Daniel Rolnik: Why do you have a fascination with defacing Lichtenstein paintings at the moment?
D*Face: It's not just at the moment! It's been a long running fascination and it's not just Lichtenstein! I guess on a simple level it's a literal interpretation of my name, but moreover it stems from my fascination [with] American culture and directly Pop Art; other than the skate graphics I saw in Thrasher magazine mid 80's, it was the first 'art' that my parents showed me that I felt a connection to. I've come to realise that for me Pop Art didn't have a strong enough serious tone or voice; it felt more like a celebration of consumerism rather than a critique. I love the aesthetic but I wanted to have a more serious undertone to my work. Moreover the pieces in this show aren't derived from Lichtenstein but from the comic book artists that he referenced or mostly my own, drawn from scratch; I actually view this as looking through Lichtenstein's eyes at Tony Abruzzo, but making the work relevant to today's society.
DR: Why will your book be titled One Man and his Dog?
D*F: I always called the winged character I draw and use in my work as a 'Dog' – don't ask, it's all part of my distorted world – and it's always been a solo mission; for many years I wanted to be in a crew, more strength in numbers mentality, however having to cut my own path has meant I've been in complete control of my work and what it's become. So the title One man and his dog just seemed to summarise the book and my path with that character in particular.
DR: What’s one of the worst situations you’ve found yourself in while doing street art?
D*F: There's been a few really close scrapes with the Police: laying on an external fire escape in NYC hoping the NYPD don't look up and spot me was sketchy; there's been a few slips off ladders; tipping cherry pickers; but I guess nearly slipping into a frozen Dutch canal whilst scaling an overhanging metal railing was too close a shave!!
DR: When you first saw someone camping out for one of your prints, what did you think? Was there a level of anxiety or responsibility that you hadn’t anticipated?
D*F: I went and asked them what they were queuing up for; I thought there must be a clothing release or gig I wasn't aware of, so when they said the D*Face print, I was shocked, actually I felt a little embarrassed. That was in 2006. There's been times when people have been waiting outside StolenSpace the night before the release and we've said, look please go home, there's no need to wait overnight, moreover the area has some trouble and we don't want you getting into any trouble. I've never taken this commitment or dedication for granted; I don't expect the last print or show to be an indication of the next or expect the same response, so I'm incredibly grateful and thankful for that support.
DR: What’s your opinion on street art becoming a safe commodity? So safe that companies take grandmas out on street art tours throughout London?
D*F: It's a weird duality, because the very term 'Street Art' has always made me feel uncomfortable and fifteen years ago when I started I could NEVER imagine how far it would come and evolve. Bearing in mind it didn't have a catchy media-given name and we used to give work away at free street galleries, it certainly never had the following it has now, but really it's pretty unbelievable how far it's reached into the public consciousness and how much it's appreciated by such a broad, diverse audience. I'm privileged to be a part of what is a really one of the most exciting art movements for a long time. Obviously part of that going from underground to mainstream does carry certain problems, but so long as the individual artists involved continue to push the work and look outside of [themselves] for inspiration, then it will continue to grow and remain strong and garner a bigger audience.
DR: Out of all the work you’ll make for a solo show like New World Disorder how much won’t the public ever see? Are you constantly producing work on a daily basis and coming up with the end theme later, or are you always basing the paintings around a theme from the get-go?
D*F: I'm pretty religious with the hours I keep in my studio, I get in at 9am most days and work till at least 8pm or later, so I'm constant
ly producing work. Mostly it's individual pieces and those pieces spring board ideas and those ideas form a body of work. Pretty early on I have a working title for a show; it helps me to solidify the idea. The title of the show is really important, so that does come early on; there's normally two or three titles that summarise the work and the one that sticks becomes the show title. I edit pretty heavily so a lot of work never makes a show, be that due to time constraints or literally picking out the stronger pieces to articulate the show and title.
DR: When you first came to America, what did you notice was different about the street art from London? Is there anywhere in the world you feel we will witness the next great talent emerge from, or a place where people are really saying things with their paintings that the general public hasn’t caught onto yet?
D*F: I think the UK scene had a good sense of humour and irony that we as British people are very good at; we've very self deprecating and that comes out in the work. Where will the next great talent emerge from… damn if I know! Wish I could answer that, but truly I've no idea. There's exciting artists emerging from all corners of the world; I do feel South America has a really strong undercurrent rising.
DR: You’ve painted zombies in your work; why do you think they’ve become so much a part of pop culture? With zombie walks and the rise of The Walking Dead, what is it about their nature that fascinates you?
D*F: Yeah you're right it's weird they have become such a part of pop culture; I have my own reasons for including them in my work and have for the last ten years. For me it's a fascination with life and death, past and present. Death is one of the great unknowns; it's not something we can comprehend – nothingness. I've always been intrigued by the image of a skeleton... No matter who you are, how famous you are, how much money you have, death is the one certainty that can't be stopped; it is the one thing that grounds us all – the fear of our own mortality.
DR: Have you ever defaced an ad for a product that you actually use and love? Why?
D*F: I drink Coke, I wear Nikes, I like products, I am a consumer. I've never wanted to preach about what we should drink, eat, wear; let's face it life is tough enough as it is without being preached to about the things we enjoy. All I've ever wanted is to get people to question their relationship to a brand, the possible effects of it and, where possible, to contemplate an alternative.
DR: Why did you put the Nazi SS symbol on big baseball bats symbolizing the American flag, when in fact the US helped to defeat the Nazi’s?
D*F: It's not the Nazi SS symbol and [it's] interesting that you see what is an aztec pattern as such. I honestly find it really fascinating; is it because it's put against the red blue and white colours of the US flag that you've drawn that conclusion? That bat should say more about the Stars and Stripes than anything. In fact I call that bat Scars and Stripes; the pattern you've questioned represents lightning strikes. The SS logo is obviously two S's placed very closely together which when roughly translated from German means 'protective squad' – very obscene considering the horrific atrocities the SS carried out under the banner of the Swastika and Hitler's regime. Both my father and grandfather fought in WW1 and WW2 and I'm humbled by the sacrifice and great loss our nations gave to defeat the Nazis.
It's strange you make that reference because I've always been intrigued with how we use symbology in everyday life, how we associate ourselves [with] signs and symbols, with the very products we buy, to the faith we worship. It's well documented that much of the Nazi 'branding', if it can be called that, was derived from Aztec or Indian signs and codes albeit often reversed, just as the Swastika is derived from the Indian religious symbol to represent 'higher self' or 'to be good'. Does one not buy Volkswagen because Hitler played a part in their early car designs or not wear Hugo F Boss because he designed and made much of the Nazi Brown Shirt uniforms? There's something deeply disturbing about how a symbol can become so altered from its actual meaning and still decades later still immediately evoke such a sense of fear.
(All images: D*Face, photos by Ian Cox, 2013; Courtesy of the artist.)