Read our exclusive Dolan Stearns interview by Jono Coote conducted during Dolan’s travelling art show. Last Saturday saw Brixton‘s ‘Public Service Announcement’ taking place in the heart of Shoreditch, an exhibition featuring work from Brixton representatives Dolan Stearns and Brian Delatorre alongside London resident and illustrator Guarab Thakali. Alongside the range of visual stimuli on display – Guarab and Dolan’s illustration work and Brian’s photography offering up a variety of aesthetic inspiration to those of a creative bent – there was also a range of alcoholic stimuli on display behind the bar, with plenty of choice for the discerning drinker just visible through a heaving mob of skateboarders determined to make their Sunday session that little bit harder.
I include this seemingly irrelevant titbit mostly to set the scene for there being only one interview from the night, with Dolan, rather than two or even three. Things were already getting blurry by this point and they were only going to get blurrier; luckily I was still holding it together enough to sit down with Dolan in a corner of the smoking area to discuss tattooing, fag packets, skinhead reggae and the similarities between necks and ballbags, amongst other things…
Words and interview by Jono Coote. Dolan in front of his work at Brixton’s ‘Public Service Announcement’
The Brixton Public Service Announcement show is a few legs deep now – how did the idea of doing a travelling art show come about? Where have you visited so far?
It came about with Brixton hitting me up to do art shows overseas – who’s going to say no to that?! It’s been fun so far, people getting to see my art in person; good vibes, free alcohol, no complaints there.
Which came first for you, skating or art?
I think artwork came first, learning how to draw in elementary school; then I started skating when I was six and it all kind of just fell into one.
Who are some of your major influences when it comes to drawing?
Oh man, there’s a lot. None really come to mind really fast, but any good illustration works, painting, abstract stuff…just visual things really.
Outside of visual things, what gets you hyped to draw?
Boredom…but I’m always drawing. If I go get a beer somewhere I’ll always have a little piece of paper or something to draw on. I’ve just always done it, I can’t not draw. It doesn’t matter what it is. Sometimes I’ll try to draw and nothing will happen, but I still have fun – it uses up some energy, just like skating.
It seems as if you often experiment with drawing on different surfaces – cigarette packets etc – how does this playing with textures inspire you?
Well with cigarette packets, I just notice them everywhere. I picked one up one day to scribble on and draw a face and that was it. I like the plastic covering the front, framing the faces I draw. It’s just trash, I find beauty in trash – drawing on it, painting on it, turning it into art.
And I guess you’ve already got the original artwork on there to kind of riff off of… [I then descend into a rambling question about whether cigarette packets here, with their purposefully stark imagery, would work better or worse with regards to use for art, which somehow Dolan deciphers.]
It’s funny, because they have all the crazy sayings on them right? So if I found a bunch of those to draw on out here, I think that would be stuck in my mind. The creature I’d draw on it would probably go off of that. But in America, they are way more colourful. You find one on the ground that’s been there a while, it’s been stepped on a few times and got a nice patina on it, there’s just something about it that looks cool.
How did your tattoo work come about and has it influenced the other side of your art, or vice versa?
Well the tattooing came about, I got really into the history of that and researching it, so with tattooing my art has definitely changed. Learning what to do and not do, it’s taught me a lot…doing too many dots, blowing out the lines, thinking about how it’ll heal up and look in ten or twenty years.
And I guess that feeds back into creating art with different textures, tattooing different areas of the body…
Oh yeah, and some are way harder than others. I feel like the stomach is one of the hardest spots to tattoo, it involves a lot of stretching. I’ll go through a phase of doing a bunch of tattooing but no stomachs, then I’ll get one and think “I don’t even know if I remember how to do this anymore…”
The guy who did my neck said that’s some of the easiest skin to tattoo…he said that and ballbags are very similar…ballbags and necks are the same skin.
[There was no real answer to this and I’m not sure that there could be, I’m only including it for a sense of what it’s like being stuck in the corner with me as your interviewer on a Saturday night. Luckily I’m not yet inebriated enough to push this point any further.]
Other than this exhibition with Brixton, have been commissioned to do work for many other skate companies?
Not really, just with my sponsors really – Indy, Mob, OJ’s. For Indy to hit me up with that stuff, how could I say no to that? I mean fuck, I feel honoured that those guys would want my artwork. Brixton have hooked me up with a lot of stuff too.
Do you have any particular favourite, memorable board graphics that particularly stood out to you growing up?
Not really, I actually never paid much attention to that stuff. I do look back now at old boards and think yeah, so and so’s graphic is sick, but it’s totally different now. The old school graphics are one of a kind, now everything has been so washed out and so jocked that when you see a new board graphic you think you’ve probably seen it before. But yeah, even as a kid I don’t remember one board graphic I particularly liked, I’d just get the boards and skate them. I guess I should have done, as I do art… [laughs]
Outside of skating and drawing, it seems from your couple of playlists for Jenkem and What Youth that your music tastes are pretty varied – what’s been the soundtrack like for this trip so far?
It’s been a lot of Jah…some Rasta vibes, very mellow. Lots of skinhead reggae, I’m really into that right now. It’s really upbeat and positive, you put it on and immediately start jiving.
With the rise of social media apps such as Instagram offering up and instant gratification hit for the public when it comes to art (whether that be drawn, painted, photographed), do you find that things have become harder for an artist to make a living off what they do? Has it made things easier due to a readily available, far flung audience? Or does the answer lie somewhere between the two?
It’s hard, I mean I’ve randomly found people on Instagram who are jocking my shit. They’ll follow me, I’ll check their page out and they’re totally ripping it off. The comments will be people going “Oh this is sick, it’s so original”, and I’ll leave a similar comment just to fuck with them. It’s hard to put anything out there without someone jocking it – but it is good and bad, you do reach a wider audience. I went through this Instagram phase a couple of months ago where I unfollowed a lot of pages, because I felt like it was brainwashing me into making a certain type of art. I come up with an idea, I think it’s an original idea but maybe I’ve seen it three months ago on Instagram and I liked it. But it’s definitely half and half, it is rad having a free platform for your work.
To finish up, where do you see yourself taking your art – a potential career, or more a hobby?
Oh yeah – it’s kind of a joke though; I want to create fine art style works and sell them for loads of money, but entirely as a joke. That’s my dream for when I get old, make fine art pieces and sell them to rich people. That’s all that shit is, just a brush stroke on a canvas and then you can sell it for five grand. That’s my goal, to sell out!
All photos by Jerome Loughran. Shop for Brixton and all other Skate Clothing.