Art by Dima.
If you live in a metropolitan city, you’ve surely seen the art of Dima on the streets. Perhaps you were not familiar with his name, but it’s nearly impossible to miss his iconic images that feature unforgettable phrases such as “Tom Selleck Saved My Baby,” “Fuck You I’m Batman,” “Your Baby is a Dickhead,” “Carl Sagan is an Asshole” or “Down With The Reptilian Agenda,” just to name a few. As you are about to discover, Dima is much more than just a street artist. He is a singer and musician who regularly shows his art in galleries as well as on the streets. Meet Dima, the man behind the great art.
According2G: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Dima: I was born in Moscow but my family moved to New York when I was one because my father worked for the UN and got offered a position here. I grew up in a Russian household and went to a Russian speaking school in the Bronx until I was 11 years old. I started going to an English speaking school after that. We moved from the Bronx to Manhattan in 1993. I was always drawing as a kid and kept on doing it through high school where I took advanced placement art classes and began to paint. I was never a great student in anything else and decided early on to try to have a career as an artist. I went to Parsons School Of Design from 1999-2003 and I have a BFA in Illustration. I’ve had a stable of boring office jobs for a number of years after college and kinda put art on the back burner for a while. About five years ago I got sick of working a 9-5 job and decided to really give painting my full attention to try to avoid doing work that I didn’t enjoy. I also work as an illustrator and have been very lucky to work with great people who trust me to do whatever I want, usually.
A2G: How did you get involved in street art?
Dima: It wasn’t really a conscious plan. I still don’t really consider myself a street artist. But it started with the “Tom Selleck Saved My Baby” design. I made it as a goof one night and thought it was really funny. I showed it to my friend, comedian Greg Barris, and we thought it would make a great sticker. So we made a few and started putting them up and it kinda started snow balling from there. People seemed to really love them and we just kept making more. Around the same time I made the “Fuck You I’m Batman” design and we decided to start making more designs. We also decided to not have a tag (ie an Obey, or a Banksy, or a Dickchicken) to go with the images. We didn’t come from a graffiti background, and weren’t really interested in following that tradition. I liked the idea of the stickers being an end to themselves rather then a tool to promote myself. It’s more mysterious and it lets the design of the images show that it’s the same hand that made it rather then brand it. Not all of the ideas have been mine. The stickers are a partnership between me and Greg. Some of the ideas are mine, some are his, some are a collaboration, and some are from friends of ours. I don’t take it too seriously. It’s just something fun to make. I don’t have any plans to take this stuff to galleries or anything like that (I would, should there be an offer) but I take my painting work more seriously and that’s what I generally focus on more.
A2G: Can you name a few of your influences and heroes.
Dima: I’ve have a lot of influences. One could argue that everything is an influence, either in the respect of what you’d like to do, or what you’d like not to do. But as far as artists go, Daniel Higgs has been a big influence on me for years, as a musician and as a painter. I also love Ralph Steadman, Francis Bacon, Robert Crumb, and Daniel Clowes to name a few. I also love old Russian icons, and have used them as a reference in my work for a number of years.
I’ve recently been realizing that the books of Richard Scarry have had a subconscious influence on me from when I was a child. I used to love looking at those books because there was so much happening on one page and your eye could really move around. I think that’s where the busier element in my paintings came from. I like the viewer to have a similar experience looking at my work.
A2G: There are a lot of spiritual references in your art. What are some principles you live by?
Dima: I’m not a religious person, I don’t believe in any system of spiritual ideology, but I’m not an atheist either. I try not to define what I believe in, because I don’t feel like a person really needs to and that your spiritual self can evolve just as you evolve yourself. I just try to always be good to people, be positive, expand my consciousness and understanding of myself and others, and just live a life worth living. However, I have always enjoyed religious iconography and depictions of the Divine, so I really like playing with that visual vocabulary and redefining it to my own universe. Not sure why I gravitate to it so much, it seems to have some kind of significant meaning for me.
A2G: When it comes to your “fine art,” which is so different from your “street art,” which takes precedence?
Dima: I’d say my painted work takes precedence over everything. That’s the most important of anything I do. It’s the most personal and most work intensive and has been my main focus for years. The main difference is that my fine art is all done by hand, with little to no reference, usually made up on the spot with a brush on a canvas, while the stickers and posters are done on a computer. When I started doing both they looked very different, the paintings were always very busy and the design was always very simple. I really enjoyed the contrast of that. but the further along I went both started to influence one another, I’d use an idea in my paintings that I came up with in my design work, and vice versa. I think both are now at a point where you can tell the same hand does them but they still retain the unique quality of their medium.
But yes, my painted work is what I show in galleries and really try to push as being my main artistic voice. I also only do it as my personal work, I never illustrate anything by hand for clients. It’s not that I’m greedy with it, it’s just I’ve always had a hard time translating the ideas of others through that. It’s always been a very personal and fluid medium for me that just never seems to work when I try to apply it to anything else that doesn’t feel natural. I often say that the paintings paint themselves, I’m just the hand that wields it. I rarely go in with a solid plan, or even a plan at all. I just start painting and see what happens. Every little bit influences the next move and I like seeing the story of the piece unfold in front of me. It’s very fun and even feels mystical at times.
A2G: What’s the coolest thing to happen to you as a result of your art?
Dima: A lot of things. It has created opportunities for me to work with people I really admire. I’ve created a number of posters and designs for comedian Marc Maron, who’ve I’ve been a big fan of for years. Also just the idea that a gallery would like to show my work is still amazing to me. I’ve been lucky enough to have a solo show and about to have my second one at San Jose’s Anno Domini gallery. Meeting and spending time with Brian and Cherry has been a blessing, and just the idea that people recognize my work now and respect it is every insecure artists dream. Hahaha.
A2G: In addition to doing art, you also make music. Tell us about your band Corrupt Autopilot.
Dima: Corrupt Autopilot started as a moniker for my home recordings about 10 years ago. It was just the name for the music I made and recorded by myself for myself for years. I’ve played in bands with other people since I was 13 (I’m 31 now) and always just played around on a 4 track and later on recording software for my own amusement and to sharpen my songwriting skills. A little over a year ago, me and some friends got together and kind of off the cuff recorded a whole record of songs I wrote and it turned out like nothing I’d ever expected. So through the past year I turned it into a real band, got more confident in being a singer and a guitar player (I always played bass in bands), and we just recently recorded our second record.
But like I said, I’ve been in bands since I was 13, and it’s always been a big focus for me as a person. I take great pleasure in making music and playing with my friends. It’s different energy then making art. it’s very immediate and emotionally powerful for me.
A2G: Have you ever heard from Tom Selleck (see “Tom Selleck Saved My Baby” above) or the estate of Carl Sagan (see “Carl Sagan is an Asshole” below) on those stickers? If so, what was the reaction?
Dima: Haha, no, and I’m kinda glad. What are the odds of getting a letter from either camp and have it be a positive one? I’d rather maintain radio silence.
A2G: What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Dima: Don’t just do whatever is popular, always try to have your own voice, and whatever happens, just keep going and pushing your work forward and outdoing yourself. And always try be humble.
A2G: What’s next for you?
Dima: I have my second solo show at San Jose’s Anno Domini gallery on August 5th, putting out another Corrupt Autopilot record in the fall, and hopefully not dying anytime soon. I’m having a real good time lately.
You can see Dima’s art on the streets, catch his band Corrupt Autopilot in concert and if you are in the San Jose Area between August 5 and September 30, 2011, you can see Dima’s latest solo exhibit “The Melting Kingdom.” Nice work, babe! Thanks to Dima for giving us an insight into your life.