Essex-born street artist Dan Kitchener (DANK) caught my eye a year or so ago with ‘Euphoria’ on Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch.
I was impressed by his use of light and colour, and how realistic his work was; it captured the essence of city living, the busy-ness of commuting. I got in touch with Dan to talk about his work and to hear what inspires him...
How long have you been a practicing artist?
From an early age all I did was draw, draw and draw some more! I was actively encouraged by my mother to go out and draw in the woods, fields, streets and cities, to really observe my surroundings and draw. This gave me a passion for art in all its forms and an understanding of basics like form, composition, lighting and colour. It’s vital in my opinion for an artist to be able to draw and sketch - this forms the basis of all of my work, no matter what the final medium is. Drawing is a visual language, a way of expressing ideas. I’m never without my sketch book! I went through formal art education, GCSE, A Level, Diploma Foundation and then onto a Degree in Fine Art / Illustration. I’ve been doing art my whole life - so 41 years - and I have been professionally creative for around 17 of those.
I read that you painted your 6th form common room when you were at school – how did that come about? Did you always know that you’d come back to large scale mural work later in life?
Yes I did. I was really into Dadaism, Surrealists, Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte, Joan Miro, landscape painting with bleak, ghostly forms and moods, I guess it tied in with teenage feelings and emotions at the time! I was always known as ‘the artist’ at school, and I remember approaching my art teacher, who was a fatalistic influence on me, and asking if I could paint a mural, and it kind of all started from there. There was something that defiantly clicked with me when doing it, I loved the scale, but i also loved the drama and the impact, the theatre the piece gave, it was a maybe 25ft x 12ft desert landscape with melting clocks, and other abstract forms, quite colourful.
I loved doing it…I guess it germinated the seed of mural painting that I was destined to come back to in later life! I did paint other murals in my early years, notably on friends’ bedroom walls, I guess I was getting myself into murals and large scale works without neccesarily realising it.
The way you portray light in your work is something that always draws me in and creates a big impact – was this a conscious decision or did this technique evolve naturally as part of your style?
Of course everything I do now is from a constant evolution in my work, my techniques and my ideas. There’s never a conscious decision to go and paint this style, t’is all a journey, and it evolves and develops naturally. I become drawn to certain areas, which I explore through personal work or murals and commissions, these then allow me to open new areas to explore. It’s like a series of constantly opening doors, exploring one leads to further passages and doors, and choices. There’s no set path, which allows freedom and flexibility. I have always worked like this, not forcing myself into one area, but allowing my imagination and inquisitive visual nature to explore different fields. I think an overall feeling in my work for me is drama, energy, passion, electricity and theatre. Lighting allows all of these emotions to be conveyed so it’s a necessary tool to express the atmospheres I am trying to convey to the audience. I don't like static art, dead or lifeless, I like to inject a sense of life in my work, I think this is what engages people the most. My street pieces are so physical a process, I literally dance around the wall, moving constantly from one extreme corner to another, almost running and jumping, arms sweeping in giant arcs, creating all sorts of marks and textures. This physical process almost transmits the energy from me onto the wall, giving a loose and energetic flow to my painting. This is vital to what I do; the art then becomes a true expression from me and not a series of static, stale images, simply copied to a wall or large surface.
I literally dance around the wall, moving constantly from one extreme corner to another, almost running and jumping, arms sweeping in giant arcs, creating all sorts of marks and textures.
It is spray paint. To be honest, the medium isn't important, it’s more the approach, I use spray paint largely as it allows me to frantically paint. This is the nature of my work, I speed sketch, I draw and paint quickly, I digitally paint quickly. I like to capture an essence and not labour or overwork, it’s all about transmitting the spark of inspiration, the excited adrenaline of the piece…spray paint covers the space so quickly and allows for some beautiful effects it’s such a great medium for me. It’s a shame others don't seem to pick up the can for street art, and instead favour the brush, or mediums that don't quite allows such spontaneous expression!
How long does an average mural take you to complete?
Hard to say, 1 day to 4/5 days! It really depends on what, where, how easily accessible space is!
You seem to have a number of strings to your bow - digital painting, stop frame animation, music videos, AV displays, video games, commercials, graphic novels, graffiti, the list is endless! Is there one particular area in which you prefer working? Do you find it hard to balance the different skills or do you find they all inextricably linked and allow for greater experimentation across mediums?
All the skills I have are self-taught and I think that is important. When I left University Apple Macs were relatively new, and the technology that exists now was in its infancy. I taught myself animation, stop frame, and how to really create effects in animation. I used to pause computer games when I was a kid, and copy down frames of animation to see how they animated their pixelated characters!
The desire to investigate and my passion to learn inspired me to master as many mediums as possible. They all then form this huge melting pot of techniques and approaches, which means I can think about a project from so many angles and different ideas can arise. If you have the knowledge base you can tap into it, whereas limiting yourself to only drawing is more restrictive. For example I used a lot of 3D animation software in my TV and film work, and this gives me a grounding and understanding of lighting and dynamic camera angles. In my mind I learnt how to view things from numerous angles and pick out lighting that achieves the desired effect – I can now translate this to a painting. Every medium and technique just adds to the visual arsenal of creative weaponry I can call upon.
It’s safe to say your work is quite varied. I read that some influences in your work stem from childhood e.g. comics/gaming influences, and it’s also visibly influenced by Tokyo. What else inspires your work?
Tokyo is my favourite city, I’m lucky to have been there twice, and also just recently to Hong Kong which I loved! I travel alot and this influences my work. I have been fortunate to be able to travel and paint in numerous places and this cross-pollution of work is something I love; bringing different cityscape paintings to different parts of the world, such as a London street scene on a Hong Kong roof top! I have been to Peru, the Amazon, Costa Rica, New York, Osaka, all over Europe, Kenya, Tanzania, so many places. I draw inspiration from everything, even just a rainy drive home after painting in London, I can get inspired by the rain on the window and the car brake lights, it’s a question of looking and seeing. Inspiration is everywhere, in so many places. As a modern landscape painter I am lucky as my influences are literally the world all around, all the time!
Which artists have influenced your practise?
That’s hard to say, I studied Art History and love reading art books, it’s always good to be able to see the work of others. So many artists have influenced me from comic book artists in my youth, to Renaissance painters, Impressionists, Turner, George Martin, Paul Delavaux, more modern paints such as Ashley Wood, James Jean…it’s endless!
How does it feel seeing your work as large scale murals, as part of the streetscape? Which is your biggest ever piece?
I love it, it gives me a huge sense of joy and satisfaction. I have painted a 22m high piece in Birmingham, on the Custard Factory, this is my highest. My piece on East Street in Bristol is my largest overall, maybe 80ft wide by 40ft.
If you could pick anywhere in the world to create a large scale street art piece, where would it be?
Tokyo / Hong Kong / Brazil / New York / Paris...most places!
What are you working on next?
So many things, a solo show in March (31st-April 6th) at 5th Base Gallery, just off Brick Lane. This is exciting as it’s about my unseen Geisha portraiture - I work with some fantastic Japanese Geisha models and create some amazing images from these shoots. Brick Lane is the site of my first ever Geisha, years back, so with this exhibition the Geisha has come home to East London! I also have some major walls coming up to paint, and some great commissions abroad, and a number of shows and live painting events all over the UK for summer and beyond, as well as commissioned canvases and also running a marathon every month!