Monday, August 1, 2011

Dabs Myla's "The Best of Times"

Unless you missed the profile I ran about the amazing Dabs Myla a few weeks ago, you need no introduction to their playful graffiti wonderland. As promised, the two of them sat down and answered a few questions for me about their view on the world and their upcoming show, "The Best of Times," which opens at Thinkspace on August 13th.

Erratic Phenomena: Dabs, you grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Tell me a bit about what you most liked to do when you were a kid. Were you a risk-taker, or a schemer? Did you like building things, or destroying them? What did you like to draw?

Dabs: As a young kid, I was really interested in drawing, I used to spend a lot of my time watching old cartoons and trying to re-draw the characters. Cartoons really appealed to me, and my uncle was pretty deep into illustration, comic art and animation. I could go to his house and he had a massive catalog of different cartoons on VHS and a really big library of animation, illustration and art books — from Disney and Warner Bros. through to old Tex Avery.

As I got a bit older though, towards the end of primary school, I started to find myself with an appetite for things other than drawing and cartoons. By the time I was 13, I had pretty much stopped drawing, I had no interest in art. I had kind of made a conscious decision to start looking for trouble. I couldn't wait to start high school (which I think in America is the equivalent of junior high) and find some other kids to cause trouble with. I was definitely more of a schemer than a risk-taker. I was totally a shifty little bastard, and much more interested in destroying things than building things. I never really had any interest in building shit, I hated stuff like that.

EP: Myla, while Dabs was running around looking for trouble, you were growing up nearby in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. What was your life like as a girl? When did you realize you wanted to be an artist when you grew up?

Myla: Melbourne is a very spread-out city, and I grew up on the opposite side of it as Dabs, in a suburb called Diamond Creek. I went to a state girls' school in Preston, which was pretty far from where I lived. I had a great time going to school, even though I was pretty dumb and never really got great grades or anything, I just liked hanging out with my friends when I was there. I was always kinda girly and loved drawing, my friends, music and boys! Ever since I was a young kid, my Mum always encouraged me to make things and to draw — I'm so happy she did! But I think some of this encouragement came from the fact that we were pretty poor and creating things at home didn't cost a thing.

I never really thought it would be possible to make a career out of art — I guess that comes from a whole society of people thinking that artists are slack and broke and an artist making a living from what they do is impossible. But I have considered myself as an artist since I was about 15.

EP: Dabs, you started painting letters in 1995, when you were just a kid. Four years later, you were invited to join one of Melbourne's most respected crews, SDM (Size Does Matter/Sleep Deprived Maniacs). Tell me about the course of your evolution, who you learned the most from and what lessons were important to making you the writer you are today.

Dabs: A few years into high school, when I was about 14, I started hanging out with some kids a few years older than me, who were all bombing pretty hard at the time — DEA and PMM crew, a pretty infamous bombing crew around the eastern suburbs in the early '90s. Real nasty little turds. I wasn't very familiar with graff at that time, had never really paid too much attention to it. But because these guys were all doing it, I started to learn, and from there started bombing myself, and then worked my way towards piecing and learning about letters.

As I got more serious about graff and was developing a little bit as a style writer, I started painting with a friend of mine who was a bit older and had been piecing for a few years already. He wrote METHOD and was a big inspiration to me. He was already far ahead of me, and was really pushing himself as a writer. He took me out and showed me a lot about painting and the scene. It was through METHOD that I met some of the other members of SDMDSCREET, TRIM and JUMBLE, who were all doing some really amazing stuff at the time. They were all really motivated, had good attitudes and were really pushing new styles. All those guys really made me up my game, get off my ass and paint more and experiment with my style.

EP: Myla, after high school you started traveling — around the coast of Australia, through Europe for six months, and through Asia for eight months. There, you became inspired by the cluttered cityscapes which eventually found their way into your work as photorealistic architectural renderings. Could you tell me about your favorite places, or your most interesting adventures?

Myla: I really loved visiting Nepal and India. They are the amazing and beautiful places which seemed to enter my mind the most. When I was in Nepal, I trekked in the Himalayas, staying in tiny villages along the way. I loved Kathmandu, the temples, the tea and of course the Nepalese people! I loved the chaoticness and strangeness of Nepal and India — how different the lifestyle is for the people that inhabit these countries, compared to how I was brought up and how Australians live. I would love to go back and visit these places again.

