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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: Street Artist D*Face's Exhibit Portrays Celebs Who Burnt Bright Before 30

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British street artist D*Face (AKA Dean Stockton) has been making his rounds globally from Tokyo to Las Vegas, putting up his large-scale murals that display his tongue-in-cheek humor and pay homage to Roy Lichtenstein's comic strip-like pop art. And in his pop-up exhibition, "Scars and Stripes," he'll be bringing his latest works to West Hollywood on September 26.

Presented by PMM Art Projects, this art show will be featuring 30 of D*Face's large portraits, sculptures and installations of celebrities who he says "burnt bright" and died before the age of 30. Kurt Cobain, Biggie, and Tupac are among those he's depicting. And coinciding with his visit in Los Angeles, he'll also be painting two new murals in our city.

D*Face's interest in American culture started during his youth when he was a skateboarder reading Thrasher magazines and saw America as an idyllic place. In the early days of his art career over 15 years ago, he was hand-drawing stickers and putting them up throughout London in the early days of the British street art scene. He would later run in the same circles as artists like Shepard Fairey and evaluate and critique the American pop culture and consumerism. His characters express feelings of love and loss; many are skeletal and some have the Grim Reaper in tow.

D*Face spoke to LAist about his draw to American culture and his early days in the street art scene.

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What was your inspiration for this exhibit, doing portraits of celebrities who died before the age of 30?

It's a subject matter that I’ve looked into and used in previous bodies of work—in fact, back in 2005 I produced Kant Complain, a portrait of Kurt Cobain. The inspiration is in part the ideology of ‘burning bright’ and entombing the essence of youth, as if those celebrities are cocooned in time only to live in the public's memory as we wish them to be remembered, how we almost manipulate their image and ideologies to fit with our understanding of them. Part of that inspiration came from becoming a father myself and wanting to leave a legacy for my children, wondering what that will be and how that is defined, and in fact how it is out of one's control. Dying young is almost the perfect artistic statement. The Dead By Thirty portraits aren’t the complete works for this exhibition— the show really pulls from 2 previous bodies of work that I’ve exhibited before and the portraits form roughly half the work on show.

Could you talk a bit about the murals that you’ll be painting in Los Angeles?

With the murals I paint I prefer to leave them to speak on their own visual merits, or for that matter failings…it sort of ruins them by explaining what they are without a visual to go along with it, like describing a book instead of reading the book itself. I can tell you it's specifically angled towards L.A., both my loves and loathes of the city. It’s also been approved by the City Council, so they also get it…I think!

What draws you to do artwork on American dreams and pop culture?

As a kid growing up in rainy, grey London reading Thrasher and being heavily influenced by the skate, band graphics, and general culture portrayed through that magazine, along with pop culture and graffiti, it was clearly going to have an impact on those young, easily swayed eyes…also my understanding of geography was poor to say the least, mainly due to skipping class to skate. I thought the skate spots I saw featured in Thrasher all existed in California, which I imagined was about the same size as London…so I assumed there was a concrete bowl on every street corner! So yeah, skating around London, dodging getting mugged, sheltering from the rain and skating the refuge of some 70’s concrete parks, it wasn’t hard to see why I longed for that SoCal life. I viewed it through rose-tinted glasses—from the magazine to the films (Back to the Future, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, etc.)—I wanted to live that lifestyle, however my parents had little money for such ventures. A holiday in America was never even a vague possibility, so I spent my entire youth longing to get to California, engulfed in anything and everything that I could get here in the U.K. that had come from America. You could say my childhood and teenage view of America was a little rose-tinted to say the least. Flash forward a few years—I started to see the refuse of that conspicuous consumption firsthand which caused me to question it and my relationship to it and offer my visual take on it.

With this exhibit being your largest one ever, looking back at your career, what was the first piece you did that you felt put you into the limelight?

It’s really hard to call because I started putting my work in the street for the public to discover, really as a selfish act, so I’ve grown very organically as an artist. I've been finding my feet, peers, galleries or lack-thereof that represent this movement to the point where I opened my own gallery—StolenSpace. There have been many significant shifts that have made me stop and go ‘wow, I’d never have imagined this would happen’ and then I put my head down and continue pushing myself, exploring new techniques, discovering old techniques, refining my work and working practice. If pushed, there are 3 examples that stand out—first would be getting the cover of ArtReview in 2005, the second would be collaborating with Banksy and releasing a print with his then-gallery, and most recently, the release of my monograph One Man and His Dog charting 15-plus years of my artwork.

How did you get started doing your artwork and murals?

Really it was a selfish act— a creative release and escape from my daily boredom. It started with small hand-drawn stickers that I’d put up on my way home from work for my friends to spot, to making stencils and large posters to paste up around town and abroad, to painted productions and sculptures. It’s always the most obvious thing to do—go bigger. So while painting 12-story murals is cool, it's not only about that for me, it's as much about the small interventions and side road discoveries as it is the full-building murals.

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What projects do you have in store after you're done with this exhibit?

I’m working on a very interesting music video for a band you might have heard of! There’s a few mural projects that will happen dotted around the world before the year's out and then my focus will be on my museum show at CAC Malaga in June 2015.

D*Face's "Scars & Stripes" exhibit will be on display from Sept. 27 through mid-October at 315 S. Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood. Opening night reception is on Sept. 27 from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. More information can be found here.

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