If Banksy, Roy Lichtenstein and Tim Burton had a love-child born in London – it would be D*Face. He is one of the biggest contemporary artists coming out of the UK in recent years known for marrying the world of street art with punk and pop culture influences.
D*Face sat down with Rollacoaster to discuss his latest work. His notably contemporary perspective offers a commentary on the world today, with themes ranging from consumerism to media saturation to street culture. D*Face’s work has been shown around the world and is part of the recent explosion of urban art into the mainstream
Check out the interview below…
Hi Dean, how has lockdown been for you? How has it impacted your art or creativity?
It’s been a weird one, feel like it has been for everyone to be honest. I’m very fortunate in that I have a home studio as well as the main one in East London, so I was still able to operate without travel over the lockdown, at least on some level anyway. I enjoyed spending the extra time with my kids and my dog but there was always a constant worry of what was coming next, when or even if it’s all going to get back to normal. I pushed a load of projects back and changed plans- that’s been a real challenge but it all seems to be running a bit smoother now, for the time being at least. In terms of creating art it hasn’t been so bad, I’ve been able to get on and paint a couple of murals recently, one in Belgium and one in London and there’s another in Portugal on the horizon. Luckily standing 20ft in the air on a scissor lift is a pretty effective way to keep socially distanced.
How did growing up in London feed into your love of graffiti art and mural work? What artists did you look up to growing up?
As a kid I rolled around London on a skateboard, that was transport and fun, not only did the places I was skating have graffiti all over them, but also the Tubes and track sides, so Graffiti was one of those things thats part of my DNA, just is skateboarding, they’ve both been constant factors in my life, the artist I looked into, to be honest it wasn’t until many years later did I even discover their names, but Jim Philips and Vernon Courtlandt Johnson and the many, many unknown graffiti artists, but Mode 2, Futura, SEEN to name a few. Around the time I started mid 90’s there was only a hand full of people doing anything close to what is called Street Art. There wasn’t really a “scene” and I didn’t really understand what I was doing, I was just trying to use the street as a form of expression and a place to put my work – just as I’m still doing now, it was inspired by the mix of my loves; graffiti, Pop Art and Skate graphics, really it was a form of creative escape . Predominantly at that time there were a few artists like, Solo One, The Toaster, Shepard, Banksy… A few of my friends, PMH, Mysterious Al, but it was pretty much on my own. I was really quite happy and it kind of made more sense for me and my work. Stickers were the initial hook – I’d make them at home using sticky back plastic and put them up on my way to and from work. Gradually people started to associate my face with my stickers and the characters I’d created, it all snowballed from there.
How did the collaboration with Zippo come about?
Nothing out of the ordinary to be honest, they’d teamed up with the London Mural Fest team and asked if it wanted to get involved as a London based artist, painting a wall and seeing it shrunk down to lighter size seemed like a cool idea, so I said yes. Zippo being a heritage brand, there’s a level of faith you can have as an artist that the product they get behind is going to be great. Plus, it’s an iconic object that I haven’t worked on before – seemed like the right opportunity at the right time and a natural fit. Im really into working with Heritage brands. Zippo is clearly one with a great lineage, I’m proud to part of that.
How did you set about drafting what your large-scale piece would look like for the London Mural Festival?
I’d had the intention to paint a self-portrait piece for a little while now, London just seemed like the right place to let that out the bag. There were a couple of other ideas that were floated around as well but this one felt the most fitting – my big ugly mug staring down at the people of London Town. In terms of the actual process itself, I do most of my draft-work digitally, particularly when working collaboratively because there’s inevitably small changes and little tweaks along the way that are much simpler to fix digitally – it’s just how I’m most comfortable working.
You make a satirical comment on content consumption in the 21st century – what do you hope fans take away from the mural?
Yeah, I had a show in Tokyo last year that featured a whole series of these ‘Stripe’ works, they were really specifically about 21st-century media consumption and the information we share about ourselves via that consumption, as a kind of two-way-stream. I tend to put less pressure on the meaning of a mural though, it’s more about creating an image that I’m proud to share with a community and something that I hope people can enjoy and pour their own meaning or interpretation into. Unlike visiting a gallery, people that see murals often are just passing by so imposing meaning on them can feel a bit weird so they tend to be less formal in their message.
And how did you go about capturing the cult pop culture status of Zippo? What did your mood-board look like?
I’m typically not a very “mood-board” kind of person but it certainly made for an interesting challenge to create an artwork that fit both the wall and the lighter simultaneously. The stripes graphic worked nicely because you’ll notice the top stripe of the head pops off when you flick the top of the lighter – I liked the idea of the head and the flame being a kind of hidden alternate top piece to the design – setting my head alight or the ’spark’ inside my head… every time you use it seemed amusing too.
What were the biggest challenges in executing your piece?
Usually when painting in the UK that answer is always the same – the weather. Fortunately, we got by with minimal rain on this project so there was only a short while of waiting around. As with most London buildings though, it’s hundreds of years old and you’re dealing with the nuisances of that building, from the irregular walls, to the ‘falling off bits’, it’s just something you have to learn to compete with over the years but it doesn’t stop being a pain when you paint an area and then the wall underneath it crumbles to pieces or strips away – no one likes doing things twice. Like I said though, it’s something you learn to accept when painting London buildings and in a way makes them all the more special because you leave knowing it’s probably not going to last that long – enjoy it whilst it’s there!
Fans were able to see your process live – why is this live and interactive aspect such a great added layer?
Interactions with passers-by or fans when painting in the street always tend to add an extra something to a wall. Usually, those meetings are what I remember most about a mural. Obviously, I have my own reaction and thoughts towards a mural but It’s always more interesting to hear what other people make of it, especially the people that will continue to interact with it after I’m finished painting.
Why is now an important time, in the face of so much uncertainty, and when people might be feeling uninspired – to highlight art and creativity?
We’re living in completely unique circumstances right now and art has the power to reflect that, as it always has done. The work that artists are producing now, in the light of the pandemic and the lockdown across the globe, will be looked back on for years to come, it’s the zeitgeist, it tells the story.
What would your advice be to an emerging artist looking to emulate what you’ve succeeded in doing in your career?
I was lucky in many ways, I just set about to ‘do me’ there was nothing or little before me, so it was very much the blank canvas! I didn’t have to worry too much about what I was doing or who was paying attention, because quite honestly I didn’t think anyone was paying attention, the whole scene grew slowly and very organically, I was doing something in the right place at the right time and with no agenda. If you’d told me back then, I’d travel the world painting, have museum and sell-out shows across the globe and still be doing it over 20 years later, I’d definitely think you were tripping. So I’d say to any emerging artist, just do you, do what you love, don’t worry about anyone else, if you truly love what you’re doing, the rest will fall into place… also you have to be very focused and determined.
What’s next for you? What are you excited about in 2020?
Right now I’m trying to piece together the last few works for my upcoming show in Taipei, wondering if I’m going to be able to fly out for the opening, or if it’ll be the first of my own show’s which I don’t get to attend. There are a few other bits circling round in the background, keeping me on my toes. I run a London gallery too, StolenSpace and it’s proving to be a real challenge to persuade artists to have a show that they can’t come and see for themselves because of travel restrictions, but we’re figuring it out as we go, as much as these times are difficult and a challenge, they’re also a time to be creative and look to the future, something better will come from this moment.