D*Face Comes to L.A.: British Street Artist Talks Advertising, Skating and Punk Rock
See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's slideshow, "D*Face in Los Angeles." Check out photos from D*Face's opening party in Shannon Cottrell's gallery "D*Face 'Going Nowhere Fast' Opens at Corey Helford Gallery."
Saturday night at Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City, "Going Nowhere Fast," the latest show from D*Face, will open. It is the British street artist's first solo show in Los Angeles. He had previously appeared in group shows at the well-known gallery, including the 2009 event "Clowns!" where we caught his American Express parody, "American Depressed."
Early this week, D*Face and his team were spotted outside of the Culver City gallery working on a mural on an outside wall that references Roy Lichtenstein and the artists who influenced him. We were able to get some facetime with the semi-anonymous artist to discuss his work.
A lot of your work seems to touch on the ideas of consumerism and advertising. Was there ever a point where you had a realization about the nature of advertising and consumerism?
Yeah, I worked in advertising. I worked from the inside out. It was my escape from that world. It was design, illustration, and part of that was working with advertising brands and just seeing how those organizations are run and how you are manipulated in an unknown way most of the time. Even when you think you know, you're still being manipulated. I found it really interesting, I still find it really interesting today.
I like the idea of advertising being essentially the biggest vandals. They just display images. Nobody ever really has an agreement to that. Nobody really wants them to necessarily be there. There are a lot of parallels between that and street art. I like that concept, that there's one that is completely tolerated, but is really inappropriate in many ways, and the other being graffiti, which is very rarely tolerated, but an individual's craving release.
What I like to do is, I like to take what I call dead billboards, which are billboards that have either really old advertising on them or advertising that's been covered over-- they're just blank-- and then use my imagery to put them back up there, to offer people a different solution.
I'm not anti-brands in any way. I drink Coke and I wear Nike and I like those brands as what they are. What I don't like is blind faith, that that's the only solution, the only thing, and that's the only way. I just want people to question their environment and how much they surround themselves with and how much they have got and desire those things.
It's interesting that you mention that you aren't anti-brand. Street art does become a brand in a way, you have your name and certain styles you use.
Everything becomes brand if you analyze it or break it down into its components. With graffiti, you're putting your name out there. You put your name up and you put your imagery up there and what you essentially want is more people to see it. You want more people to recognize what you do. In a very similar way, that's how advertising works, on a very basic level. it's easy to draw that comparison, but that comparison can be drawn to anything where you start to indirectly promote what you do and attach a name to it. The only way around it would be to change what you do every time you do it, which is pretty much impossible. Anyone who does that is commendable.
It's not an easy thing to do.
No. By it's nature, I create what I like to create, things I find endearing. Therefore, I put them in a public space and that's what I started doing very early on just because I wanted to do it. It's a totally selfish act and it still is today. I produce what I want to see, what I like. If other people like it, that's a byproduct of my enjoyment and what I enjoy seeing. It's still a selfish act. So, to switch what I do every time would be impossible because I only have a limited amount of things that I like.
What was some of the first artwork that made an impression on you?
Unknowingly, it was the early Thrasher magazines, from the early '80s and early '90s. For ten school years, I would say, I was getting Thrasher magazines passed down to me from other kids, and Thrasher Magazine in the UK was really quite hard to come by then in that era. When I would get that magazine, it was punk music, it was thrash metal. It was skateboarding, skateboard graphics, and that was what was inspiring me. Unknowingly, it was people like Jim Phillips, the album covers of the Dead Kennedys, things like that. I didn't really know the names or associate it, I was just like, "Who did that? Is it the bands that do their own artwork? Is it the skaters that do their own artwork?"
It was those things that I really found interesting, intriguing, as opposed to the galleries which my mom was taking me to. Oh, here's an amazing Turner. I don't relate to it. I could see it's merits. I could see how beautiful it is and how amazing it is to paint that piece, but I don't feel any emotional attachment to it. It was the skate graphics and the punk album covers that really inspired me.
You mentioned skate culture and punk rock. Was, specifically, Southern California punk rock inspiring to you?
