Keep your eyes peeled for some killer street art as Mr Dean Stockton aka D*Face visits the island to spice up the walls of Peruvian restaurant and gallery space Aya. Tony Stanton caught up with him in London.
Mr Dean Stockton aka D*Face. How the devil are you?
Aghhh the devil makes work for idle hands … so I’m really busy! In truth I’ve been better, I broke my foot racing my flat track motorbike a few weeks ago, so I’m hobbling around on crutches feeling sorry for myself. It’s been a moment of reflection; realising how lucky one is to be of healthy mind and body, how fragile the strands of life are and can be, also how much you take for granted the ability to get around with ease and do as you wish. Other than that and the side effects of hurting myself, I’m good!
What’s the story? How did you become one of the best and most sought after graffiti/wall artists out there? Were you born that way?
Oh I don’t know about any of that, I’m just doing me, that’s very kind of you to think that. I’m lucky that what I do is appreciated and enjoyed by so many, I mean ultimately it’s a selfish act. It’s been a very long path to get here, which I guess started as a child disillusioned at school and the traditional education system and trying to find my own interests, which took me to the discovery of graffiti and skateboarding, which led me down a very non-traditional path, much to my parents’ frustration. Let me expand. You see I grew up as a kid in London, sometime between the ’70s and ’80s, in a quite staid and strict environment. The school I was at was very boring, I didn’t really enjoy it and the art they taught me was very dull and traditional. I got into skateboarding from watching the film Back To The Future, still my favourite film. Some older kids at school had skateboards so they gave me Thrasher magazine, which was eye-candy to this visually starved kid. I thought ‘Wow this is amazing’ and that got me interested in skate-graphics. I was already interested in animation, cartoons and things like that. I started to spend as much time as possible skateboarding and that led me to graffiti because the areas I was going to also had graffiti all around them. A lot of guys I skated with also did graffiti. So the two things went hand-in-hand and became one.
Skate-graphics and the Punk album cover art that I was into was really inspirational, I didn’t really know how or who did this artwork. I thought it was the band members and that you have to be pro skateboarder to draw your own graphics. So in my head, I wanted to be a pro skater, then I could draw my own graphics. So I was just skateboarding with this idea that if I got really good I’d get to do some board graphics. It’s a really strange situation because nobody took time to explain what I was into or direct me. I left school and I failed all my exams because I was skateboarding, doing graffiti. I managed to convince a college to let me in to study photography, so I did that for two years and I just got stoned, skated and did graffiti then left. I was like, I am not going to be a photographer, I haven’t really taken much decent photography. So I managed with the collection of bits and pieces I had: my drawings, a few photos, and illustrations to get into a course to study animation and illustration. And when I got onto that course, it was the first time anybody explained to me what I was into – ‘Oh this guy, he draws skate-graphics, his name is Jim Philips’. I never knew, I thought he was a skateboarder, so at that point everything kind of came together. I knew that there is something I could do from my interests, my passion. So that was the catalyst for me, finally I was studying and learning something I really cared about, I was no longer trying to seek that path; I was on it. That college led me into a degree in animation, illustrations and design, finally at the end of that I passed and was offered a job working in design.
Lichtenstein is clearly an influence, do you ever get accused of over-sampling his work, and how do you deal with those implications?
Of course he’s an influence, but so is Jim Philips, so is James Turrell, so are the unknown graffiti artists I saw on the trackside as a kid, just fewer people know of their work, so it’s never cross referenced. For me I’m more influenced by the comic book artist that Roy Lichtenstein was inspired by, I’ve actually only remixed a few of Lichtenstein’s own actual samplings and even then that’s more looking through his work into the work he referenced. I always saw Pop Art as a critique of consumerism that ended up looking like a celebration of consumerism, an embrace of it, whereas my work is very distinctly a darker twist on that. Also when you put the two side by side there’s very noticeable differences in content and execution, but I’m never annoyed or upset by those implications. To have that comparison is a huge compliment, I almost see it as if I’m carrying the torch from where Roy left off, keeping the style alight and evolving. I also know that his foundation is behind what I do, from the remixes to the murals and more.
What’s with the cloud/wings? Are they clouds? Are they wings?
Those are wings, I’ve not heard clouds before, ears I hear a lot, I’ve even heard croissants! But those are wings, they originate from the character that I developed nearly 20 years ago, the D*Dog. I put that and still do put that character up everywhere I travel, stickers, posters, even relief casts for the street. I slowly realised that I could break the character down into individual components and it would still remain identifiable, even down to the silhouette shape. It was when I was reworking and painting and printing on top of real bank notes and putting them into public circulation, that’s when I took the wings and stuck them coming out of the Queen’s head, like she had been taken over, both visually and metaphorically defaced, sabotaged . . . it was then that I discovered this visual device, the visual language and body of work. I use the character, the wings as a thread to connect it all.
Has Hollywood called yet?
