If you’ve spent some time in New Zealand you’ll likely have feasted your eyeballs on a creation by iconic kiwi artist Dside. Romping playfully from the gigantic and unmissable, to intricate and detailed, Dside’s works have a way of simultaneously entertaining and challenging the viewer. For Dside, art isn’t just about making something that looks 👌. In his hands a spray can becomes a powerful tool to deliver some timely messages, stimulate crucial discussion, and potentially save the world as we know it…
DSM: I noticed a lot of your work is inspired by environmental issues, such as banning shark finning and raising awareness for endangered species; can you tell us a bit more about the meaning behind your art?
DSIDE: I guess a good point to start with is Tom Scott, who is a rapper from New Zealand, and an interview on the radio of his that I heard when I was a younger.
“He said that if you’ve got a voice, you better have something to say, and that’s something that I have carried with me for quite a long time.”
It may seem like a common sounding thing to say, but I heard it from him and it really stayed with me. Early on, when everything started to get big and have an impact, it became apparent that if you are working in the public space, it’s useful to say something.
“The planet is in a pretty shocking state so it needs as much attention as it can get.”
It’s communicating this and it’s telling us through issues such as climate change and the disappearance of animal species but we don’t seem to hear it, so I guess I just try to do whatever I can do, which is somehow more easily received by the public than just seeing a whole lot of dying animals. I am translating all that information into a base that people can understand.
DSM: That is very impactful stuff. I am sure once you get digging, there is a lot to translate and talk about. Are there any particular messages that speak to you personally?
DSIDE:It’s endless. The more you research, the heavier it gets. Every animal I paint, I will research, and learn about not only how awesome that animal is but also what it’s up against. It’s difficult to do because there is only limited time and you can’t do all of it. The other side of it as that if you do work that is too heavy -if you paint about issues in too staunch of a way- people just turn away from it. It’s all about balance and how you give it to someone. You can’t just throw it to them, you have to pass it to them. For example, the shark mural I was involved with a few years ago addresses quite a heavy topic but it is presented in a way that is easily digestible. They can attach to it in whatever way they choose, which also allows for the individual perspective, and if they take away the message of anti-shark finning then that is awesome.
“You have to really figure out how to translate that information, because people can just shut off completely if they feel attacked.”
That is sort of what I have realised I have been doing, is translating those situations. Extincted was a finely tuned version of that, it is something that I have been thinking about for a really long time.
DSM: At the end of your Extincted exhibition, all your works were painted over in the view of everyone who was attending; that was incredible powerful. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, from the artist’s perspective?
DSIDE: That was the whole point of the show. The people that painted over it found out only a few hours before. I was actually only there for a little bit, and I left early. I didn’t want to be there when everything was painted over.
“I didn’t want people to ask me what’s going on, or be seeking clarification from me, I wanted it to be something that they processed themselves.”
If they saw it happening and then saw me giving a thumbs up, then they may not have thought much of it, but if I wasn’t there then they would have to think for themselves.
DSM: Is there a particular way that you want your artwork to be understood?
DSIDE: No I don’t have a specific way that I want people to understand what I do. It can be understood on many levels, it doesn’t even have to be understood. In some ways it is just different colours on walls, it can be ignored pretty easily. People can take it how they want to really, just like advertising.
“The reaction of people doesn’t need to come back to me, that’s not what my art is for. It’s meant to create discussion.”
One of the really cool things that doesn’t exist in Wellington anymore is a rotating spot, like Left Bank used to be. Everyone famous who came to Wellington would come paint there, it was awesome. It’s been fenced off now. Back when I started painting there was no social media, and that was where you would go, to see what was going on, to see who was in town.
DSM: When did you first pick up a spray can? For me it was Year 9 Tech class, where they didn’t trust us with the spray gun.
DSIDE: Probably when I was still a kid, but for street art purposes, probably would have been in about 6th or 7th form, just doing stencils. Where I grew up is a pretty small town so at the time I didn’t even know you had to have a name.
DSM: Is that where the name Dside came from?
DSIDE: Actually no, it’s a more recent thing. A couple of years ago I had an opportunity to sort of rebrand and restart, and I had the chance to think of a new name. Having an artist name is important that’s not my personal name, as then it comes too much about me. People always want to know about people. A lot of people won’t ask you about the artwork or the message behind it, instead it’s about you.
