UMN theater student builds himself an empire of artistry

Nnamdi Darlington talks about collaborative efforts with local artists and plans for his upcoming first EP.

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Nur B. Adam

Acting student and artist Nnamdi Darlington poses for a portrait in his studio in front of his artwork in Como on Tuesday, Dec. 1. “I’m so grateful because I’ve really learned how to love where you come from,” said Darlington, a Twin Cities artist. “At the end of the day, it’s the place that has shaped you and molded you into who you are, and you can’t remove that. You can’t separate the environment from the experience.”

Meg Bishop, Arts and Entertainment Reporter

This summer, Nnamdi Darlington was collaborating nonstop with local artists, protesting against police brutality and curating his personal art style.

Darlington, who also goes by DiO, is a University of Minnesota fourth-year student in the Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program. But when he’s not acting, Darlington is often letting his creativity flow through painting and music. Recently, he’s been focused on planning the release of his first EP in January, after years of playing with sound and learning how to produce.

This summer, he began his business, DiO Designs, selling spray-painted t-shirts at protests. Designs included a portrait of George Floyd or a pig face and phrases written over designs, including “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice No Peace” and “Say His Name.”

“This summer became wake up, paint, paint, paint t-shirts, go to protests, connect and engage with people, go to the studio, make music and then rinse and repeat the next day,” Darlington said. Seeing his art used to inspire the community to get out and help one another gave him the confidence to continue with his constant artistic endeavours.

Darlington says building local connections has been the ultimate goal throughout his time in the University’s BFA program, so after school he has a network to widely share his art.

“It’s given me this mentality as to how to approach art and creating, and not only that but connecting with people and connecting with audiences,” Darlington said. While professors in the acting program often tell students to bring their own out-of-class experiences into their roles in class, he takes learning how to play a character in class and transfers that into his art.

In middle school, Darlington said he started to watch anime, which led to him drawing anime characters, shaping his future artistic exploration.

“I was like ‘Woah, these guys are making dynamic figures and characters.’ It was really the story telling,” Darlington said. “No matter what it is that I’m doing, I’ve always been connected with telling stories.”

Last month, he painted a mural at local Minneapolis clothing store, Water Wave TV. The store is a new addition to the Como neighborhood and holds vintage clothing, a recording studio and production office. The store’s owner, Eric Geisthardt Jr., heard of Darlington’s work and asked if he would add some art to the inside of the store.

“He did his thing and went crazy for a whole month,” Geisthardt Jr. said. “When he was painting, it was like he could have stopped at any point and it would have been acceptable, but he kept going and going, and adding small details. It became a masterpiece.”

He is working with Water Wave again this month to host an art show at the end of December and promote his upcoming EP, “eNDiO Black Romantic,” which is set to drop in January.

“I can’t call what we do everyday for two and a half years work,” said Ben Siroka, Darlington’s friend and collaborative partner. “As an artist, DiO has unlimited creative scope. I wish I could think like he does.”

Darlington’s aspirations for his music are of top priority to him at the moment. “I’m a big fan of creating a body of art that gives back the more you put in. I’m creating a transmedia storytelling experience,” Darlington said. The album will be accompanied with videos of him creating abstract art or performing different character roles.

With this album, Darlington says he hopes to continue his artistic career in Minneapolis, working with local artists and businesses.

“Being here, I’ve not only grown my appreciation for Minneapolis, but I’ve also found some crazy dope and talented people here.”