However vast and boundless the movement has become, it is not possible to talk about street art without mentioning D * Face. His unmistakable style has colonized the streets of the world, maintaining that genuine approach he started to paste up simple stickers on British street lamps 20 years ago. We caught up with Dean for a nice coffe-break during his intense studio activity, so lean back and enjoy this exclusive interview!
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Today it may seem simple, starting 20 years ago by sticking stickers on lamps and today being one of the very few instantly-recognisable street artist in the world. Besides the evident quality of your work, do you think there have been other determining factors in your career?
Feels strange to say that out loud… 20 years of D*Face, and I’m still putting up stickers everywhere I go, I mean I still literally turn around and go back home if I leave the house without a wedge of stickers, its second to leaving my phone or keys! I guess that say’s something about my ‘determining factors’ as an artist – the fact that I still put time into things like stickers, it kind of reminds me where I come from and how it all started. It can be easy to loose track of that after a long period of time and relative success, but the essence of putting up stickers and posters is still something I literally love doing and that still connects to the very early, very pure days of what I started doing over 20 years ago and what we now call street art.
I think, or I hope at least, that things like that also keep you connected to the people that helped my career get to where it is today. It’s easy to see a burst in popularity and move onto bigger and questionably better things and whilst that’s cool, it can leave you and your art disconnected from why people started following you in the first place, long before social media, long before fake likes. It’s important to remember those beginnings and those people. In terms of the present I think focus can often be something that I struggle with from time to time. I’m definitely guilty of getting swept away on a project and letting other things slip around it. I have to give some credit to my studio team for occasionally having to steer me back on course – stopping me from falling down the creative rabbit hole every now and then, I also have a lot going on in my life, a failed marriage, 2 children, a gallery, a motorbike shop and all the bits of the D*Face jigsaw, there’s a lot of being pulled from pillar to post, I rely on my core team to hold it together and hold me together in the process!
Could you tell me three key moments in your twenty-year career? They can be people you met, or important exhibitions and festivals you attended… Try to highlight three moments/people who made the difference in your artistic path.
Okay, lets see if I can get these in order… First up it’d have to be meeting Shepard in the late nineties, more specifically running the streets with paste-ups all night long in around 1999 – that really opened my eyes very early on in stepping it up, not putting a ceiling on what I do or where this can go. Then I think around two-thousand I got my first screen print set up and learned all I could about that process – that gave me a kick like nothing else, when you pull your first pristine print… and it meant I was able to screen print my first stickers – they’re a real gem to find now, sometimes I wear a jacket that I haven’t for few years and find a clutch in the pockets, they’re too good to be stuck now though, I keep a private stash in my studio. There was something very special about those early and somewhat naive years. Lastly I guess I’d have to mention the front cover of Art Review in 2005, that felt big, especially back then, I’m still the only, *ahhemm* “Street Artist” to get the front cover and the thing is at the time, I had no idea what Art Review magazine represented to the art world, oh and I can’t forget my 2015 museum show in CAC Malaga, I’d say it’s about time for another something big like that!
And would you be able to do the same for three images you created? I mean three images that even now, when you look at, you say: “this has been a turning point”.
They’re more defining moments than turning points but the three go to’s would have to be Queen Liz [Dog Save The Queen] and her Deathly Sister Her Royal Hideous, the dead Marilyn canvas; Pop Tart and Going Nowhere Fast Mural – that was right at the start of my Pop revival style and the first of the large scale walls I painted legally. Oh, and obviously the D*Dog, kind of goes without saying though…
You have definitely created a recognisable style, and I believe it is the best result an artist can aspire to. Nowadays people see your work and exclaim: “D*Face!” in an instant. But could you tell me, if there have been, moments you said: “This style cages me! I want to change everything!”
Arhhh, thanks! To have a ‘finger print’ as such; a style that is instantly recognisable is really special and very hard to land upon, I’m thankful that I do. Occasionally, but rarely do I feel ‘caged in’. Obviously if you’re familiar with any of my work then you know I often work with consistent themes, motifs, pop culture, romance, identity etc. I view what I create as separate bodies of work, like chapters in a book, they’re interlinked, have stylistic DNA and threads that run throughout, but it allows me to step away from one body of work and revisit and revise an older one, or indeed explore something new. Like the ‘Stripe’ pieces I created for my sell out show in Tokyo last year, I then switched into a new body of abstract pieces for Scope Miami, hopefully people followed how what inspired and informed the other. It’s important for me to have room to experiment and explore, hopefully in doing this, it keeps my audience and fans interested, if not interested, intrigued at least!
