Chris Osburn interviews D*Face
This issue of Whitehot sees the continuation of my London street artist interviews with a brief conversation with D*Face, whose artwork features prominently throughout East London’s landscape. Always on the lookout for “that ultimate spot,” D*Face likes to think of his work as similar to “a snail leaving a sticky trail.” Visit the gallery page of dface.co.uk for a look at D*Face’s street art. What follows is my interview with the artist.
You have said:
I see every smooth surface as my exhibition space, hanging my work at every opportunity, the higher, cleaner the spot, the better the gallery ... the longer the show!
Has that always been the case? Were you the kind of kid that was always scribbling on things at school?
That saying seems kind of tired now, I said that over 5 years ago, and although it's still true, I'm currently grappling with reworking my site [dface.co.uk] and bringing it in line with my work and thinking now. Anyways yep, I was that kid at school who covered every text book with drawings, mainly bubble lettering as I was very much influenced by subway art and spray can art at school. That and Thrasher Magazine pretty much directed my life through school and my teenage years. I used to paint my leather jacket and army bag with band logos and skate graphics. At the time, I was unaware of any jobs that existed that would enable you to do this sort of work full time and for a living. It wasn't until I went to art college that it all started making sense.
When did you create your first street art piece?
That’s a really difficult one to answer. There wasn't a thing called 'street art' there was only graffiti when I was a kid. I started to try and do graffiti, like the pieces I saw in subway art … I dabbled. Graffiti has been a part of my life since I can remember. But, it wasn't really until I finished college did my love of graffiti and the learnings I had picked up from college and Uni combine.
I was really frustrated with the illustration and design work I was doing to make ends meet. So to amuse myself, I'd grab moments in the day to draw stickers and photocopy posters using the equipment I had at hand. I'd walk home at night sticking these up, walking different routes to the station until I had all routes covered. I’d maintain these routes. It was pretty easy then: no one cared and there were no street cleaning teams. So everything would run. I then realised that bigger could mean better. So I started pasting up posters made from multiple A4 sheets ... I would go out every Thursday evening to put posters up. It was just for my own amusement. In fact, I was unaware and didn't really care if anyone else was paying them any attention. Shepard [Fairy] rolled over here in '99. We'd been in touch already; so when he came over, we linked up and put stuff up across London. That helped me to make a lot of sense of what I was doing.
So what's the difference, in your opinion, between graffiti and street art?
Good question. Graffiti, or the term, has become very diverse. It's like saying 'vehicle' and expecting someone to know that you’re referring to a lorry. There are so many variants and different applications. Graffiti is such a broad term. For me graffiti is letter styles, tags, throw ups, track sides, train panels. When someone says graffiti, in my mind I see full colour productions or track side throw ups. The term graffiti is best reserved to those people going out and doing the foot work, getting up and being seen. Street art, on the other hand, is a term I don't actually like. It sounds like something made up by some marketing executive, but it's a term that's stuck nonetheless. I see street art as stickers, stencils, paste-ups. For me, the overall point is the same 'to get up' and be seen, but I like my work to be seen and for it to be appreciated by as wide audience as possible.
What were those early pieces just after university like?
Pretty unmemorable and fairly forgettable. I hit one particular idea fairly hard. It was this whole thing of 'instant'. I made up these switches, button stickers and posters that looked like old 50's ads with a modern slant, selling the impossible, like genius and 'instant success'. I put those up a fair bit. No one's really seen that or even associated me to them. It was easy times: I’d roll down Oxford Street and put posters over the boarded shops and doorways and no one would say a word. CCTV was pretty much non existent, and the police seemed unaware or unconcerned with it.
Any particularly ballsy, dangerous or otherwise noteworthy adventures from those early days?
A few, but nothing too mental. The worst case with the above would be the paid flyposter guys. If you went near or above their spots they'd get really aggy. There have been stories told of knives being pulled.
I guess the time I was in Amsterdam, hitting some spots with the TLP [The London Police], one particular freezing winter [is particularly noteworthy]. A spot had been spied, and the only way to hit it was around the outside of a stairwell that had steel bars, in a cage-like structure covering it. To get to the spot, you had to shimmy along the outer railings which overhung the frozen canal, then up a few flights of stairs. Fine on the way up, but coming back down with paste-covered frozen hands was another story. Climbing around and along the railings, each shimmy made my hands slip further and further downwards to the point I was hunched up in a near ball-like posture and had to take a leap of faith for the canal wall. It was one of the few times I felt as though this could end in a very bad way. But the hit was killer ... fortunately not literally.
How was it that you and Shepard Fairy initially hooked up?
I'd been aware of his work for sometime. Very early on he had a website - worth considering since at this point few major companies had sites, let alone artists, certainly not street artists. So I fired him a mail, said I was into his work and asked him to send me some stuff and I'd put it up whilst out putting mine up. He mailed back, sent me a bunch of stuff and when I’d run out I’d hit him a mail and he'd send more. I'd always say about him having a show over here... and that I'd try and hook something up (which at the time was pretty much an impossible task as galleries where unconcerned with this work. There wasn't this term and interest in 'street art' and it was still very very early for the scene). However he got a small show in '99 at the Horse Hospital in London. We hooked up at that and went and hit some spots; that was pretty much the start. Every time he came to London or was stopping by on his travels, we'd hook up and put work up. We linked in NYC and again last year. I'm also realising that eight years plus plan and holding an Obey show through StolenSpace here in London this November. It is going to be monumental - the space I’ve hired in the Old Truman Brewery is monumental.
Chris Osburn is an American transplant living in London where he has a blast working as a freelance photographer, writer, consultant, blogger and more. www.tikichris.com