D Young V On walls, inside and out.
I met David in July at his exhibit Make an Effort at White Walls Gallery. His graphic black and white pieces evoke authoritarian dominance while at the same time feel extremely friendly and approachable. Indecipherable writing in a font reminiscent of Russian mid-century space exploration creates an aura of mystery. I stared at his work for quite sometime trying to unravel the enigma, only to have David tell me there is no hidden message. After that, I wanted to know more about his work.
What brought you to San Francisco?
I had lived in the New Jersey and New York area my whole life. I had really wanted to move out to California for some time. At the time it didn’t matter where in California, just so long as it was California. I applied to school here in San Francisco and was accepted. That gave me the right direction to finally move out here.
Do you have an art and design background?
I’ve been making art since I was a small child. I went to college and then grad school for it, and been continuing to develop ever since.
When did you start making street art? What was it that got you started?
I started making street art for the first time around five years ago. However, it’s been the last three years that I’ve been taking it more seriously. I had an immediate attraction to the aesthetic qualities of the work I was seeing around at the time. Much of this work was monochromatic. Being an artist primarily working in pen & ink, I felt that this could be a step in a new direction. I wasn’t sure how ‘street art’ operated. I didn’t know who was doing it or why they were doing it. Was there a political agenda to it? Was it something strictly related to graffiti? Did I have to be in ‘crew’ or particular group of people to involved with it? The only thing I knew at that point was that I was attracted to it. Then did some research on it. I starting asking other artists about it, then looking at some books relating to it. The moment I started seeing instructions on how to make different forms of ‘street art’ in these books, I realized that this was a friendly movement. Why else would these books promote the idea of getting your work out there and give you instructions on how to do it? It was around that time that I started hanging out at Babylon Falling. Babylon Falling was a book store in the lower Nob Hill district of San Francisco. The store focused itself on the idea of ‘revolution’. It included literature and documentation on anything from politics, history, art and culture of all types. The store showcased and promoted artists both locally and nationally. Shortly after its opening, the store pretty much became the neighborhood hang out. Many of the strongest and longest lasting relationships I’ve developed with people in San Francisco started at that store. To make a long story short, it was Babylon Falling that really triggered my enthusiasm for street art and urban culture. I would just sit there all day and learn about this stuff. Both the owner Sean, and the people that hung out there introduced me to a number of new ideas, inspirations and artists. It was through that store that my work changed, expanded and offered a more concrete direction.
Do you work by yourself or are you a member of any crews or both? If you are part of crew, and if so which one(s)?
I am not affiliated with any particular crew or single grouping of artists. If I do work on the street I am usually working with other artists. I have done a great deal of work with Eddie Colla as well as a few other artists both here in the bay and artists visiting from other cities. I generally don’t like working by myself. I like getting other people’s input and sharing ideas. When I work with others it opens up my spectrum a lot.
I love the graphic black and white nature of your work – how did you get started in that?
I’ve been working primarily in black and white my whole life. Color has never made much sense to me. It is only recently that I begun to explore color and incorporate it in my work. I began working with the micron 08 pen when I was 18. I’ve been hooked on it ever since. I have used other types of ink since then, but I always go back to the Micron 08. Black and white is simple, accessible and strait to the point. The only things you need are composition, shape and concept. I like that the simplicity of that. I suppose shading, rendering and color have always proved to be a challenge for me. However, using the pen came so natural. There was nothing forced about it, and no one could tell me it was wrong or incorrect. I could just make up my own styles, images and concepts; developing myself according to my own rules.
What is the story behind the nun piece?
There really was no concept behind her at all originally. I was randomly scrolling through Google images one day and stumbled upon a photo of a woman face. I thought it looked pretty striking so I decided to use it as reference for a drawing. I didn’t know who she was, or where the photo originally came from, I just liked it. Once I completed the drawing I started to put it up constantly. Within a month or so, she was in three American cities. I didn’t have any concept or story behind her at the time, I just kept putting her up. A blog in LA posted a pic of her and called here the ‘Nun Of War’. After that I started to do alterations of her, then put those up. I base my concepts around peoples interpretations of my work. I take their ideas and filter them into the narrative and style of my work. The nun was a perfect example of that. Many of the interpretations people had of her were based in religion, war and even martyrdom. This prompted me to take her image even further and incorporate her likeness in my larger pieces, murals and dozens of other drawings. I suppose I see her now as my Sarah Conner (Terminator) or Ripley (Alien). I started to relate her to the images you constantly see of historical figures or current day world leaders, i.e: Obama, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa. etc. In a way she has become my ‘post- apocalyptic’ version of that.
Your work is very typographical in nature. Do you use a certain font? It feels like the USSR at the pride of their space launch. What is the source of your font style?
My work is very typographical in nature, I love the idea of using text. I generally like to create my own words, glyphs and number combinations. I feel that this alludes to another language, and also the idea of people recreating language through the symbols of the past. There are a number of influences involved with this. Some them are English letters, Russian text, Mayan symbols and Nordic Runes amongst others. I love observing symbols of any kind, street signs, foreign languages, hand signals, etc. I generally don’t know what they mean, but I know they mean something. Every symbol has a meaning, and sometimes a single symbol can have multiple meanings depending on the individual or culture utilizing/observing it. I find that fascinating. I generally create my own font styles or often use basic number/ letter stencils to form my own words or new symbols. Most of the glyphs I use in my work I make up on the spot. The influences for those glyphs range from a variety of cultures to other artist works.
There is also the idea of implications through text. When one views the text of an unfamiliar culture or listens to a foreign language they don’t understand, they can only try to understand the messages or communication being conveyed. They have their own perceptions of what is possibly being communicated from the way language looks or sounds. Their interpretations of that language can often be influenced by what they know of their own culture or what they believe to know of other cultures (past or present). Examples of this are looking at the wide variety of symbols in Asian cultures, the gracefulness of Arabic text, the colors and meticulous detail of old European fonts, the implications of nature and agriculture of Runes, the pictorial details and image combinations of Mayan. Then there is the way people speak. Some languages/dialects sound musically rhythmic; some are extremely harsh, other are soft, some are loud and upfront, chaotic sounding or extremely ordered. I can never even hope to understand the thoughts or messages being conveyed through these forms of communication. I can only hope to get a basic understanding through my interpretations. If a language sounds broken and harsh, what does that imply about the culture that it derives from? If a hand written text is elegant looking, rhythmic and meticulously detailed, can that imply a level of discipline, education, appreciation from both the person that wrote it and the culture they derive from? If a culture’s written communication takes the form of animals, what does that say about their relationship to nature, technology, religion? These are all basic implications on my part. I suppose what I am trying to do through the development my own text/ symbols is to imply meanings or details to the culture/ narrative I am looking to create through my art. There is rarely any literal forms of communication in my text. I like to hear the viewers interpretation to what the text/symbols may mean or imply to them.
Your military and governmental control images have a strangely happy and approachable feel while still maintaining an authoritarian tone. Do you have any affiliation with law enforcement or message you are trying to send around that occupation?
I have no affiliations with law enforcement or military. I do like to talk to both retired and active soldiers from both American and foreign armed forces. I am always curious about peoples reasoning behind what they do and who they choose to be affiliated with. Most people generally like to be a part of something larger then themselves based on their own interests, or in other cases circumstances in life. Some people find this in religious groups, some find it in gangs, others find it in the military. There is a great feeling and sense of identity when you are a part of something greater then yourself. I am very interested in communities that promote ideals. How often does someone join the military because they specifically want to serve their country? Do people go to church every Sunday because they solely believe in and wish to worship their God? Do police become police because they truly believe that upholding the law is their greatest priority? Do people join hate groups because they truly believe that their race is superior to all others? I find more often then not that there is a underlying reason to why people affiliate themselves with certain groups, and its almost never because they truly believe in the ideology behind that group. It is often something so much deeper and personal. How often do meet a soldier whose father or brother was in the military, so they joined? How often do people go to church because that is the focus of their social life? How many times to you hear of that cop that got bullied a lot as a kid and became a cop to prove something to themselves? Or that white supremacist that couldn’t find identity in anyone or anything so they turned to hate?
I suppose all of these groups are symbols within themselves, but symbols can often be redefined. A soldier can be a symbol of authority, imperialism, occupation and war. However, a soldier can also be a symbol of change, strength and peace. A soldier can conquer, imprison, oppress and follow blindly. However, a soldier can defend, liberate, maintain order and promote change. This all depends on the circumstances, beliefs and army surrounding that soldier. In the end the person behind that soldier is just that…a person. Every person is different and their reasons for taking on that symbol or persona are different. Life is never black and white, and its hard to say anything is truely wrong or right. Symbols are human made constructs, behind every symbol is a person. It’s that person I often find more interesting then the symbol itself.
In part I am looking to explore that very dimension of our nature. My work reflects military concepts and order, but more importantly it pertains to people. I attempt to communicate a very human feel to what I do. I use familiar people that I know in my work. I take them out of context and put them in an unfamiliar territory. This territory is obviously a post- apocalyptic vision. I prefer using people I know in this because It makes the work more personable and believable, adding a more realistic quality to it. The characters in this world have a highly military look to them, they are wearing helmets, holding guns and have badges containing symbols sewn on them. These symbols all imply that these people are associated with some sort of group or idea.
The ‘real-life’ associations of many of these symbols are anti – authoritarian, which provides an interesting contradiction. I believe that in our our society we often hear ‘fuck the government’, ‘fuck the law’, ‘fuck money’. ‘fuck capitalism’, ‘fuck the war’ and fuck everything else. n many ways we have taken on the idea of being so ‘anti’ everything, yet we are simultaneously so dependent on this system, so blatantly a part of it and fueling it at the same time. Because of that all those slogans and communications of rebellion fall on deaf ears. In truth there is no real way out of the system, there is no true way to escape it. The only thing you can truly hope to do is change it. In a society with so many conflicting philosophies, values, personal interests, greed and strong sense of individualism; that ‘change’ can only be slow or next to impossible. In the end though, the system is comprised of people, billions of people. In many ways all equally responsible for the course this society is taking. From the top to the bottom.
I suppose creating images of military order fused with rebellion is exploring these contractions or duality in a very obvious way. As much there is a need for chaos, there is a need for order. Our nature does not exist without these dualities. If the symbols I use are flipped to create a reverse meaning to their present associations in a way that makes total sense. It may allow the viewer to rethink their interpretations to these symbols. In effect that may trigger a discussion regarding our place as individuals in this this society and our relationship to it.
I am fascinated with the diversity of street artists. Some I have met work as full time creative commercial artist by day and on the streets at night. Other artists have a 9-5 style job that is not artistic at all and street art is their creative outlet. What do you do from day to day? Does your day job have anything to do with art? Is this a full time thing for you?
My day job is an apartment manager. I manage a 32 unit building that borders Nob Hill and the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Outside of my management duties, I do a lot of contract work in my building. Much of that contract work is painting apartments. The job as a whole is part time because I can make my own schedule. Some days are far busier then others. Most days I have a lot of fee time to focus on my art, which is what I like. I’ve done the 9-5 thing before, and find myself so winded at the end of the day that I am hardly able to work on my art. I prefer jobs like apartment management.
Have you ever gotten into any trouble due to your work on the street?
I have been busted before while getting my work up. Thankfully I was let go in both cases. Most recently in Miami with Eddie Colla, we got let go after long conversation with three police officers about what constitutes art and what doesn’t. Oddly enough that was on our first piece we put up, we got busted in the Wynwood District. The arresting officer was mighty pissed. Thankfully the next two officers that showed up starting asking us a bunch of questions regarding our art, what does it mean? Is it an advertisement?, why do you do it?. etc. Considering how much art was going down in Basel, the other two cops didn’t think it was a big deal. I think their attitude influenced the officer that busted us in the first place, so he let us go with the promise that we would keep our art out of Wynwood…we agreed.
To view more of his work, check out D Young V’s website or find him on facebook. David has murals up at Cup A Joe Cafe (Sutter @ Leavenworth), Space Gallery (Polk @ Sutter) Cafe Royal (Post @ Leavenworth), Old Crow Tattoo & Gallery (Lake Merritt), and a collaboration mural with Aaron Lawrence at Jaspers (O’Farrell @ Mason).
Some studio work from D Young V’s last show. Photos by Dig-In Magazine.
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