Not yet! I’m not sure it ever will! I mean of course I’d make a great film, ha ha, but I’m not sure that I, or even this movement, is much on their radar. That said I have always received a brilliant reception in LA whenever I’ve shown there and my audience is strongly American heavy, which is great as I love California.
What do you do to keep your brain and your work different and next level? Does it keep you awake at night?
Mmmm, tricky to answer that because I really don’t know. There’s some inbuilt desire to create, to break grounds, to keep pushing myself and my work. I realised a little while back that I’m never not thinking about my work, ideas and new concepts. I got into building motorbikes to escape my art and mind and ended up turning that into an art-bikes business, so I’m my own worst enemy. I keep thinking I’ll simplify my life and then do the complete opposite. I’ve been reliably told I’m a workaholic, narcissist, egotist . . . all things I guess I have to be in order to have succeeded doing something I truly love and am passionate about. Sleep? What’s that? Ask anyone who knows me well enough and they’ll tell you I sleep about six hours a night, so when I finally do hit the pillow, I’m normally straight out like a light, although I find the time between being awake and asleep – hypnagogia – a really creative time and I’ve had many a great idea in this mind state, often only to forget it the next morning. I sleep with a pen and paper next to my bed to scribble ideas down as and when.
Down the pub, are you Dean or are you like, yo, I’m D*Face.
Noooo I’m NEVER ‘Yo I’m D*Face’. I’m the exact opposite, I’m very shy about my work and sooner shy away than announce it. In fact for years I refused to attend my own show openings and still feel awkward at them. I’d sooner chill with a few close friends who don’t give two shits about who I am than try and ride off the back of that and show boat. I’m totally not that person.
Can you tell us what you’ve been up to in Bali, and how the met the epic Miss Helen Milne?
I’m going to be painting a really chill nice mural in what I’ve heard is an amazing part of Bali, in what I’m told is an amazing restaurant and bar! Other than that I’m going to be resting my foot, travelling around to see the beautiful sights and no doubt dreaming about what I can have made in Bali while I’m there! I met the epic Miss Milne many moons ago when she arranged for me to paint a small mural in Notting Hill, damn that must have been at least 10 years ago, so it’s been a while since I saw her.
Where can we expect to find you of an evening, if you’re here, and what would you be drinking?
I want to be chilling with some good food, a few nice drinks and taking it easy! I want to continue to exercise, hopefully find a spot I can lift some weights, which I’m really into right now, it’s really helped focus my mind. I’m not overly fussy when it comes to drinking, a chilled beer from a bottle, a good glass of wine, so long as it gets me nicely lean, I’m happy! I’d like to sample something that reflects the island . . . I’m all about experiencing local culture, drinks, food and more.
Talk us through the technical details of how you work… because some of it is ENORMOUS!
There’s not really one technique I use, I use whatever is suitable for the media. I try not to be held to any one technique. For me people get hung up on how something is produced. It shouldn’t be about that, it should be about the end result. To me it’s like asking what brand of paint I use, who cares, it’s not relevant. That said I do appreciate the intrigue in how the huge walls are painted, but it’s really simple, the walls are measured and gridded out, a reference to each square of the grid is made, it’s just large colouring in! In the studio I use screen printing, hand painting, collage . . . literally any and everything, but all my work starts with an idea, a reference and then I draw it up using Illustrator, then output in accordance with how I wish to produce the piece. It’s really basic and certainly not rocket science, I just hone techniques that work for me.
How big is the team?
The team is a bit of a mix, obviously there’s a team that run my gallery – StolenSpace – that’s five people, then there’s a team that run the motorcycle/coffee shop, that’s really one full-time member, which is Jappa and a few part time drifters, then there’s my studio team which is really just me and Boots. There’s Louis who helps out on murals and moral support, like a hype man, and a few people I call upon if the work gets on top. Truth be told we’re massively understaffed and looking to change that. I really need someone to handle production full time, so CV’s in the post please!
Where do you spend most of your time, geographically?
That’s firmly dependent on my schedule, but to a large part it’s East London or Los Angeles then anywhere in between. I try to escape London in the winter and be in London in the summer, it’s the best place to be in summer and autumn and the worst place to be in winter, so if someone offers a project in January or February and so long as it’s warm, I’m pretty easy to persuaded to be involved! I’m pretty weather affected so I like to wake up in the sun. I’m privileged to get to have travelled so far and wide with my work, as a child I didn’t have that opportunity as my parents weren’t financially able to afford us holidays abroad and as soon as I left college I had rent to pay and loans to pay back so the opportunity to spend a year travelling was never there.
What does your father think about what you do?
He’s really into it, he’s proud, slightly confused with how I’ve managed to achieve what I have seeing as at 15 he’d pretty much given up on me. But very proud. My mum on the other hand just doesn’t get it, she’s from the school of having to be a lawyer, doctor, work in a bank etc.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d just like to be remembered, that’s enough. My legacy I hope will be told in the history of art and I’d love my daughters to carry that on with and after me.
Legend, thanks so much.