Damp, exhausted, and hungry are the words I use to sum up my first ten minutes in New York City. This is nothing more than a typical Saturday evening around here, at least from what I've seen. I found myself getting acquainted with a flimsy $5 umbrella from a street vendor. It didn't hold up too well against Times Square’s elements. But we managed to adjust through the crowds and the relentless rain. End result: New York City is hell in heels and a $5 umbrella.
I had done my research, and followed up with the press package. Still not entirely sure what to expect, I finally flagged down a taxi and made my way to the Jonathan LeVine Gallery on the north side of 20th Street on a dark and dusky block between 10th and 11th Avenues. This brought me to the realization that I wasn't surrounded by the hot lights and anxiety of downtown Manhattan. Things around me finally began to slow down as I walked down the short end of the street, thinking to myself “Is this where they hide the real art around here?”
Just trying to get my bearings in a city I am less than familiar with, I walk through the lobby doors of the building, which contains more than a dozen different studios and galleries on each of its twelve floors. At first I was still unsure if I was in the correct place, even though the sign read "Jonathan LeVine Gallery 9-E." Must have just been the "bus-lag." I proceeded to 9-E on the slightly inefficient elevator and was relieved to be dumped off into an area containing hipsters, strange men with long ponytails, and quite a few people resembling Beatles fans.
I stood off to the side waiting the two minutes till the gallery doors were to be opened to the area of heavily anticipating public scenesters. I was suddenly, again, lost; it was as if I was recalling the feeling of getting off the bus, and stepping feet first into an exaggerated puddle on 34th and 8th. (If you couldn't tell, it’s my first time in NYC).
That said, I was fevering the emotions of stimulation at all extremes – swirls of neon colors engulfed the floor, creating a sinkhole of distraction. My senses were expanded again; the smell of popcorn filled the gallery. A table contained old-fashioned popcorn containers with D*Face’s unmistakable art covering the packaging, filled with fresh popcorn for the guests; kitschy if anything, but an intriguing way to set it apart from your typical art exhibition.
Which is what I have come to learn is what D*Face is all about…
Aka: Dean Stockton, a London-based street artist who composes art from the makings of the diverse worlds of hip-hop, punk music, and animated cartoon characters. He makes his living as a contemporary artist supplying the world with knowledge of an ever-pressuring society in which we are surrounded by advertisements. D*Face uses his art as a different form of commercialism to stray from typical mass media; his graffiti, stencils and stickers cover the urban streets of London.
I believe his angle is to get people to see a different side of the media all around us by leaving his own little mark of disturbing yet cultured forms of evangelism on the world. He shows in his art that he believes the media’s basic rule of shoving advertising down our throats is far too conventional. So D*Face takes it upon himself to deflower cities across the world with his own form of self-advertisement through art/graffiti or, as I choose to call it, “D*Face Propaganda.”
If only to confuse everything that I thought I knew about art, I was standing in the middle of D*Face’s solo exhibition entitled Ludovico Aversion / All Your Dreams Belong To Us. The show title references a futuristic human behavior reconditioning treatment from A Clockwork Orange (the 1972 cult-classic film by Stanley Kubrick.) In the film, the patients' eyelids are forced open to watch disturbing footage containing subliminal messages.
Silver balloons shaped as one of D*Face’s most common art characters covered the ceiling of the gallery. Placed just above the almost mind-warping floor, it’s as if in no way are your eyes supposed to stay centered on any one thing in the room. Straight ahead, placed strategically in the middle wall, a banner of eyes shown through glasses convey a very serious look, a furrowed, unexplainable expression. A clever opening sequence, I thought, as those were the emotions that carried through the rest of my time at the exhibition.
I have realized that the opportunities to make comparisons are very limited in describing this type of art. D*Face tries to convey his meaning in every medium, whether the viewer completely understands it or not. I am very indifferent to his art, or his mission if you can call it that. This work can only be taken how the interpreter conceives it. In an article in JUXTAPOZ Magazine D*Face says, “Reinterpretation, it’s something that surrounds us all the time in most, if not at all, aspects of our life.”
Art speaks for itself in many ways. These images raise the question: Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life? It is almost like a stained mirror affect, reflecting ads of a bygone era trying to predict a future, while begging to be noticed. It is what some call "pop-art schizophrenia" – like Oliver Stone portraying Warhol, except it’s not Warhol. Here is another image of the nameless, faceless drones that have paved this young man's way to corrupting our minds with his barrages of pop-culture images, or as the artist terms the defining art, “aPOPcalyptic.”
In a section of the exhibit titled More Punk Than You Punk the artist portrays images in a variety of bright neon colors switched and swapped over spray paint and oil-based screenprint on canvas. Someone told me that in here was a self-portrait of D*Face himself. I find this rather appealing; as an artist who isn’t fond of being photographed and shy in interviews, he sure has no problem making a butchery of himself in his own art.
Another portion of the exhibit contained a more dulled down experience; sepia tones and black and white colors create a more serious appeal. Some of these are composed on recycled, wooden children's desks. In an effort to show authenticity he lets you see see beaneath his own wood etchings the scratching and doodling of the youngsters. I thought this was a unique type of "canvas" for his portrayals of commercialist debauchery.
Although I am now educated in the ways of D*Face’s street art, the exhibition was limited because it could not show all that he offers the streets. But I must say he really has a knack for exploiting all things commercial. The artist's mind is no doubt a reeling pictorial of the unexplainable and radical. Some of his imagery I am convinced part of our population will never have the mind-capacity to handle.
I have been intrigued by and schooled in a whole new avenue of extremist art.
I applaud D*Face’s efforts as a revolutionary model. To our pop-punk artists trying to stake a claim in this ever-pressing world of unconventional art: don't expect everything you do to be completely understood.
The exhibit runs through Oct. 10.