Yesterday, I went to the Ben Oakley Gallery in Greenwich, to see the last day of artist DRB’s exhibition Firestarter – basically matchboxes custom-made by DRB.
But we are not talking normal matchboxes here, we are talking Art.
Some of DRB’s matchboxes are now in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection in London. The boxes are being displayed at a gallery in Hong Kong in about a week and DRB has a duck with hands for ears which is in Boston in the US at a liquid arts venue.
“When I trained as a printmaker,” DRB told me, “there were no computers – well, there WERE but they weren’t on my radar – and then, just as I graduated, computers basically made me redundant. All of my printmaking skills were irrelevant and I had to learn how to use computers.”
“And you do now?” I asked.
“Yeah. All of my creative career has been computers, so I’ve done websites, videos and all that. I had a creative career but, twenty years later, I’m doing printmaking again.”
“Though the world is different…” I prompted.
“I trained to be a gallery artist,” DRB said. “I expected to be represented by a gallery and paid by a gallery. Whereas now a lot of my friends are street artists. They essentially represent themselves – on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – and they don’t even show in galleries because their work is selling before it even hits a wall. Whereas I’m still a gallery artist. I do put things on the streets but, essentially, I think of whole shows whereas those guys will do just one piece and it sells before it hits the wall.”
“How does that street art thing work?” I asked.
“They have maybe 20,000 followers online,” explained DRB. “They have huge followings. They’re like rock stars compared to traditional painters. What they’re doing is they record every stage of the journey – their ideas, their sketches, their preliminary, everything – and people engage them on their social media.”
“So,” I asked, “I say I’m going to paint a giraffe on a wall next week and someone buys it before it hits the wall?”
“No,” explained DRB. “They call themselves street artists in the sense that they put something on the street first. So, if they make something, it has to go on the street first – that’s their own rule – and then they’ll make a print edition of it and sell it to people who liked it on the wall.”
“Do you do street art?” I asked.
“I put things on the street,” DRB replied, “but that’s just me being playful. I’m not really a street artist, I’m a gallery artist.
“I did study fine art, so I was a gallery artist for about four years, I had a residency in Norway for a year and there’s work of mine in Australia all up the west coast. I painted walls there when I was in my twenties in the 1990s and they’re still touching them up. Not graffiti. More like murals… They don’t know who I am.”
“So they maintain your artworks, but they don’t know you originated them?” I asked.
“There’s a town – Carnarvon in Western Australia,” said DRB, “where there’s a 20 foot wall with a mural. I was in the papers for that. I got run out of town by the police. I was about 20. I’ve had a creative career but, in terms of recognition it’s been this last year. I had my first solo show in Hoxton last summer and I’ve had about 20 shows since then.”
“Are DRB the initials of your real name?” I asked.
“No. It stands for Dirty Rotten Bleeder…It’s a play on words with the printing term ‘bleeding’ – printing that goes over the edge of another image or the edge of the displayed area. I call myself Dirty Rotten Bleeder like I could call myself a Messy Print Maker.”
“Have you got a website?” I asked.
“I’m making one,” said DRB. “I find it hard to write. I have a blog, but what I tend to do is get really wrapped up in paradoxes and all of that and it doesn’t read in a way I would want someone to read it. “
“But you said you know how to design websites,” I said.
“Well” replied DRB, “there’s a difference between designing the look of something and populating it with content – actually putting words in there. And it’s harder to write words about yourself; I could probably write something about somebody else.”
“Tell me about it,” I said.