As the London Mural Festival continues to make its mark in the capital, we speak to one of the contributing artists about what it is like to work on such a large canvas.
D*Face has worked around the world and his style is familiar to anyone with an interest in contemporary urban art. The Londoner has used his home city as a backdrop before, but this time he is collaborating with global brand Zippo to create something on an even bigger scale.
His new work, which he dubs a self-portrait, can be found in King’s Cross and measures a whopping 7 x 11 metres (23 x 36ft). The work also acknowledges the status of Zippo as a pop culture icon, and there was a launch event that gave visitors a fully immersive experience to enjoy. The unique collaboration between Zippo and street artists in the capital has been celebrated with a series of lighters that capture in miniature form the mural images that you can see around London.
Here’s how this special pairing came together, as D*Face talks us through the process of creating his dynamic mural.
Tell us about your work with the London Mural Festival and the piece you have created?
When Zippo got in touch to collaborate on a mural at London Mural Festival it seemed like an obvious thing to do. London is my home town and this being my first (legal) mural here, it seemed right for the work to be a self-portrait of sorts, to share my ugly mug with the city which raised me.
Each stripe of the wall has a different meaning to me and to the mural – I used the same principle in a show I had last year in Tokyo but to reflect the growing culture of digital obsession and the creation of our internet selves. I wanted this wall to be a little more cheerful for the people of London town. The top part is the wings from my D*Dog character, man’s best friend – he came from somewhere deep in my brain long ago, hence why he’s up there. Then you have me with my glasses on, followed by a kind of smirking, squiggly smile which you can read any way you want and lastly the hand holding a little baby d*dog, which I intended as a kind of offering to the city, in the same way a mural is a kind of gesture towards wherever it’s painted – it’s about sharing something with people.
How did the collaboration with Zippo come about?
They’d teamed up with the London Mural Festival and asked if it wanted to get involved as a London-based artist. They have a new decoration process which means they can take any design and shrink it to wrap an entire lighter. Painting a wall and seeing it shrunk down to lighter size seemed like a cool idea, so I said yes. The nature of painting in the public domain makes this type of work at times impermanent so the fact that it lives on in people’s pockets is cool. Zippo being a heritage brand, there’s some level of faith you can have as an artist that the product they get behind is going to be good. It’s an unconventional canvas and an iconic object that I haven’t worked on before – it seemed like the right opportunity at the right time.
Can you tell us a bit about how your career as an artist began?
Around the time I started there was only a handful of people doing anything close. There wasn’t really a “scene” and there was no term for it like “street art” or “urban art”, we were just using the city as a canvas, which was somewhat aligned to graffiti but different. I was just trying to use the street as a form of expression and a place to put my work – as I’m still doing now. At that time, there were a few artists such as Solo One, The Toasters, Shephard Fairey and Banksy – as well as a few of my friends, PMH and Mysterious Al – but it was pretty much on my own. I was really quite happy and it kind of made more sense for me and my work. Stickers were the initial hook – I’d make them at home using sticky-back plastic and slap them up on my way to and from work. Gradually people started to associate my face with my stickers and the characters I’d created. It all snowballed from there.
Does London make for a good backdrop for works of art like yours?
Definitely, it may not always be the most picturesque place on earth, certainly not in the conventional sense, but it all adds to the character. Just on sheer age alone, London’s buildings are often overflowing with character, way more than you get in somewhere like the States. Though that does often mean trying to paint a wall that is simultaneously falling apart, full of holes, and covered in that signature London dirt – typically while it’s raining too.
Are Londoners generally keen to experience outdoor art?
I think so, it’s kind of impossible to speak for all of them – there’s quite a few of them, I’m sure there’s some of them out there who hate it and hate my guts for being a part of it – but in general people seem to have a good reaction to it. Shoreditch and East London have always been the sort of hub for urban art in London, but it feels like more of a tourist excursion than a day out for Londoners currently. I guess having worked there for so long I’ve become a bit desensitised to it in many respects but the general response to this mural has been really positive and as far as I can tell the rest of the festival seems to have been well received.
Were there any additional challenges this year with the outbreak of Covid-19 to what you had planned?
With this project specifically, not so much, when you’re up a wall, 20 feet off the ground there’s not many people around to spread germs about. Other projects definitely have been though, I have a show in Taipei that’s had to be pushed back a couple of times but is now set for October, various international murals planned out that have either been cancelled or postponed and a few other things here and there.
Your work is viewable internationally and has proven to be hugely popular. What qualities do you look for in the places where you create murals?
Typically the first question on my mind is how visible is the wall – that is after all the main reason for using the street as your canvas – it’s open to everyone, no barriers.
Where have been some of your favourite locations around the world to work in?
In terms of a favourite pick there is only one answer I can give and it’s Los Angeles – my home away from home. So much of that culture inspired me when I was a kid and it’s never gone away. Plus, the weather is always good! That’s not to say there haven’t been some other great spots though, anywhere there’s good food, good people and good walls!