While we were out in the States, Canadian artist Denial was recently over the border in Detroit for his part in the 1xRun ‘Murals in the Market’ project. We caught up with him there and skipped back over the border to check out his studio in Windsor, just across the water from the Motor City. Currently he shares his artist’s playground of a studio with the director of Australian print company Stupid Krap, Ben Frost, when he’s in the country.
In his own words, Denial takes us on a photo tour through his studio and neighbourhood…
These two pieces are part of a project I started in 2012 called “Free For All Walls” which is the largest public art project of its kind in South West Ontario, Canada. The project intends to bring artists from around the world to beautify and re-invigorate public walls around Windsor, a community much like Detroit, hit hard by the economic downturn. The partially government funded program has been a huge success in supporting the local community and promoting the value of street-art and graffiti in contemporary society.
Invited artists who have painted murals include: Nychos (Austria), Bask (USA), Omen (Canada), Ben Frost (Australia), Nosego (USA), Persue (USA), Rime (USA), Above (USA), Elicser (Canada), High 5 (Canada), Nekoes (USA), Labrona (Canada), Athena (Canada), Kwest (Canada), Spud (Canada), Earthcrusher (Canada) , Czr Prz (USA), Chou (Canada), Uber5000 (Canada), Anthony Lister (Australia), JUSTONE (Dubai) and XRAY (Canada). The project intends to continue into 2015 assuming our fund raising efforts keep going as planned.
I really feel that art and more specifically public art has the power to act as a catalyst for real tangible lasting change in society. Not only can it inspire people but can also transform blight into more useful areas.
Ben Frost / Denial Note
Ben Frost and I met in 2012 at a show I had in Toronto, Canada, at an exhibition called “This is Not The Art You Are Looking For”. I knew of Ben’s work and shortly after hung out a few times. We quickly realized that we held similar values and traits within our very similar artworks. After a few successful collaborative projects Ben and I did a two man exhibition in Detroit called “Company of Thieves”. The show was a huge success and sold out. We continue to work on projects together such as Stupidkrap.com
The note in the picture scrawled on my studio wall is an example of one of our drunken, late night, often heated discussions about contemporary and modern art. We were essentially trying to distinguish the elements that our work in the future should possess. Having thought about the next generation of viewers and the different inherent qualities they may find sublime having grown up surrounded my technology, internet and globalization amongst other things.
I find Ben to be an interesting person to work with because he constantly challenges me and asks me the hard questions about why I am doing certain things in my own works as well as our collaborative projects. I look forward to running stupidkrap.com and collaborating with him for a long time.
I grew up in Windsor, a city of 250,000 across the river from Detroit. It was like another neighborhood in my city for my whole life and I’d go over the border a few times a week to check out music, art and everything else. It is still a huge part of my life. Long story short, in 2005 the Canadian government shared all of the criminal records of Canadians (myself included) with the Homeland Security in the USA. I was subsequently banned from crossing over into the USA, five minutes from my studio! I had to come up with a way to continue exhibiting and showing my work in the United States until I got the proper paperwork to cross the border while having a criminal record. I built a cutout of myself and employed my friends to bring it over to my exhibitions there. They would hook up the monitor and a webcam, speakers and a microphone and I could then essentially interact with people and be at my shows. It worked for a few years then I received my ‘waiver’, so now I can once again go to the States. 9/11 really messed up the border – you used to be able to cross without any picture ID up until then!
This is another piece for the project I co-ordinate. In 2014 Anthony Lister came to Detroit to work with Inner State Gallery and came over for the day to my studio and to paint. I enjoy making introductions and putting artists in contact with other artists or galleries. I have been afforded the same opportunities and I like to return the favour. I introduced Ben Frost to the scene in Detroit and subsequently Lister was introduced via Ben. I think Detroit is a very important city in the story of graffiti and street art and many artists are heeding the call to come to the city and experience it. It’s a place where you can do almost anything you really want to, the only limit is your own imagination or ambition. Windsor is the same in many regards.
Middle America Finger
I have been designing and integrating laser cut, etched and contoured pieces into my artwork for around a decade now. Windsor and Detroit are hubs for automation and the infrastructure lends itself to cheap and affordable machine shops. I have tried consciously to incorporate these aspects of my surroundings into my works.
I feel like I have a unique perspective on American culture, being situated just across a river from one of the biggest cities in America, at least geographically. I don’t dare to put myself in the same light as Marshall McLuhan but I cannot help but feel an affinity to his perspectives on his media theories, specifically on advertising and television. Also as a Canadian making social commentary on American culture.
I have been afforded the luxury of owning my own studio in Windsor, Canada. I believe it was my due to a lot of the economic turmoil that happened around this area and with the decline of the auto industry and the implosion of the American housing market bubble. This created a lot of opportunities for artists, musicians and entrepreneurs in the area to buy properties they might not otherwise be able to afford. I mean, I own a $400,000 building for ¼ of that. I have worked from this space for almost 8 years now, having had my studio across the street for 5 years beforehand. One day I simply thought ‘hey I should just find the owner of that empty building and see if he wants to make a deal to sell it.’
This piece was initially created with the intention of permanently installing it outside the Toronto Stock Exchange. Call me naïve, but the security was too tight and we simply got some photos of it and then got kicked out. The original version was loaded with a stack of fake cash as bait. As I said earlier, this area has had a lot of trouble in the job market and economy and with that comes desperate people. The piece hung in my storefront for a few years until recently when some junky or desperado smashed out my window and stole the fake cash, lol. It’s not all great here for a lot of people, but I can’t help but wonder ‘if you think the fake money is real, why the fuck don’t you think the giant mouse trap isn’t!?’
A few years back RIME came through town to visit with a mutual friend and he was kind enough to kick it and paint in the alley behind my studio. It was pretty rad picking his brain and I definitely picked up a couple tricks from him. Nice guy, crazy as fuck… lol.
I do a lot of t-shirt screen printing at my studio, I usually design and produce about 10-15 new shirt runs every year, nothing too crazy. A lot of my artwork translates pretty easy to the t-shirt format due to my process being so graphical. We did this MISFITS rip a few years ago and put it out there and people loved it. Just to clarify though, I aint retiring off these t-shirt sales, haha, but we sold enough to get the attention of the MISFITS lawyers. They sent us a cease and desist order. We subsequently told them to blow it out their asses and made a new shirt with the cease and desist order on it instead. I mean, they are like punk rock gods, I thought if anyone would get a kick out of it that they would. I guess Zumiez needs to sell more of them or some shit.
Toronto Graffiti Panel
Two years ago you may have heard of Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford. He was crazy as fuck and tried to white wash the entire city of graffiti as well as city funded and 100% legal murals. It was getting out of control and luckily didn’t go that far. He, in turn, created a panel of bureaucrats to give their seal of approval on whether or not something in the landscape of the city was art or graffiti. In turn we created a logo for this panel and proceeded to simply mark everything we could with the seal of approval. Whether it made any difference, I don’t know, but I truly believe that people can use art to shed light on problems that are swept under the rug. Rob Ford is not mayor anymore, thank God.