DSM: I have seen you described as a ‘nomadic artist’; would you describe yourself as that personally?
DSIDE: I think that term is saturated and has lost what it is. It is quite a powerful word and it means a lot of things. Once, all people were nomads. It is basically about being in tune with your environment, and responding to resources while being as friendly to the environment as you can be.
“In some ways I guess street art is nomadic because you are reacting to your environment, you aren’t building a wall to paint on.”
You have to chase your resources, so I have to chase walls in a sense, and then go to where they are, and in that sense I can’t really in based in one place.
DSM: Would you say that society is becoming more and more detached?
DSIDE: Absolutely, using more technology has certainly helped detach us and also to discourage us from helping people.
“I think these days we have become more detached and I think what are lot of people are becoming more of aware of now is trying to become reattached.”
DSM: It comes across very clearly that you are passionate about what you are doing, which at DSM we love and admire. Do you have any advice for people who are wanting to take the plunge?
DSIDE: Do it.
DSM: What’s to lose right?
DSIDE: Actually there is a lot to lose. Personally there are a whole lot of things in my life that I have given up.
“Sometimes it can be hard to maintain a passion that takes everything you have got, and doesn’t always give back, but when you start out you always have a lot to learn.”
Sometimes you have to learn how unforgiving things are, and that you can’t guarantee how everything is,
“In a general sense, regardless of what your passion is, you just gotta do it.”
If you don’t do it, it’s not gonna happen, but you have to prioritise. If that thing you want to do is important, you will become self aware of all the shit that is getting in the way, and you can try to clarify what means more to you. Doubt; you are never going to get rid of it. You have to become friends with it, and realise that when it shows up, it’s gonna show up when you least want it, but it will also go. You just have to figure out ways to get past it. But everyone goes through it; if you listen to any artist, any rapper, that is what they are talking about too,
DSM: How is your relationship with being an ‘artist’; did it come naturally to you?
DSIDE: I resisted it. I never really used that term, I don’t like it, until I was in an airplane one day and I had to write what I did. I realised I wasn’t sure what to put, but I guess I had to put that. I didn’t really know what else I had been doing for so long. I don’t think I have to spend much time labelling or describing myself. I don’t have to, but others can do as they want.
DSM: How have you gone about the concept of anonymity with regards to being an artist? Do you actively try to separate the artwork from the artist?
DSIDE: With Extincted I sort of had to question whether staying anonymous was more important than talking about the subject, and I found that it wasn’t. It also removed the question as to why I was doing the artwork but staying secretive. I have had some media experiences where they focused on that, so with Extincted I removed that from the equation so that it was more focussed on what the exhibition was about.
DSM: Some of your artwork is on an enormous scale. From someone who can’t even keep a drawing to scale inside an A4 piece of paper, I was wondering how on earth you manage to do that?
DSIDE: That is a question that I have had quite a lot over the years, and I don’t really have a generic answer to it, but I guess it’s just happens.
“It is a skill that has developed over the years and the style of work that I do, mistakes are welcome. A lot of work I do, it doesn’t have to be perfect and that is because I started in the streets, where I had to be fast so I couldn’t spend too much time getting it right.”
I don’t use things like projectors to get everything perfect, I don’t support that. So I guess my work just organically grew into these sort of artworks. With street art, when you are in the process of making your artwork, you are in the public realm, there is no privacy. Not just the artwork is completely public but the process is too. These days if I want to paint a wall, sometimes I have to get Council permission to use the footpath. It’s more difficult than it used to be. You have to do a lot of work just to get it to the wall.
DSM: Do you have any favourite artworks of yours?
DSIDE: Usually the one I have just finished. That’s the one I have just put work and effort into. And I guess in regards to that, once its finished I don’t really see it as mine. It’s in the public space, I’m usually just a visitor to the place where I have put it.
DSM: Have any other artists or activists particularly inspired you?
DSIDE: Not really.
“I think if you focus on other people too much, you can pick up their traits or their behaviour. It can be great if these are good behaviours, but in reality you don’t need to copy anyone, you can just be you and that’s good enough.”
Find Dside on fb and insta and the website, all of which are on a lil hiatus as the debate rages as to the merits of this digital life! Best place to check Dside out is on walls, all around Welington NZ and beyond!