EP: It seems to me that a lot of graffiti artists go through a phase where they aspire to become architects. Did either of you ever feel that impulse?

Dabs: No way. I suck hard at using rulers, angles and all those drawing implements! I would make the world's worst architect!

"Best of Times" installation pieces via Juxtapoz

EP: Dabs, you've said that as a kid, you weren't very focused on education — you were only interested in what you could accomplish with a spray can. Before you went to art school, you had never sent an e-mail or even used a paint brush. Was there a catalyst that convinced you to go to art school?

Dabs: It's true, I was a total dropout at school, and pretty much always failed all my art classes. I guess it just wasn't the right time for me to focus on it. But the deeper I got into graffiti, the more I became interested in drawing, and I started falling back in love with cartoons and illustration. The main reason I ended up returning to art school to study was to just try and improve my graffiti. I had been painting walls for a good amount of time by this point, and although I had improved a lot from my beginnings, I definitely wasn't getting to the point I wanted to be style-wise, so thought maybe I might need to actually go to school and learn about design and whatnot.

But as I went through school, I started to care less about graffiti, and really started to fall in love with painting with a brush. Now, being a fine artist is probably more important to me than painting in the street. We had a few really amazing teachers, but the most important things I learned while studying were color theory, rendering, medium techniques and learning how to use a computer! I was mad computer illiterate before that, I don't think I had even been on the internet before! Now, I can't even go a day without it!

EP: Myla, you began learning to paint graffiti from Dabs when you were 25. Since you got such a late start in graffiti, you were forced to improve your technique incredibly rapidly to overcome the humiliation of painting clumsily alongside such seasoned writers. What were the most important lessons you learned along the way?

Myla: Only over the last year have I felt more comfortable with painting, and I know I have a long way to go before I am truly happy with how I paint graffiti. In the very beginning, I would feel so frustrated at not having any can control at all. I had been painting with a brush for many years before this, and felt like I had control with a brush — and then to not have any control with a spray can felt really weird and annoying! It was also embarrassing, painting on walls with guys that had been painting for ten years or more. I just always tried to improve my can control and letters with every piece I did. I'd always listen and ask for advice whenever I felt confused or stuck with how things were going with my pieces. This past year or so, I feel like I have taken all the advice from Dabs and the other writers who have helped and inspired me over the years, so when I feel confused I have a whole bunch of great advice in my mind which I can draw from.

EP: Each city has its own history and style of graffiti. Writers are forever identified with a particular region of the urban landscape, even if they eventually leave their neighborhood and seek fame around the world. How would you characterize the style and flavor of Melbourne graffiti, specifically?

Dabs: Well... when I was growing up, I feel that there was a definite 'MELBOURNE STYLE.' It's hard to explain it, but I guess it had come from the small amount of influences that were available to us. Like everywhere in the world, all styles start from a seed that is the early New York styles via Subway Art, etc., and from there they grew into something new. I feel that Melbourne definitely had that. But once the internet landed, this has become less and less the case, all over the world. Now every writer everywhere has so much to be influenced by, so it really changes things. In a way, it's kind of a shame that this has been lost. For the first five years I was into graff, I only had a few reference points to work with. So it gave me space to work at the basics of graffiti and then start to experiment with my own style after that. For writers coming up now, I imagine it would be hard. You have seen so much from everyone, you could be left with too many styles swimming inside your head. I imagine that could make it hard to find your own voice.

EP: Graffiti-inspired art often loses its luster and energy when isolated on a white wall. One of your trademarks is the way your installations engulf and transform the gallery space. Aside from using brushes instead of spraycans, what are the differences in your approach to an indoor installation, as opposed to a wall on the street? Does it sting a bit to know that your painstakingly rendered environments will be painted over in just a few weeks, to bring in the next show?

Dabs & Myla: We like that the exhibition and installation is only up for a brief time. It feels amazing to know that you are creating something that can only be viewed for a few weeks! Preparing for our installations is one of the most exciting times of the exhibition for us. It's when we can draw on all our ideas that we have been having whilst making the paintings for the show, and grow it into an engulfing installation to hold the work. We view the installations a little like a wall in some ways, with them both being semi-permanent — but creating an installation inside is much different from painting a wall. For the last couple of exhibitions, we have been creating parts of the installation inside our studio to bring them into the gallery, as well as painting on the walls. The whole exhibition space is carefully planned out weeks before the installation is put together in the gallery. So far, we have never planned a wall out as much as we have planned for an installation inside, but maybe in the future things will change and we could start using the inspiration of the installation pieces on outside walls.