Yeah, it was really. I really wanted to come to California as a kid in London, gray, rainy London, where it had very few skate parks. I'd get Thrasher Magazine and, my geography was crap-- I failed geography-- so it's not surprising that I thought America was much smaller than it was and all of these skate parks were in California. I would look through Thrasher and think, California is amazing, there's a skatepark on every corner. So, I just wanted to go to California. That was pretty much my focus.
Honestly, that wasn't possible. My parents were broke, didn't have any money, and there was no way I was going to get over there. So, I lived it out through these magazines and skate videos like Wheels of Fire... I saw those videos and was like, I need to get out there and skate.
When did you finally get out to Southern California?
Only recently, I guess, five years ago. It took a long time. I love it. The thing is, LA for me is all the irony of my work, but everything I love about where I would want to live. It's the sunshine, blue skies. People are friendly. I love it here. Equally, there's the flip of it, the infatuation with stardom. The whole place is bred upon this. Somebody wants to be a celebrity. You go into a shop for coffee and it's "Oh, hey, what are you doing? Are you an artist? Are you a musician?" and they're trying to find out what you do so that maybe it can maybe prosper with what they do or what they want to do. It's cool. They do it in a nice way, but the relentless drive can be soul destroying. I would imagine that if that was your drive being here with this beautiful sun and beautiful sky, it could be a really desolate place.
Approaching this show in LA, does anything about the landscape or architecture of it have anything to do with how you went about doing the show?
It's big and bold and brassy. Everybody drives cars. It's not a walking society. My work is punchy and I want people to question that society. So doing things on a big scale, like this massive wall, obviously fits really well here, where you have to do things where people drive by in a car. They're not going to see the nuances of something very small because they just won't see it, whereas, in London, you can do that. You can do a much smaller, finely tuned piece of work in the street and it would get seen and people would dissect it, if you'd like. Here, I can't see that happening, so go bigger, go bolder and make those statements.
Do you have a memory of maybe the first time you heard feedback for what you're doing?
I don't remember. When I first started doing stuff out on the street, I was unaware that anybody was paying attention to it. It really was a pure, selfish act, which was great, I didn't even know there was an audience for it.
It wasn't until about two years later that I met some people and they were like, "Oh, you did that?" and I was like, "Yeah" and they were "We see that everywhere. Is there more than one of you?"
I'm like, "No." Wherever I go, I put my work up and stickers led to big posters and then one thing became another.
That was probably the first time I heard any comments on my work. I thought that's kind of cool that people noticed it, I didn't really think about that. That feeds you to do more. If those people saw it, if I do it bigger, than more people will see it. If I do that part of London or travel to that city, those people will start seeing it. It becomes addictive.
To varying degrees, there's a certain sense of anonymity to street art. How important is anonymity for you?
It's not so much important that you don't know who I am. I don't find that it's necessarily relevant that you know who I am regarding my work. The work speaks for itself and if it doesn't speak for itself, then I like people to reinterpret it for their own views. I don't know that knowing what I look like is relevant to what I do. I think people can be a little hung up on what the artist looks like. What are you doing? Are you looking at what they are doing or are you looking at them? Since I play that out in my work, it seems a little pointless to be like, "Hey, here I am. Am I cool? Do you think I'm cool? I'm not?"
I get kind of embarrassed about my work as well because you're putting your ass on the line. If you hear positive or negative, it will affect you. If I paint a piece for a gallery and I'm like, it was alright, I'm not 100% happy with it and you hear somebody say, "That's the best thing I've ever seen him do" then you're like, "Oh, really? Maybe I should do more of them. No, I didn't really enjoy it." You're going to have that internal dialog equally if you've done something that you feel is the best thing you've ever done and you hear someone go, "That's shit. I hate that. Why did you do that? It's terrible." You can't help but have that in your head already. The best thing to do is to avoid it. Don't listen. Listen to a very select few people whose opinion is rounded and who you value, who maybe have been around you for a while, so that you understand where they're coming from and that's pretty much it. I tend not to listen to what people say. That could be a dangerous thing equally.
It could be, but probably not.
It's like anything. There are a lot of people who want to talk about it. There are a lot of people who have an opinion. You don't know who those people are so you don't know if you should value their opinion or not, especially with the Internet.
Follow @lizohanesian and @ShannonCottrell on Twitter.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.