The Rise of D*Face: Street Art’s Modern Pop Icon

by | Nov 5, 2015 | ART, DOWNTOWN RVA, POP CULTURE, STREET ART

“My older daughter said, ‘Daddy, if you’re famous, why do people not stop and take photos of you in the street? If you’re famous, why is it if you come to a restaurant, there are no people with cameras, like a true paparazzi star?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not really famous. But then when you get into the art world, I’m fairly well-known in the street-art world. That’s why there’s people who want to get things signed… and that’s why nobody really knows who I am when I walk around the streets. It’s perfect.’”

London graffiti artist D*Face (a twist on the word “deface”) is said to be the modern-day, angst-filled Roy Lichtenstein with a more perverse artistic style. He crosses boundaries with his work to challenge American commodification, political tactics, and relationship tension. His artistic style is viewed as both aesthetically pleasing and humorous, but has a message that requires one to think in an analytical way about society and what it truly has to offer. We’re lucky to have had him in the city for the Richmond Mural Project.

 

‘The elegant dead’ ¡ Día de los Muertos !

A photo posted by D*Face (@dface_official) on

While he was in town, D*Face told us about his street-art journey and his views on the progressive mural movement. “A lot of people who do murals have no connection to street art and have never done anything illegal at all,” said D*Face. “Street art, to me, has its roots in painting illegally. Painting, posting stickers, whatever. The mural movement is not connected to that. Historically, murals were painted before graffiti and street art, so you can just say it’s a resurgence of something that has already existed.”

“I don’t really think the muralists shouldn’t have done street art–I don’t think there should be any rules to most things,” he continued. “They come in from different angles and they’ve got a different game as well. People are coming in from a fine art background, or a portfolio illustrative background, but that’s cool. They’re bringing something up. It’s not what I do, but they’re making something interesting in the street that I’d like to see. So I think there is a place for the murals, in that respect. It’s art. There is no particular right or wrong.”

D*Face gained recognition soon after the public began to recognize the work of infamous street artist Banksy, at a moment in which street art was seen as a fashionable new movement of untraditional art. After D*Face’s first solo gallery show in 2006, his recognition took him by surprise. “Banksy was kickin’ up a storm then,” said D*Face. “For me, 2006 was still the early days–[not] so much in the enthusiasm or the interest, but it was definitely the early days in people buying. People would come to the shows and dig the work, but they wouldn’t buy the canvases. They were still viewing it as something that was a fad; something that was interesting, something that was like graffiti, but they didn’t see it as having a real art value. So when I did my show in 2006, I took a risk.”

“I remember literally having hung all the show and being exhausted and being like, ‘Well, I’m going to go get something to eat and get a beer’ and I walked up the road,” he continued. “As I came back with my food, there were a bunch of people waiting outside. I was like, ‘What are they queuing up for? That’s fucking weird.’ There are a couple stores there, so I was wondering if there was a training release or something at a store. I said to someone, ‘What are you queuing up for?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s the D*Face Show.’ He obviously didn’t know who I was at that point because I was very secretive about my anonymity. But I was like, ‘Alright!’ and I walked off. I was like, ‘This is fucking nuts.’”

It’s no doubt that D*Face’s art has recognizable elements of eerie pop art, but there is more to his dysfunctional characters than meets the eye. “It’s about romance,” he said. “You can look at the paintings and think they’re a physical representation of death, or you can look at them and think they’re a massive, horrible representation of someone not being around. That person may be physically gone, but they also might be around but not part of your life. So as in, ‘you’re dead to me,’ but you’re not actually physically dead, you’re just not part of my life. You can read them that way as well, but they are predominantly about love, romance, bad relationships, exciting moments in relationships, and basically the human nature of struggling to figure out what you’re trying to do when someone else isn’t there. It’s a thing that everyone can relate to–even a kid relates to romance.”

His entrance into the world of street art didn’t necessarily stem from such lofty artistic ambitions, though. “For me, street art was just a way of putting stuff out in the street, and a release from boredom,” said D*Face. “That’s the running reason why I did it. If someone would have said to me, ‘Don’t do that, you can’t paint a building,’ I would have gone and painted the building, but those options weren’t there. So I found my own ways and means to get my work out into the public. I would never want to come into it differently because I enjoy those early years probably the most of any of my years–because they were completely innocent. There was no beginning and no end.”

Earlier in his career, D*Face hung around a spray paint shop in Barcelona, using the shop’s outside walls as a canvas. It was through this work that he attracted notice initially. “I’ve gone to Barcelona a lot, painting and putting posters up,” he said. “It had a big street-art scene really early on. I’ve had a gallery come in the spray paint store, and they’re like, ‘Do you want to do a show here?’”

