As most of you might already know, Prints On Wood recently had the opportunity to collaborate with international street artist, D*Face, on his incredibly bad-ass limited edition wood print: Going Everywhere Fast, which sold out in 5 seconds flat.
As we tried to synchronize our schedules to smooth out the details of his arrival, Prints On Wood was a Gravitron of insanity. At the time, we were in the midst of getting a handle on all the wooden signs needed for the 2014 Coachella Valley Arts & Music Festival. Luckily D*Face was visiting the states to attend said festival which conveniently afforded us a small, womp rat sized, window of opportunity to get him in and out as quick as possible so he could enjoy the rest of his holiday.
In the days leading up to his arrival, everyone inside the POW building was bouncing off the walls in a wild furor. "Holy Crap! We get to meet D*Face!", "Throw away those McRib boxes! D*Face is coming!", "Don't forget to flush! D*Face will be here!". Meanwhile, I was trying to keep it cool and prepare for our interview. I met David Schwimmer one time in a sunglasses shop on Melrose when I was fourteen, so I was confident I had the gourds to keep things professional and maintain my composure in the presence of a world renowned artist.
While researching the art and style of D*Face held my curiosity, if I was really going to get flustered over an interview, it would be with the Ramones (and all the cool ones are already dead). So I couldn't completely empathize with my co-workers who would grow more & more anxious with each hour D*Face's visit grew closer. I kept repeating "It's a just job. I'll be fine." to myself during a last minute YouTube cram session the morning he was to visit. I was fine... until I got 3 videos deep. That's when I learned D*Face grew up on a steady diet of Skateboarding and Graphic Design which made my ears perk like a startled cat. (A man after my own heart!)
After that revelation, whatever D*Face had to say would most definitely hold my interest.
POW: When doing research for this interview, I noticed that you concealed your identity in many of your earlier interviews, but in more recent times, your face is completely unobscured. Is this because over time your particular brand of street art has become more accepted in the public domain? Or because you're so huge in the artistic community, there's no reasonable way to hide it anymore?
D*FACE: Haha. I think it's more to the point that as I get older, it feels a little less convincing being this guy lurking in the shadows. It feels more relevant to be speaking about the work that I produce. Whether it be legally or illegally, it's nice to be able to be... not so much a "face" to it, but be able to talk openly about it as opposed to having to hide behind a shadow, or a mask, or whatever, which makes it feel less relevant.
In truth, I do less illegal stuff than I've done in previous years so there's no one looking for me as such. They're looking for guys who are painting trains and causing proper criminal damage, which is the only reason why I hid my identity in the first place. I think it is what you said, that it's so much more accepted now than it was in the earlier days. People are kind of like... if you go out and paint a wall and say "Oh yeah, by the way, I'm this artist and I painted this." then they're like "Sure, go ahead. Paint my wall. Please!". There seems to be less of a stigma attached to it then there used to be for sure.
I feel like it's less relevant for me to be hiding behind a shadow. It's more important to be able to speak openly about my work. The thing I don't like about it is I don't think it's relevant to judge my work on what I look like. That's always something I've been trying to avoid, which to a large degree is why I've remained anonymous. I'd rather you just judge my work on itself rather than what trousers I'm wearing or what t-shirt I've got on. A lot of my work critiques style and fame, so it seems to be slightly contradictory to then be like "Yo! Look at me! Here I am! Check me out!", which I have no interest in doing.
REFLECTIONS by D*Face. Santurce, Puerto Rico, 2013.
POW: You've stated that you were heavily influenced by skateboarding as a teenager. In your opinion, what was the direct correlation between skateboarding and graffiti that inspired you to jump from one to the other?
D*FACE: Skateboarding and graffiti to me growing up always seemed to go hand-in-hand. When I was skateboarding and traveling to skate-spots in the UK, they always had graffiti. Skateparks were always built (certainly in the UK) in a fairly run-down shit area where nobody really cared too much about one being there. You didn't get them in nice neighborhoods because nice neighborhoods don't want kids hanging around there making a noise, so they were always in those areas that attracted that element anyway. So for me, skateboarding and graffiti were always kind of interlocked.
I'd skate around and I would see graffiti. I would see tracksides painted. I would see the trains painted on my travels around London. That was always something I kind of grew up around, as I did skateboarding. A lot of my friends that I skateboarded with also used to catch tags when we were traveling around. When you're traveling from spot to spot, it would make sense to mark the territory you were at, so it started to become entwined. I started to paint my name (very badly) as a kid, but I was much more fascinated with skate graphics. That's the thing that would really inspire me.
POW: Was there any artist in particular that inspired you? I know you mention Jim Philips a lot.
D*FACE: Jim Philips, Vernon Courtland Johnson. The early days had lots of unknown artists, I still would have no idea who they are. In my head (because nobody explained it to me, or knew any better) I thought you had to be a pro-skateboarder, then you designed your own graphics. I hadn't really managed to figure out that really wasn't the case at all, and that these really one or two amazingly talented artists were producing these huge volumes of skate graphics. It wasn't until someone explained that to me did everything kind of go "Oh, ok. I don't need to be an amazing skateboarder to be able to produce skate graphics." That was kind of a weird seminal moment for me where I was like "Cool, I can actually do this." because I wasn't going to be a successful skateboarder for sure.
