DOLK has gone from painting his street art on the sides of abandoned houses in the Norwegian countryside to stenciling them on buildings near high-traffic Williamsburg locales. Richard J. Goldstein caught up with him as he put the finishing touches on a mural in the backyard of the Brooklynite Gallery in Bed-Stuy.
Picture a city. No doubt, graffiti tags, bulbous and balloon-like, floated into view. It’s hard to picture the city sprawl without the scrawl. No matter how Teflon the city becomes, the marks will stick. They will find a way even when there is nothing to make a mark with, like those tags written in the dirt on subway walls. This clean graffiti is Cagean and ephemeral. And for that reason, they are some of my favorite pieces right now—quiet testaments to impulse, survival, and determination.
Maybe it’s the façade of assembled refrigerator doors at the gallery’s rear, but Brooklynite is cool: a kind of mirage way out in Bed-Stuy that you can’t believe until you see. Much in line with the Fun Gallery and Fashion Moda of a New York-past, Brooklynite gallery is a haven for street artists but in ways those ‘80s galleries never could have dreamed with all the Internet has to offer now. Brooklynite gallery director Rae McGrath’s website is a virtual party with dj-ed music and the ability to accommodate live video feeds from gallery openings. Those watching online are put in the scene and can ask the artists questions.
Recently, I spoke with the Norwegian street artist DOLK in the gallery’s backyard. DOLK had been putting the finishing touches on a back wall stencil piece in preparation for the opening of his and M-CITY’s EUROTRASH exhibition. LANDMARK, DOLK’s assistant, sat in too for a discussion on the street art experience.
Richard J. Goldstein: How did the Norwegian landscape affect your work?
DOLK: You’re thinking about my having painted abandoned houses and stuff like that? Me and this other street artist POBEL, which means “bully” in English I think, we painted abandoned houses in the beautiful fields of Norway, mainly for the photos. We never thought so many people were going to see the sites themselves. But we did it because the photos look amazing—an image on an abandoned house deep in Norwegian nature. (laughter)
RJG: The contrast.
D: Yeah, the contrast. The photos look so wrong and so right at the same time.
RJG: So for you, it started in the country instead. One typically thinks of graffiti being something rooted in the urban scene.
D: Yeah, we were taking it out of that context. We tried to make it work where you wouldn’t expect to see graffiti art, street art, or anything like that. I think it worked pretty well.
RJG: How long does it take you to do a big piece?
D: Some of the pieces we did in Norway. In Lofoten Islands, we worked about 24 hours on one piece. It was pretty big; we covered the whole house. We covered a whole side of the house! Yeah, it takes a long time. But over there, there are no people, so we can just work completely in peace, no stress.
RJG: It’s different in the city, though. You have to work at night and faster.
D: Yeah basically, if you’re going to do illegal stuff. It’s best to do it late at night.
RJG: How do you go about targeting a location?
D: Walking around the city. Getting to know the city.
RJG: So there’s a lot of cruising involved?
D: When we come to a new city, we just ask around, maybe some other artists, Where do you usually go to paint?, Where is a good area to paint? Decayed areas are always interesting because nobody cares. So, we always try to find abandoned buildings and stuff like that by just walking around getting to know the city. It’s like being a tourist, looking for spots to paint, though seeking different things than a normal tourist would. (laughter)
RJG: Does the space actually shape the narrative you are working with? Do you find the space and then come up with the “story”?
D: Yeah, it could work both ways. Like sometimes you could get some inspiration from the structure of the building, or a little hole in the wall. Maybe you could do something with that. So I try to play with the environment. But normally, I have the ideas first, and then I walk around and try to find the best place for my image. If it’s a doorframe, stuff like that.
RJG: You work with the stencil. Traditionally it seems like graffiti deals with freehand tags. Does the stencil add a layer of anonymity?
D: Layer of?
RJG: Being anonymous. Taking the hand out of the picture, taking your identity, your mark, or your fingerprint away.
D: I don’t know. I never thought about that.
RJG: It just makes me think of Warhol or something using the silk screen. By removing his hand, people wouldn’t be able to see his who he really was.
D: Okay, I’m starting to get your point. Yeah yeah. Yeah, definitely, you can hide your artistic skills, and if you don’t have any it’s good to do stencils like me! (laughter)
LANDMARK: I think the main reason for the stencil is to get the work up fast. You know, you can do a lot of preparation before you go to work in the street. So, it’s a lot faster with stencils.