This early experience with showing his work in a gallery left D*Face with some less than positive feelings about art galleries in general. “It was a group show. This was the first time that I’ve been in a show, and I didn’t really like what I was doing,” he explained. “I didn’t like the work that I was getting into; it was very directly related to the work I was doing in the street. There wasn’t anything clever about it–it was characters on canvases, and it just felt wrong. For me, at that time, I didn’t see my work as art in a gallery environment. I felt like when you put it in a gallery environment it changes the context of it, and as such, it was unsuccessful.”

He went on to explain why he didn’t feel that his “traditional graffiti mentality” worked in a gallery context. “The reason why I’ve always tried to keep myself separate from the galleries is because I feel like a gallery should exist on its own merits, be able to perform and do its own thing, without having its attachment always seem upon myself,” he continued. “I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, it’s D*Face’s gallery,’ ‘It’s a street art gallery,’ because I didn’t want it to just show street art. I wanted to be able to show every genre of art that we felt was applicable to what we’re into in the gallery.”

 

‘Last Ride to Rocklyn’ enamel and emulsion on canvas. 2015. On display @cacmalaga till September.

A photo posted by D*Face (@dface_official) on

In the last decade, the prevalence of social media has made D*Face’s murals more conspicuous than ever before. “People don’t know where it is, for the most part,” said D*Face. “So really, the picture is more important than the physicality of the location. For me, it was always about location, because you wanted people to see it. So when people were putting stuff up on the street illegally, you would pick the spot that had high visibility. I still have that mentality. I want more people to see it. I don’t want to paint in the back street, I want to paint in the high street. The bigger the wall, the better. The bigger the poster I put up, the better.”

D*Face’s largest mural to date, painted on the facade of the Garcia Lorca Secondary School for the Maus Malaga Urban Art Event in Malaga, Spain, has shown him what extreme heights and extreme art can conquer when combined. “After that wall, I said I was never going to paint a wall bigger than this ever again. It’s massive,” said D*Face. “I don’t love heights. I’m not particularly comfortable being up high, and when you’re up that high, you feel particularly vulnerable. It was also in Spain, where things are done a Spanish way, which isn’t necessarily the safest of ways. But it was a certain nervousness in the beginning of that mural, starting on that mural. You have to get your sea legs very quickly.”

“The thing is, you do get used to it,” continued D*Face. “Once you’ve got a technique and you’re going to paint, you walk in and you’re like ‘Let’s get it done.’ We got that done in four days. It was pretty crazy considering how big it is. In terms of doing another wall that’s bigger than that, it would have to be the right wall. I’ve been offered a wall in Brazil that’s taller than that. I always talk about height, because I’ve painted a bigger wall in terms of what would be square footage, but height is what counts for me. It’s a test of your manhood. It shows how big your balls are when you’re going up that high.”

Although he’s been offered a massive wall in Brazil for a collaboration piece with another artist of his choice, D*Face feels it isn’t something he needs to do in order to feel accomplished. “I don’t know if I want to challenge myself to paint that,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s about painting bigger murals; I’m not sure that’s the answer, or where I want to go with my work anyway. The thing I really enjoy is small extensions. When we went to Vegas last year, I got a bunch of little stencils and put them around. I had more fun doing that than I did painting the mural. They were little hidden treasures, and to me, that’s the origins of what I was doing. The origin of street art was those little surprises, those little things to make someone’s day. And I’m not saying that a big mural doesn’t do that, but I’m just saying that doing 20 little stencils around the city, for me, was an exciting and interesting way of getting my work back into more of the public domain. It may be that less people see them, but maybe [they] matter more to the people that see them.”

D*Face is always looking down new avenues to channel his creativity and keep things interesting. Aside from traveling around the world to paint murals and creating new pieces for his standalone clothing line, Rebel’s Alliance, he’s been curious to see how his work would translate into film. “I would want you to watch the film and be like, ‘That’s not what I expected, but it’s totally a D*Face film,’” he said. “I would want it to have no connection to street art, nothing to do with murals. I’m not interested in that at all. I want it to be a film, with a scriptwriter and a narrative that connects my paintings. I want that connection to be there, I want people to understand the synergy behind where I come from, but I’d like someone to watch it who has no idea of what I’ve done ever, has no idea of the paintings, but can still enjoy it and vibe off it. What it’s going to look like, and how I’m going to do it, is a totally different story.” Stay tuned.

Interview by R. Anthony Harris
Story by Becky Ingram

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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