D*Face designed decks for Real Skateboards
POW: Your artwork features a great deal of existing pop-culture imagery re-purposed in an artistic composition. How would you respond to people who think: "Oh, this guy is just tracing a bunch of pictures."?
D*FACE: Well, that's pretty much what I do. (Laughter)
A lot my work resembles of what you would imagine to be a Lichtenstein or a Pop-Art piece, but this, Going Everywhere Fast, has got no reference to anything, it's a complete original to say. I use what is essentially is an understood art movement and make it fit for today's society, and what people understand, and what we've come to understand from the refuge of pop-culture.
Pop-Culture was always meant to be a critique of consumerism, but then it ended up becoming a celebration of it, and for me, that doesn't have any relevance in today's society. We know what happens to that refuge. We know what our conspicuous consumption leads to. We know what invade now / ask questions later becomes. This is what I'm really trying to do with my work, just sort of updating what's been done.
POP EYE CON by D*Face
POW: Earlier in your life, you held a job that was meant to be artistic, but ultimately ended with the feeling that it was stifling your creativity. You've mentioned that this particular occupation allowed you to acquire tools that you normally wouldn't have access to such as photocopiers, black and white color printers, and marker pens. Even though you didn't particularly enjoy that job at the time, it seems like it ultimately fostered your ability and drive to do what you were most passionate about.
Do you feel that perhaps if you worked a different / non-creative position at the time, your ultimate outcome as an artist wouldn't be the same as it is today?
D*FACE: I think that's a fair point and a good question. I often think about that because I obviously studied illustration, graphic design, and animation in college, and it was very creative and cool. There was a set brief, but it might've just been a word, like "inflatable" for example. Then you'd spend a month coming up with whatever you wanted to do. It was a very creative thinking course, and I think that course shaped me to who I am today as an artist unknowingly.
What I got at the end of that was the need to work, you know? I had to get a job, I had to pay more rent. I didn't have any more money and I was keen to trying to apply the skills I'd learned. At the end of the exhibition, I got a couple of job offers in advertising / design agencies that wanted me to come in and work for them. I ended up taking a job at the smallest agency because I thought that it would get me in the quickest, and that I would learn the fastest as opposed to being a junior for a long time, and it did exactly that. It made me have to learn very quickly how to answer a creative brief, on time to a deadline, but still trying to retain an element of creativity to it and good thinking. It also taught me how to use the equipment and machinery in way that was proficient, and very quickly I had to deal with that. It was very interesting for a while because you're obviously developing your tools, your palette, but it did become very boring very quickly.
That's kind of when I went back to my outside work, and my original work, that I'd been always interested in doing. I just sort of looked at it and thought I don't need to do just the creative brief, it could be my own project, my own thing. It didn't have to have any answers, it didn't have to have a beginning or an end, and that was kind of what I was looking for, so I just decided to do it on my own. So absolutely. If I hadn't been in that situation, then I wouldn't be who I am today.
D*Face doing line work for his mural on Lafayette Street in Soho. 2012
POW: Even though you work for yourself now, do you find yourself still using the same techniques you learned during that time?
D*FACE: Yeah, one of the first jobs I had was a very boring job separating artwork for screen printing. It was something I became very proficient at very quickly because it was something that had to get done. It's something that I now use all the time. It's something that for the most part, is hard to explain or teach somebody. It's just something you become good at through necessity. At the time I thought it was so boring and that I wasn't going to use it ever. Trying to use halftones and plain colors and knock things through to make the most out of a very little color palette. So that definitely shaped me to a large part of who I am.
POW: As someone who's experienced a great deal of critical and commercial success, during your early beginnings as a graffiti artist, was there a specific point, piece, or project you worked on that made you take a step back and think: "Yeah, I think I could do this for a living." ?
D*FACE: It was never really defined as that. It was much more open and organic and I think that is what's really important to remember. In the early days of doing this in 1999 up until 2005, there was no vision on being able to make any money from this. I used to do this thing called "Finders / Keepers" with a couple of other guys where we would make art and give it away. We were just happy that someone would take it! We were doing it completely for no agenda, whereas now if you wanted to start out, you could be a street artist instantly because it's already a defined culture, movement, whatever you want to call it. It just kind of pieced itself together.
I was working full-time and I had to pay the bills. Slowly people were interested in my work in a way of: "Oh, would you sell me one of them?" and I'd turn them for next to nothing just so I could create. I then did a print release with Pictures On Walls which sold really well. I thought that was really amazing because I didn't think it was going to sell at all! That made me think maybe I could pay a month of rent from the sale of that. Maybe I don't need to work full time. Maybe I can do three days of work on my own stuff as opposed to having to work through the night, which is what I had been doing. So I just kind of stepped into that to the point of where I felt like I didn't need to do full time work anymore, or even two days a week, I could just concentrate on my own artwork.
It didn't happen overnight, it just happened very organically.
Thanks D*Dawg! Keep it real esé!
For more information on the art and events of D*Face, please visit: http://www.dface.co.uk/