RJG: Then, it’s all about being prepared and protected.
L: To paint an image like that (gestures to Dolk’s work-in-progress on the back wall) takes a long time. If you have a stencil it takes 20 seconds.
D: To me it’s so obvious, but that is the main reason why I use the stencil. To get it up fast, that’s how it started.
D: Yes it’s really practical and to do a graffiti piece takes so much longer. So, I do all the preparation first and get it up in 20 seconds like he said.
RJG: And how do you maintain a level of street cred as things become more marketable? Think of Shepherd Fairey, I mean he has a lot of stuff out there.
D: I don’t know—I haven’t really had that problem, (laughter) well, to some degree. It depends what you do, like if you just do it to market yourself, to sell stuff, I think people will notice it.
RJG: Well is that an issue with graffiti artists, something to balance?
D: It’s hard to say. I don’t really care what other people do. I just do what I feel like. I don’t know, it’s kind of a big subject to go through. I don’t know where to begin.
L: I think maybe it’s something about the amount of time it takes to get these things together. You know with all the models and the photoshoots and stuff it’s a lot of work prepping the image. So, you can’t have a job on the side. You have to focus full time on it. If you want to do it, you have to make some money off it. You can’t have a job on the side because it takes all of your focus everyday all the time.
RJG: So marketing is just a whole other reality to it.
L: Yeah, it’s a necessary side of it.
D: You can’t get away from it. Who doesn’t want to work with their hobby, with what they love and earn a living out of it as well. It’s the perfect situation, I would say, rather than working at the 7-11 and painting at nighttime. You don’t need much but as long as it goes around paying bills and stuff like that. You can always try and get better and use 100 percent of your time devoting yourself to your work. That’s what I’ve been doing for five or six years. Haven’t been earning big money or anything but still live from it.
RJG: Through the posters, and work on found objects, as “art sales?” I mean, you haven’t been doing t-shirts and mugs.
D: No, I never. I just do canvases and silk screens.
RJG: Through the “art format.”
D: Yeah, definitely.
RJG: What would you say makes graffiti graffiti? It seems like it spills into murals and pop art.
D: You mean about street art or graffiti art or all of it?
RJG: What defines your territory?
D: I would say it’s all based on graffiti. Street art started with graffiti and has just been developing into something else to get up. Instead of a tag, people started to paste up an image. So it’s just an evolution of graffiti in a way, totally different from graffiti but still coming from the same rules that you get your stuff up and just do it and do it a lot.
RJG: How do you think street art is different in the states than in Norway? It seems like Socialism has more of a voice there, or in Europe as a whole, than here. Does that effect how things are received?
L: There’s one main difference between graffiti and street art. In street art, you make the image for the people, not for yourself. Whereas with graffiti, you make it so they will see it and think, Oh he’s marked his territory here and here. In street art it’s more like you give the image to the public. You make the world beautiful in a way that doesn’t focus very much on yourself. It’s more focused on the work itself.
RJG: So would you say street art has become less local with the Internet?
D: Like one big scene? Definitely. And because of the Internet, you can paint in the North Pole and get so many people to see it.
RJG: Do graffiti on an igloo.
D: Yeah, that’s a good idea actually. But stuff like that, you can get it out to the world.
RJG: And it’s becoming more collaborative because of it?
D: Yeah. You don’t need to live in a big city to get your name up now. If you have some quality to your work, people will recognize it.
RJG: What are your plans next?
D: I’m going to travel with a friend of mine who is a photographer, a really good one. We’re going to travel around Norway, maybe Sweden as well, and go really in the middle of nowhere to paint kind of like…
RJG: Where you started.
D: Yeah, kind of where I started with POBEL, but now I want to do it in places you have to walk for days to get to, to paint on huts and TV stations on top of mountains, to get that surreal feeling when you see it. Somebody sees it and just thinks, What the hell happened here. Like the art fell down from the moon and ended up in the middle of nowhere but taking that concept further. We’re also going to Tokyo, maybe after the summer, to paint some big murals there.
Below: a slideshow of DOLK’s work and some shots of Brooklynite Gallery.
EUROTRASH is open at Brooklynite gallery until May 29.