Graffiti in the Gallery - Interview with D*FACE
One of the most prolific and highly visible artists on the UK graffiti art scene, D*Face has been instrumental in the mainstreaming of graffiti art. Setting up the Outside Institute to showcase the work of fellow street artists, D*Face successfully combines the energy of the street with the credibility of a gallery to provide graffiti art the platform it deserves.
Despite the undeniable influence and enduring presence of graffiti art within contemporary culture, many still perceive it as nothing more than petty vandalism. Misrepresented and misunderstood, graffiti art can provide a colourful and witty aside to the urban tedium of reinforced concrete and insipid billboard advertisements. Vestiges of earlier iconic styles are still apparent in today’s street style but they are influences that have been localised, mediated through animation and skateboard graphics to produce a distinctly UK art that smiles out at us from cartooned spaces within the urban sprawl.
1) Do you consider yourself to be an 'outsider' or your work to be 'outsider' art?
Mmm, not really I've been releasing my work into the public domain for a long while now so this practice seems pretty normal to me now. I don't consider myself an 'outsider', as that would lead me to ask the question of outside of what? Outside of 'traditional' 'art' parameters or confines, if so what are they? I just believe in using public space to display my work, it's free from all constraints and limits, anyone can display their work to as many people as some of the most popular art galleries get daily, if they choose the right spots that is!
2) If the city can be understood as a system, does the system control you (using stencils/stickers for speed) or do you control the system?
It's a bit of both, about 5 years ago there was very little CCTV and anti sticker paint was non-existent, everything was much more open to be used, to put work on. I remember walking down Oxford Street carrying a bucket of paste and roll of posters and fairly blatantly putting them up, people didn't seem concerned or certainly didn't consider it vandalism. Nowadays, with the increase of CCTV, anti-sticker paint on most sign backs and posts in central London it certainly is harder, but new methods or re-enlivened old methods can get around that. To me it's about accessing the constraints and then working around them, if you let it stop you, well then you’re out!! As the use of stickers increased so did the counter measures – anti-sticker paint was introduced as fly postering increased, ASBO's were served and it was treated as vandalism and so on. So the two co exist.
3) Are you always on the lookout for the ultimate spot or do you even think such a thing exists?
I'm not sure it exists!! It's addictive, you see a great spot and you have to get it, make it yours. Equally if you see someone else hit a great spot, you think how they went about it, how you could use the same thinking to find another such spot. I guess the higher the foot pass, the more it gets seen the better the spot, but you’re always on the look out!!
4) Do you think it unfair that graffiti art requires so much skill yet is often considered vandalism while much contemporary (high) art is purposefully devoid of skill and yet commands such high prices in the gallery?
In many ways it really gets to me that it's dismissed as 'vandalism' and all tarred with the same brush when it's so diverse and the artist involved are some of the most talented and broke people I've ever met, but this is also what keeps it fresh, it is also void of any of the 'pomp' that surrounds 'high art'. I just wished it could be viewed with a more open mind and that it could be given its rightful place in the galleries... as well as on the walls.
5) Is the city limiting? - in the sense that graffiti artists cannot be too political / opinionated / controversial when painting on a wall as it will only ensure the work is removed quicker than normal, yet if an artist deliberately courts controversy in the gallery they will probably receive greater press coverage and longevity.
That’s well put, but it doesn't make me think like that, I don't always try and make my work in the street controversial, sometimes it's acts merely a subversive break from the media saturation around us, it also doesn't limit my thinking, if I have the opportunity to show work in a gallery I normally try and give my work a different edge, so in a way you still get the confrontation and reaction you'd get if the work was seen in the street, albeit by using different mediums and methods.
6) Graffiti art is by its very nature a temporal art form - was the Outside Institute an attempt to make a more permanent mark on the city?
No, it really was to broaden peoples' minds as to what they perceive as 'Graffiti', each show aimed to show the different aspects and directions that graffiti has taken, many very far removed from peoples immediate preconception of what graffiti should be. That was the purpose, to educate and to broaden, to bring old and new audience to the space and revive, renew or breakdown their opinions.
7) Was the Outside Institute your attempt to succeed in and conjoin two divergent systems - the gallery and the street?
In a way yes, however, I did leave the feel of the shows down to the individual artist, most wanted the juxtaposition of the clean gallery space and the background influences of their works. I purposefully tried to avoid using the space to replicate a 'street' environment; this can often feel contrived and tired to me.
8) The Outside Institute is temporarily closed - is that a sign that you prefer working amidst the raw materials of the city rather than being immersed within the system of the gallery?
Ha ha, that’s kind of close to the truth! Obviously it took a lot of my time and didn't allow me the freedom I once had to concentrate on my work, both in the street and within shows. We are however coming back in a new space in the new year, but the pace will be turned down, allowing me to concentrate more on each show and make the most of them while also allowing me time to focus on my work. The easiest option would in all honesty be for me to just spend time in my studio working on my own projects, but I want to do both and feel very passionate about this art form.
9) You sell t-shirts, toys etc through your website - do you consider yourself to be bowing to the inevitable commercialization of your work or is it a move to manipulate the commodification of street art by controlling its distribution?
I don't see it like that, everything I make from selling tee shirts or prints goes back into projects and allowing me to continue to keep what I do alive, I see tee shirts as another medium to use, I normally print a tee shirt because I need another tee shirt!! I control all the elements of my work, no stores stock my tees etc. if I decided next week not to produce any more tees then that’s it, I wont. I'm not a brand that has client demands or limitations. It's more a way of making ends meet and producing items I like!
10) Finally, what are your feelings about blank space?
Hand me a marker pen!!
View examples of D*Face's work at his online gallery. He also talks further about his work and sells his t's and toys at: