After sitting down with our pal, Daren Thomas Magee, better known as Real Fun, Wow! we are certain of one thing: you really can (italicize) do it all. Daren is a prolific artist, designer and collaborator, muralist, shop-owner, dad, and podcast host.
After stints in Austin and San Francisco, and several unfulfilling gigs later, Daren set out to do one thing: to draw something everyday. That simple task helped lift him “out of where I didn’t want to be, into where I was supposed to be.” He began posting his work on Instagram, and the journey began — Daren was making a living as a full-time artist.
Daren’s work is, in essence, lightly spiritual and so is he. An ardent atheist-turned-latent-spiritualist — Daren’s transcendent awakening coupled with a healthy amount of sarcasm and cynicism is what largely informs his work, and, what we believe, his ever-growing following can relate to most.
Check out our conversation with the inimitable: Real Fun, Wow!.
You lived in San Francisco before moving to Ojai, what did you love most about living in the Bay? How did you find yourself in Ojai?
Before I left the Bay, I lived in the Outer Sunset. I love the eclectic nature of that neighborhood. Neighborhood walks were always inspirational. Also, I loved the quick access to the beach. I love cloudy beach days. There's something so peaceful and cozy about it. I definitely miss the diversity and culture that is so abundant in the Bay. Seeing people of all varieties is inspiring.
Eventually the city started to wear me down though. The pace, the congestion, the fullness of it. Seeking out a place I didn’t know existed is how I came to end up in Ojai. Ojai was the perfect amalgamation of all of what the Bay wasn’t providing. Stripped down to its bare essence, Ojai is all I currently want and need in a home.
What were you doing before you started Real Fun, Wow! and how did Real Fun, Wow! come to fruition as a brand?
While in the Bay, I was briefly pursuing a career in film. I attended a program that ultimately turned out to be a bit of a scam but it helped illuminate the fact that film wasn’t where I wanted to be and that I am not really a team player. After I quit the program I floundered for a bit and worked a string of gig jobs. They were absolutely soul sucking and I knew very quickly that there was no future in it and I could feel my spirit yearning for something more. So, when I would get home from work I started to draw. Just as a form of expression and release, never with the intention of making a living from But, I made a promise to myself that I would draw everyday. I managed to keep that promise and it helped lift me out of where I didn’t want to be, into where I was supposed to be. I began posting my work on Instagram and friends started to see what I was capable of offering. Work started to come in steadily and before I knew it, I was making a living as an artist. It was an incomprehensibly short amount of time that it all happened in. It felt like the first time I looked up from the paper I was drawing on my life had changed completely.
How did you come up with the name Real Fun, Wow!?
My partner and I were laying in bed one night and they were expressing how excited they were for something we were going to be doing in the future (I wish I could remember what it was!) and they said in a really excited way ‘....and it's going to be Real Fun, Wow!’ I can remember hearing the comma in it. I don’t know if that combination of words has ever been said before. It struck me as something special and unique, so I took it, and copyrighted it.
Your drawings and messages convey a light spirituality to them — can you share more about where that comes from and how it started to show up for you in your art?
Spirituality, lite. :) That feels apt. I’ve never been one to describe myself as spiritual, but I suppose, by definition, I am. I guess I am a latent spiritualist. For most of my life, I was deeply cynical (only slightly less cynical now). I was an ardent atheist, who refused to believe that there was anything special, let alone magical, about this life. And then I did a shit load of ayahuasca and all of that changed. I finally had a basis for understanding what isn’t understandable. I personally experienced things I’ve only ever heard through the lens of spirituality. I had my own spiritual awakening, so of course that largely informs my work. I try to maintain a foot in both worlds so as to not be too much of either side. So often, my work conveys the spiritual expression and my words reel it in with some deep dark sarcasm and cynicism. That balance is important to me.
Do you have any self-care rituals that have become part of your artistic and/or personal practice? How have you stayed sane throughout the pandemic — being a father to a toddler, opening up a retail space, hosting a podcast, etc.
In the past year (2021) I have taken my health and wellness very seriously. Having suffered some deep insecurities about my body I began pouring a lot of focus into doing all I can to get in front of that. I began paying attention to what I eat. I gave up alcohol and have been dry for almost 2 years. I began seeing a personal trainer. I run/hike almost daily and I began meditating. All of that is in service to my mind and body, which, of course, lends to my artistic practice. I feel like I am constantly expressing myself so my artistic practice is, by some degree, my life. So everything is everything.
The pandemic was/is/has been quite kind to me. My life didn’t get upended in a noticeable way. I have a very small circle of people. I don’t go ‘out’ really. Living in a small town has made things much easier to keep life the way it is, without much disruption, and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.
You just opened up a retail space, The Wow House. You’ve expanded your work to textiles, home goods, etc. Tell us about what you hope people will experience and walk away with when they’re in your store. Have you always imagined owning a retail space?
Honestly, the idea to open a retail space was born out of an existential crisis I was having at the time. My online shop was running seamlessly, leaving me with an abundance of time that I didn’t know what to do with! I was going a bit crazy and needed to pour some energy into something. It was a nice exercise in focus and bringing my attention to something with an end goal in mind. To be perfectly honest, I’ve lost a lot of the drive that I had initially. It was almost just a test to see if I could do it, and I did it. Currently the shop is closed (1/11/22) and I will really need to dig deep to find the energy to open it up again. Very likely, if I open the doors again, it will be by appointment only. I would go nuts manning a shop that has regular business hours.
That’s kind of a perfect example of how I run my business though. Reluctantly. I never set out to be a business owner, so whenever I am faced with having to acknowledge that I do, I can be a bit petulant and flippant about it
How did your podcast “Mystical/Cynical” come into existence?
My neighbor, in all of his audacity, felt that the conversations we have were worth recording and sharing with the world. I am perpetually on the fence as to whether or not it's a good idea. I’ve already quit once, and I am not opposed to quitting again at a moment’s notice! I am like that though. I don’t like to be obligated to anything. I am too fluid to be held in one place for too long. But for the time being, I enjoy it. It’s a fun excuse to get together and share our deepest and darkest, and to philosophize and pontificate for an hour each week. And all jokes aside, we do receive a lot of support and encouragement from our listeners!
What's the most important thing you have learned about representing yourself as an independent artist?
Try to give as little shit as possible as to what people think about you. Don’t let the voice of the opposition dissuade you from expressing yourself in the purest form you can. Which, for me, is absolutely terrifying at times, but I am getting better and better at pushing through it!
Do you have a favorite / most memorable creation – either visually or symbolically?
The time that I put up a post on Instagram saying that Instagram was shutting down soon so people should sign up for my mailing list. People lost their shit! It was a cheeky, clever way to point out that we, as small businesses/artists, shouldn’t be solely relying on IG to promote ourselves. The joke/intention was lost on many.
If you came back as an animal in your next life, what would it be?
Indoor/outdoor house cat. Indoor for snuggles, pets, warmth and food, outdoors for fulfilling my primal bloodlust.