EP: You guys are known for your ferocious work ethic, which you attribute in the fact that your work is what you most love to do, and you love to do it together every day. What advice could you give to other creative partners on how to collaborate harmoniously?

Dabs & Myla: I think it works so well for us for a few reasons. I think a big part of it is because of the absolute trust and respect that we have for each other. It would be really hard to collaborate with someone that you don't have a trust in their abilities. Also, the fact that we are both really easygoing people. We never push each other too far! There has never been a fight between us about our work — actually, there has never been a fight between us, period! Which is pretty crazy, but it's just the kind of people we are.

EP: In most of your paintings, you include yourselves among the characters in the narrative, which is usually set in a place you've recently visited. Though the stories seem to be pretty cute on the surface, they almost always have a darker layer, underneath. Do you both find yourselves constantly being struck with ideas for new paintings, or does it take sitting down together and hashing it out to come up with a new concept?

Dabs & Myla: A lot of the time we will be sitting there working, or out running errands or whatever, and one of us will have an idea for a painting. We will sketch out a quick thumbnail for it and stick it to the wall so we don't forget it. When it comes time to start that painting, we will sit together and refine it, adding extra ideas that have built off the original idea until it's ready.

EP: Though you are both pretty sparing eaters, you love food and feature it in many of your paintings. Tell me a bit about the roots of your love affair with food. Where in the world do they have the best food, do you think? What foods are the most fun to paint, and why?

Dabs & Myla: We both love food, and both get pretty excited about food! It may seem like we eat sparingly, but we eat a lot throughout the day. Because we are in the studio working pretty much all the time, and the kitchen is right next to the studio, we graze all throughout the day. We love so many foods, so we prefer to eat little bits of lots of foods, rather than a few big meals.

"Unicorn Thrill on Hotdog Hill"

It's hard to say where the best food is, but Los Angeles would most definitely be in the running for the winner! It's amazing how much great food there is here, and how many great places there are to find! We LOVE donuts! I think that the best donuts we have ever had have been in San Francisco and Japan. There is something about the donuts in both these places that's just got it going on! Always fluffy, and great selections!

"Best of Times" installation pieces via Juxtapoz

We love to paint donuts. This came from the love of the donut. They are just always on our minds, so it makes sense to paint them. In this new series of work, there are a lot of donuts and hot dogs. But this is more in relation to representing MALE and FEMALE... get it?

EP: Lately, your walls have taken on a bit of a ribald tone, with lots of blushing boobs and perky penises. Could you tell me why you're feeling so frisky at the moment?

Dabs & Myla: We are just trying to use dicks and boobs in our artwork to try and slowly ease the public into it, so that when we self-leak our own sex tape when we get mad famous, it won't be such a shock!

EP: If you could come across any writer in the world piecing next to you on a wall, who would you want it to be?

Dabs: Seen.

Myla: Askem. He's one of our bestest friends, and we always have SO much fun when he is around. If he was painting next to us, it would probably mean that he's here on vacation, or we are in Melbourne painting with him, and thats pretty awesome!

Dabs: Now I feel like a dick for saying Seen. Scratch that — changing my answer to Askem, too!

EP: Are there some underappreciated writers who you wish would get more attention? Why do you think their work deserves a second look?

Dabs & Myla: SURGE MDR from San Diego. He has been around for ages and has a really fresh and unique style. DVATE from Melbourne, Australia is one the best graffiti writers in Melbourne. He gets mad props in his city, but deserves the attention of the whole world! Super talented and one of the most dedicated and hard-working writers out there! He lives, eats and sleeps spraypaint.

"Best of Times" installation pieces via Juxtapoz

EP: Tell me what we can look forward to at your upcoming Thinkspace exhibition, "The Best Of Times," which opens on Saturday, August 13th.

Dabs & Myla: Our hopes for the "Best of Times" exhibition is that it will be an in-depth look at how we have experienced and viewed the past two and a half years living in California together. The installation we are creating in the gallery, as well as all the paintings we have made, will hopefully make people feel like they are stepping into the world and imagination of Dabs and Myla.

Dabs Myla painting at Primary Flight Miami 2009 via Fecal Face

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