Australian native Damien Mitchell has been gracing NYC walls with his wonderful talents since moving here two years ago. We visited him at his studio while he was readying for his solo exhibit — Tools of the Trade — opening tomorrow Friday, the 13th, at Low Brow Artique.
When and where did you first share your artwork on a public space?
My first experience with graffiti was at age 8. I wrote ‘fuk’ on the underside of our family’s coffee table. I then blamed it on my two-year old niece, Alice.
What or who inspired you to do so?
I can’t remember — though it must have been important, as I still do it now and then. Alice is getting really sick of my shit.
Do you have a formal art education?
How do you feel about the movement of works by street artists and graffiti writers into galleries? Have you exhibited your work in a gallery setting? If so, where and when?
It is what it is. When you take a work off a truck or wall and stick it in a gallery, it no longer moves like it does outside. It can’t sneak up on you or take you by surprise. That said, I am showing paintings at Low Brow Artique tomorrow, Friday the 13th, from 6-9pm.
When did you come to NYC? What brought you here?
I first arrived five years ago to visit my wife’s family. I was only here for a few weeks, but I got a few walls up including one at 5Pointz – R.I.P. We moved over here for a longer term on Independence Day two years ago.
What are some of the specific challenges of working/living here in NYC as an artist?
Like anywhere, when you give your work away for free on walls — often times against the will of the building owner — things can get a little weird. Luckily, there are lots of walls to go around, and sometimes they even pay you for it.
Where else have you painted? Have you a favorite city?
When I was 18, I moved to Prague in the Czech Republic. I lived there for eight years painting everything I could. Say what you will about the hangover from the Soviet era but it sure left a lot of bare concrete walls. Also, I once painted my butthole blue just to see if it would change the color of my poop. It didn’t.
Any thoughts about the street art/graffiti divide?
Personally, I wear two hats. I think it’s nice to be able to drink beer in the summer time, while painting a wall at a block party somewhere, but it’s also fun as hell to run around writing shit on walls on the sly. Graffiti heads get all pissy because their work is illegitimatized by street art’s aesthetics and message.
How do you feel about the role of the Internet in all this?
When I was growing up in rural Australia, the Internet was the only way to see any of this stuff. If it wasn’t for sites like Stencil Revolution, I probably would have become a plumber or something.
Do you prefer working alone or painting with others? With whom have you collaborated? Is there anyone in particular with whom you’d like to collaborate?
For legal walls, I’m up for collaboration. There are things you learn and tips — you don’t realize you are giving — that make artists better when they work together. This last year I was lucky enough to work with Edob Love and Heesco painting a couple of walls here in NYC. Who knows what will pop up in 2015?
Do you work with a sketch in hand? Or do you just let it flow?
Both. When I’m painting a large portrait, I usually have some kind of sketch with me to start with, and then I let it go. Showing up to a wall with a big bag of paints and just emptying them all as it goes makes for some of my favorite work, though.
How has your artwork evolved during the past few years? Has living in NYC affected your aesthetic?
Since living in NYC, I’ve been offered larger walls, so I’ve had to significantly change how I work. For years I was painting primarily with stencils, but once the walls got big enough, I ditched them. As for aesthetic, I paint what’s around me, so the city and its residents constantly pop up in my work.
What do you see as the role of the artist in society?
I don’t know what the role of the fine artist is, though the role of the graffiti artist — in my opinion — is to be the voice of social change. When there is nowhere to raise your voice, grab some paint and write it on the wall.
Can you tell us something about your exhibit that opens tomorrow at Low Brow Artique?
It’s called Tools of the Trade. A homage to graffiti, it celebrates the tools used by graffiti artists.
What’s ahead for you?
After spending some more time here in NYC, my wife and I are heading to Brazil. The more I look, the more I like!
Photo credits: 1. & 4. Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2. & 3. Lois Stavsky & 5. City-as-School intern Zachariah Messaoud