Lifestyle: Interview

Triumph Street Twin with custom D*Face tank

Get to know D*FACE

Street art meets Triumph Street Twin

Modern urban artist, D*Face, has been pioneering street art and celebrating outcasts, anarchy and individuality for more than a decade. His love of art and motorcycles came together in his latest project with Triumph, creating a two unique tanks to showcase the new Street Twin. FTR finds out what drives D*Face, an insight into his art, and why he loves motorcycles…

One red, one blue. Two tanks with very different interpretations. The first a graffiti-inspired noisy design, with the paint seemingly bubbling and dripping down the edge of the tank, the spray can part of the artwork.

Second, a tank of aqua blue, that pops against the black and silver of the bike, almost glowing and pulsating. The phoenix-like bird along the side of the tank resembles the work of current Canadian First Nation artists such as Nyle Miigizi Johnston. The soft curves are then checked by angular repeated lightning bolts that bristle out of the tail and flank the word Triumph, itself reinterpreted in a jagged, electrified font.

Q: What does art mean to you?

A: Art should give someone the feeling of something you’re trying to represent yourself. I like to execute an idea visually – tell a story as graphically and as visually as possible. I think that comes back to being a kid and seeing graffiti on trains or on the side of the tracks.

It had such impact and was really punch-in-the-face – is was so exciting. It’s the same with skate graphics. When I used to open up Thrasher magazine as a kid and see those crazy graphics and by Jim Philips and Vernon Courtlandt Johnson, it blew my mind. At the time I had no idea who these people were.

The graffiti and the skate graphics I was seeing really spoke to me in a language I understood

I actually thought the skaters did their own graphics! I spent a lot of my time trying to become a pro skater so I could make my own skate graphics. It wasn’t until much later that I realised there were professional illustrators who get paid to do it. It’s these things that have informed my art and my idea of what art should be.

I never felt like I could go into galleries as a kid or a teenager. My mum would take me to the big museums and I would see art there which was impressive, but it didn’t really talk to me in a voice which I felt was relevant to me.

Whereas the graffiti and the skate graphics I was seeing really spoke to me in a language I understood and was excited by. Private independent galleries I felt were exclusive and I felt I wasn’t allowed to go in there. It’s for this reason I always worked as part of the public domain. I want all people to be involved in what I’m trying to do.

Q: Does your work have a specific message?

A: With 90% of my pieces there’s always a backstory behind them. An emotion or a feeling that’s personal to me. I can explain those very easily, but for me it’s more interesting when they’re left there to guide people in and let people define what that story is for themselves.

When people ask: ‘What does it mean?’ I’ve never given them an explanation directly. I’ll just give them a steer at what it’s hinting at. When they tell me what they think it’s all about, their stories are much better than mine!

Sometimes it’s incredible and I’m so happy I didn’t tell them what it was I had in my mind. When it’s in the public domain you’re dealing with every walk of life. There’s no exclusion of age, race or gender, which is what’s so amazing about what I get to do. I get to have a very loud voice in a very open way.

There are a lot of people who aren’t aware of art. Most of the time people think anything in the public domain is an advert. When they’re confronted with something different, it stops them in their tracks. It blows them away that someone’s painting something on the streets just for the hell of it rather than trying to sell them something.

Q: Do you think there are some similarities between skating and motorcycling?

A: Being into skateboarding and being somewhat of an outcast – especially back when I was doing it – you were seen as a real waster. People would say “What the hell are you doing spending your time on a bit of wood with wheels?”

The mindset of freedom is really significant in riding motorcycles

It’s had a huge impact on who I am as a person and as an artist. You look at a city differently – a skater will look at architecture completely differently. As a street artist, it’s the same. You start to look at the surfaces as canvases. The mindset is very similar.

Motorcycling is still seen as something of a fringe activity and associated with outlaws and anarchists, which I really love. The mindset of freedom is really significant in riding motorcycles and I try to bring that into my work.

Q: What is it about riding bikes that inspires you?

A: The ability to ride a motorcycle and experience that freedom, get away from everything and anybody and be on your own is incredibly refreshing.

