WHY HE DOES IT
For Iacona, words hold significant value.
“The message behind my whole brand is that the world is a garden, and words are the water that feed the seed of the mind. … I want to open up people’s minds to how powerful words actually are.”
He hopes to spread positivity though art to those who seek it — and those not yet aware they need it.
“If I can open up someone’s mind to a thought, that they never would have thought if they didn’t look at a piece of my art, then my job is done.”