"International street artist of the year. As voted for in Metropolitan Police Weekly magazine." The signature at the bottom of an email from D*Face is something he made up, but if you've ever come across any of his diverse array of 'public' artworks, you'd be forgiven for believing it. That he'd come up with such a sneaky bit of propaganda also goes to show what a sharp sense of humour he's got. But who is D*Face and how has he become such a phenomenon?
Well, he has given us this interview under the anonymity of his nom-de-spraycan for obvious reasons, so we can't tell you his name. "I don't aim to be Mr Anonymous, I just feel that my face is best left out of D*Face for certain legal reasons and as it adds nothing to my work," he explains.
D*Face work can be seen around London as posters, stickers, graffiti-style murals and stencils. He doesn't view himself as an urban or graffiti artist, but likes the idea of art for the masses. So he puts his work in public places for people to see. His style and success enables him to just about make ends meet as an artist, helped for instance by doing installation work, canvases, and participating in projects such as the hats he helped design recently for Kangol. Artists he name-checks and respects include Jamie Reid, Jim Philips, John Pound, Conor Harrington, the Chapman brothers and Dan Witz.
Energy and Spirit
"My work has always been and still is inspired by many different mediums and artists - from cartoons, news headlines to music. The first time I heard the Pistols their energy and attitude just made me buzz. Also hip hop, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, MF Doom and Shadow," he says. "More recently, Interpol. I like music that is thought- provoking and full of energy and spirit. That in itself is an inspiration to get up and 'do'. After all, talk minus action equals zero."
This energy, it seems, is what gets D*Face to try new things constantly. One day it can be a pen, pencil or spray can, the next it's making moulded figurines of some of the characters he's created. He recently got back from a trip to the Arctic Circle where he made an ice sculpture using a chain saw.
"Process-wise, this is where using different mediums really comes into it," he says. "If I see a spot that I want to put some work on, depending on the surroundings€¦ is it illegal? If so, how much CCTV? How can I evade being caught? Then I'll decide what will work best to execute that piece to how I see it in my mind's eye then go at it with that method."
We haven't mentioned computers yet, so you may be scratching your head and wondering if we're not trying to sneak an artist under the radar who doesn't use them at all. D*Face does see the Mac as extremely important in his work. Everything starts with a sketch on paper, but this will often be scanned, cleaned up and redrawn in Illustrator ready to be output. Photoshop (or Potato Shop as he calls it) is another application running on his twin-processor G5. Meanwhile his ambition is to learn After Effects.
Behind the computer is not how you'd imagine him, though. D*Face is an artist with a very tactile and three-dimensional take on his environment. Beyond the posters and murals, with the help of a model-maker called J Styles and a sculptor called Ben J, he creates moulded statuettes of his characters. They get painted and when he's out and about, he "releases them into the wild". They do, however, tend to get stolen.
"Skateboarding and graffiti both teach you to look at the environment around you differently," he explains. "As a skateboarder you're looking for a bank or handrail to skate, something that essentially wasn't intended for that purpose. With urban art you're looking around to see where to put up work. What is a plain wall to the passing public becomes a blank canvas to you. You begin to see and not just look."
According to D*Face, he skated, doodled and graffiti-ed his way through school and ended up studying design and illustration at college. He wound up working in design and advertising, but the creative industry seemed remarkably uncreative to him. "Not the designers, more the clients," he adds.
"So I looked for a form of escape, a creative release free from any boundaries. I'd always drawn characters and these creatures, like dysfunctional Disney characters, that could be peering down at you from the streets in different sizes and guises in as many locations as possible. That seemed to become that release. I really wanted to get people to question their presence, why they were there, who put them there."
Choosing favourite works is difficult for D*Face. Each has its merits and downfalls and he will often finish a piece and not look at it again. Ice sculpting and screen painting are highlights for him, though.
So on to the big question, the one that street artists often get touchy about - selling out. It's well known that companies will either use street artists, or mimic their work, in order to give their brands or products a particular kind of credibility. When we ask D*Face about his thoughts on this, he's low key and level headed. "I don't really like to talk about it. I try to keep it surreal," he quips.
"It's about the integrity of the artist. Who am I to call the next artist a 'sell out' if they got to work on a project they enjoyed, challenged them creatively and enabled them to pay some bills and not work flipping burgers to support their art. What is better for the artist? At the end of the day, you can only 'do you'. I've turned down numerous well-paid jobs because I didn't feel the project was in mine or the brand's interests and I wasn't feeling their angle."
Looking across the range of work D*Face produces, two things are striking. First, he moves between themes quickly and likes to take from and react to his surroundings. For a show in Hamburg, for instance, he came up with pirate characters because the city is a port and famous for its pirates. Similarly, he went to Norway and ended up co-opting Viking looks into his artwork. Meanwhile, his Japanese-influenced murals are astounding.
Second, politics is something he is hugely motivated by. As an artist he sees it as part of his role to visualise his own thoughts and those of the public, and he considers it important to create things in a way that is both subversive and close to his heart. While his artwork isn't exactly 'scritti politti', you can easily see his thoughts on recent wars and bombings, Blair government policies and the role of the monarchy. Canis Servo Regina is an interesting case in point, depicting the Queen's hair on a skull and crossbones. This translates as Dog Save the Queen, and refers to his character D*Dog. "It was to coincide with the Queen's 80th birthday, and while everyone was planning various celebrations at the public's expense, I thought it would be fitting for me to paste my own 'tributes' all over town, for free," he says.
With his characters, talent, willingness to broaden his range, and a vast catalogue of work, D*Face seems to be on the fringe and at the centre, both at once. He's at the centre because his work is part of the urban culture in several cities. It matters to people in ways they probably don't realise. Yet he's on the fringe because the path he chooses means he only just manages to make a living doing it.
"More importantly than money, I get to do what I truly love," he says. "I saw my parents grow old doing jobs that they hated. I never wanted to grow up doing the same. This is probably my greatest drive, to be able to live as an artist. If everything goes tits up, I'll go into microbiology and study the dronefly."