I really enjoy that part of riding bikes. Not having a phone buzzing and someone trying to ring me. I’m in my own world riding this bike through the city, concentrating on keeping it upright. There’s an unmatched thrill and excitement. If you ride you’re an outsider – in terms of the choice of transport.

I’ve always seen bikes as sculptural pieces

I’ve had a motorbike since I was 16, and it has changed since then, but when I started there were limited places to go outside of motorcycle dealers. We had the Ace Café, but that was about it.

I’ve been through all types of motorcycles from the past and to the present. What got me into classic bikes was when I nearly lost my licence on a sports bike. I sold all my sports bikes and I really missed riding, so I looked into buying a classic bike.

I started chopping away at bikes in my evenings. It allowed me to escape my mind as an artist. That was about eight years ago now. I’ve always seen bikes as sculptural pieces, but I never thought of my custom builds as a piece of my art originally. I did two bikes in my garage then opened Rebels Alliance. A bike store/coffee shop/clothing line that got a bit carried away.

Q: How did the Triumph collaboration come about?

A: Triumph reached out to me. Triumph is a brand I’ve always been aware of, my dad was a big Triumph fan. To be contacted by them to do a project was a real honour. I was a huge Steve McQueen fan. To see how they’ve reinvented the brand and come on so far with it, it’s incredible. I’m a British artist and Triumph are a British brand, so it makes a lot of sense.

On a project, I’d start out by sending them options for artwork and they’d simply give the OK and I’d get on with it, giving me complete freedom. As you can tell, when it comes down to bikes – I’m deep in the game. I’d love to do more.

Q: What do you think about the evolution of motorcycle art?

A: The airbrushing chopper scene never really appealed to me. It wasn’t the style of motorcycling I liked and it wasn’t the style of art I like. It wasn’t a conscious decision really, however I wasn’t about to get my airbrush out and do faded flames.

In many ways I’ve just gone and done my own thing. When it comes to painting the Street Twin tanks for Triumph, it was just a case of doing something that I hadn’t seen before.

Q: Do you think motorcycle culture has changed?

A: As Rebels Alliance we’re at the Bike Shed show, Malle Mile and Dirt Quake and I think these shows really reflect what’s going on in UK biking culture. It’s bigger than just the bikes. It sounds cliché, but it’s about the lifestyle. The clothes you’re wearing and the social scene. I think it’s exactly what the biking culture needed for a long time.

We’ve built bikes but we also ride bikes and race them. We’re trying to represent it as honestly and as close to our hearts as we can. Similar to the skate scene, you’d never dress as a skater and not skate – you’d get called out on that. Rebels Alliance is a motorcycle brand, so we build and ride motorcycles. I ride bikes pretty much every day and I want to represent it truly and not artificially.

Q: How do you approach painting the tank of a motorcycle tank?

A: In terms of a mural, it’s about the environment it’s in and how the public are view it. Also, those people are going to live with it, outside of me being there. I have to consider what I’m going to paint and whether it’s appropriate or not.

The tank’s shape really informs what you’re going to do. It’s a weird blend between sculpture and painting – but it’s something different outside of those two disciplines.

Seeing it in motion and seeing it static are two more considerations of painting a vehicle. I love that. It all comes back to the graffiti. Seeing it as a picture as you roll by or seeing it at a train station are two different experiences.

Seeing the tank painted in static, and seeing it going down the road cause very different feelings. I like to see the tanks I paint on bikes that are ridden. I actually quite like it when they’ve been ridden for a year, or even a couple of months in, because they start having another life.

Q: What’s next?

A: This is the second project I’ve done with Triumph and very much hope they’ll be a third. I’d love to be more involved – maybe doing a full build. I love the brand. As Rebels Alliance we’ve got a Triumph on the table at the minute as a private build.

In terms of other projects, I’m out in Tai Pei in December for an exhibition. There’s a really cool auction project coming up with Sotheby’s and Movember. I’m also working on a new body of work for a show, potentially in Hong Kong, later next year.