Many artists I interviewed confessed to me living with anguish the relationship with their works. They consider them obsolete, unrepresentative, sometimes even horrendous the moment after donating them to the world. Well, you look at your artworks and …?
I wouldn’t say I suffer any real anguish when my work leaves the studio or when I see it hung on a wall – in fact it’s usually a great feeling to see a series of work come together like that.
Sure, sometimes I spot something that’s too late to fix and little things I wish I’d changed when I’d had the chance. Plus, I think every artist has those, “wish I’d come up with that” moments every now and then, but for the most part when I finish a wall or a show falls into place, it’s a good feeling. Nothing worth having comes easy.
It goes without saying that I have the tendency to focus on the flaws of a painting, because Im looking at the ‘micro’ in very piece and not the Macro of the whole body of work, Im not standing around patting myself on the back, I’m already over that piece and planning the next painting, show, mural, sculpture… adventure!
Talking about motivations, I’m reading an interview book with Stanley Kubrick and one sentence struck me the most: “I don’t do what I do because I like it, but I do it because I consider poor what I did yesterday, and I try to improve it. For decades”. Do you recognize yourself in this statement? Is it “the pleasure of doing” the engine of your production or the self-improvement process?
Sounds like a good read… whilst I kind of empathise with that quote though, I wouldn’t go as far as to say I recognise myself within it. I create art because I love it and I enjoy seeing peoples responses to it, good and bad. I’m so privileged to live as an artist, which constitutes doing what the hell I want 24/7, but within that is serious pressure I put upon myself. I don’t ever stop, there’s no escape from my own head, so it’s not a job or work, it’s my life. I put my art on the line. That’s not to say I don’t want to improve in what I do, it’d be ridiculous to say that I was entirely content with everything I produce – in fact as I previously said, I generally find the flaws and holes of improvement, I’m always striving for more, what that “more” is, I have no idea, I’m just doing me, it’s a selfish act, it has been since my early years as a kid of trying to paint graffiti, to the early days of putting up posters, stencils and stickers… it was for my own enjoyment. The fact that other people liked it to, well that was a massive bonus and I was lucky that they did! I definitely don’t feel forced into the next thing because of a dislike of what I’ve just produced. From his films alone I think you can tell Kubrick was a genius and an intense guy, unfortunately I’m neither, I’m just being me!
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I know I am ridiculous, but usually at the beginning of the year I am taken by the self-improvement desire. I think I will walk more, eat less sweets, don’t be a bitch… Then in February I already went back to my usual routine. As a prolific artist as you are, I guess you’re capable of keeping your commitments. Any tips?
Every week I think I’ll eat fewer sweets! Haha! Damn, I do love gummy sweets… That said I rarely tend to go in for the “new year, new me” line, because it typically seems like a false prophecy, I try to maintain some level of consistent self control, or maybe that should be consistent lack of self control! The first 2 days of the New Year my kids and I counted people running on our usual Saturday outing, then did the same the following weekend, it was funny to see the drop off rate! I admire peoples desire to commit, but I despise a lack of commitment and fickleness. I’m not sure I have any particularly sound advice for you… I always have the saying ‘Talk minus action equals zero’ running over in my head, I literally HATE saying I’m going to do something and then not following it through, so I ensure that my word is my bond. I am also doggedly determined – if I want to achieve something, I set my sights on that and don’t stop ’til I’ve achieved it, or at the very least tried bloody hard, hard enough to fail and know I’m beat.
Could you describe your typical week? Did you divide your week into different days, such as new jobs on Mondays, promotion on Tuesdays…Or everything is by the way you woke up in the morning?
Usually way too hectic to stick to any kind of fixed schedule, I tend to take it as it comes for the most part. Usually the exciting stuff tends to make its way to the front of the queue – I’m not a “save the best for last” kind of person, more like put it off until the very last minute and then curse the fact that I didn’t do it sooner… my routine is up early to take my kids to school every morning, that hour in the morning with them is so important to me. Then I’m either working from my home studio in Peckham or in my main studio in East London, if I’m heading East I’ll either get the Tube in or ride a motorbike there. Then it’s coffee, catch up and see where we’re at from the day before, what’s urgent, whats pending and who’s doing what. I don’t set aside days for this, days for that. It’s very fluid, I have a very small team, so we’re quick to turn, change and get on something new.
Speaking of promotion, yesterday I saw a very cool documentary about a painter that I honestly don’t love: Salvador Dalì. It was the 60’s and he declared: “TV is a means of mass cretinization, but it makes me sell more paintings, so it’s ok”. Do you think it’s applicable to Social Media today? Are you frightened by the obvious trivialization of content? Do you find it simply inevitable?
I’ve actually been trying to stay away from Instagram recently, that’s really the only platform that I use properly, or have done in the past at least. I really don’t like that feeling of being obliged to post something you’ve done, like it’s become a second nature. I can’t disagree that it is a good way to promote yourself and keep people in contact with your work but I do feel uncomfortably tied to it at times. Actually one of my more recent shows from last year was kind of centred around the idea social media and online identity, how we build this digital profile of ourselves – asking if whether we saw that digital self staring back at us, would we like what we see… Social DIScontent was the title of that show – I revisited my older format of the “stripe pieces” , that seemed to fit well with the themes I was after. In terms of inevitability, it does seem like a pretty unstoppable social force – to the point where I find it harder and harder to imagine a world without it, even though it was only two decades ago that it came about. I liked the days where putting in the work in the street was how people saw your work, there was something very level about that. Now its the ultimate game, collect followers and likes by any means necessary, that’s not a level field, but I guess I’m lucky to have been very much pre-internet, ridden through the internet bubble and burst and into the social media storm, I know the times without it – no Google, telephone directory nightmare, to the data capture, follow for followback mentality. There is an inevitable fall out from our increasing appetite for the new, the next, the latest, it seems like an unsustainable appetite, but for me personally, it’s about just enjoying it, using it how it works for you. Do you always.
Let’s play with time: you’ve booked a dinner table for 4, and you can invite whomever you want from Ramses II to Billie Eilish. Tell me your DDT, Dinner Dream Team.
Only four names from the depths of time? I think naturally you’ve got to go with the dead guys, just seems like a waste if they’re still walking above ground. Steve McQueen is a pretty easy choice – just a straight up dude, icon for all time, rides motorbikes, oozes cool. Yeah, I think he’d be a good laugh. I guess someone like Picasso maybe, one of those radical motherf*****s, not Van Gough though, bit too tragic for a dinner party vibe. Genghis Khan maybe? Couldn’t be a boring dinner date with him around at the very least. I feel obliged to choose a musical icon too but there’s just so many of them, I suppose the easy choice just out of pure interest levels would be Bowie – you know he’s got some stories to rival Genghis. Jim Morrison or Sid Vicious would be right up there too though…
Then I am generous and I give you a second super power: you can take something from the present, anything you want, like an iPhone, or a Tesla, maybe Facebook or Google Maps and bring it as a gift to an historical figure. Who do you choose and what do you bring?
These are some very specific superpowers you’re dishing out here… Is this one of those time travel dilemmas where it affects the present – like if I cure the black death or something does it have some hideous knock on effect on the now?
Yep, something like that…
If so then I think I’d just play it safe and take today’s newspaper or an iPod back to the fifteen-hundreds or something – blow a few people’s minds, freak them out and see what they make of it. Or maybe even a solid good magic trick, I could live like a king on a good magic trick.
Small curiosity: although you have succeeded in affirming your style all over the world, tell me a talent/quality you would like to “steal” from your favourite artist. I mean, that thing you think you could never achieve by yourself.
I’m a strong believer in the notion that hard work can get you anywhere, I really think there’s little you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it and put the hours in. That being said, I’d love to shortcut the ability to work with oil paints, like Bob Ross, or at a minimum I’d just steal his haircut…
Our time is running out, let’s leave ourselves with your vision for 2020. Please tell me the projects you would like to achieve, and something you would finally get rid of?
Get rid of? Maybe a couple of motorbikes, that addiction may have gotten a little out of hand… but I stand by the fact you can never have too many. There’s a few exciting bits hovering around at the moment, it’s been a full on start to twenty-twenty so far, fingers crossed that continues. Expect more murals, a healthy handful of shows and some other bits in between, I can’t say more… because like I said ‘talk minus action equals zero’!