“Making money is art”
This interview was first published by Basel House.
An honest conversation with artist Danger Dave, about art, business and making Cool Shit.
Danger leads an art collective called Hungry Castle. Their work has been exhibited all over the world and the Washington Post says they are “the Internet in real life”. Meme culture and celebrities are what gets them excited, creating experiences that people don’t expect is their passion.
Basel House has invited them to bring their latest sculpture “Happy Kanye”. Their work will be displayed with some of the worlds most acclaimed graffiti artists and a host of musical performances from 50 Cent, Wu Tang Clan and guest appearance by P Diddy.
BH : So Danger, what the af is Happy Kanye?
DANGER : Happy Kanye is a concept. It originally started with a single image of very little importance. Somebody, somewhere on the internet (nobody will ever know who or why) found a photo of Kim and Kanye on a rock climbing date (sexy). You might have seen it. Kims in the foreground, she hot and happy and standing next to this instructor fella. Kanye is in the background, wearing his orange helmet and deeply engrossed in thought. The person who found the photo pulled out the infamous internet typeface Impact™ and typed the words “SAD KANYE” on the photo. Boom. The photo was shared. The meme was born and the rest is internet history.
People took that image and mashed it up. Funny and not so funny interactions created by people with basic photoshop skills show that exact image of Kanye with ridiculous variations. You can find Kanye doing the thinker pose on the toilet, sitting next to Sad Keanu, riding a unicorn, floating into space … pretty much anything you could imagine has been created and that’s why we think it’s interesting.
We took that moment in time, that collective output, that meme and flipped it. Rather than focussing on the negative, we want to bring out the positive and in very simplistic terms of yin yan, balance and harmony, the only remedy to Sad Kanye is Happy Kanye.
BH : Is this Happy Kanye’s first time out in public?
DANGER : It’s his first time in the americas! The sculpture debuted earlier this year at Splendour in the Grass, Australia. Beautiful place with dolphins. Then we shipped him over to Bestival, England. Lots of rain, but also lush. And now we’re excited to have been invited to Art Basel Miami.
We’re pretty excited about that actually. We do a lot of exhibitions at music festivals because let’s face it white walled galleries can be a little stuffy. What better place to create a dialogue than an open field where people can loose their inhibitions and give into the experience.
We’re juiced up about Miami because it’s the epicentre of the art world. It’s were artists showcase their work and besides, we always joked that the Happy Kanye tour would end at Kanye’s crib. Maybe we’re closer to that vision now?
BH : Does Kanye know?
DANGER : Probably.
BH : How would he feel about the use of his image?
DANGER : He loves it. It’s a hyper realistic representation of his beautiful face sculpted onto a rainbow. It’s an icon! A force to be reckoned with and admired from all angles. It’s a tribute to him, his work and a very flattering representation.
We’re definitely not the first artists to make a portrait. Leonardo da Vinci painted Mona Lisa. Andy Warhol took photos of Marilyn Monroe. Jeff Koons sculpted Michael Jackson (and bubbles).
Some of the greatest works of art are portraits. That said people ask all the time about his image and whether we’re allowed to use it and I think there’s different ways to answer that.
As artists we’re obsessed with hip hop culture and hip hop culture is deeply rooted in sampling. The art of taking something that exists and turning it into something new. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but always something NEW. Look at Kanye’s work for example, almost every bar and beat is an adaptation of something that already exists. But he takes that and makes it his own, sharing something original and nobody can discredit him for that.
For us sampling celebrities, pop culture and memes is crucial to our work. It’s what personally interests us and what engages our community. You could say it’s part of our DNA.
BH : But is it art or commerce? The sculpture is one thing, but what about the clothing? I noticed you have socks with Kanye’s face on them, is that not copyright infringement though?
DANGER : It’s funny that and people ask all the time. There’s definitely a fine line and we like to walk that line both delicately and dangerously. Back in 2013 we built a sculpture of Lionel Richie’s Head. We put a telephone inside his brain and when you climbed inside he would sing to you on the phone, you know that song “hello, is it me you’re looking for? …” (also sexy). Well when we built that head Lionel went crazy for the idea, it was completely funded on kickstarter and within days Lionel’s agents were already asking us if they could borrow the head for a performance and later for an edition of that wonderfully rich television show “Candidly Nicole”.
What they didn’t like however was that we used Lionel Richie’s actual image on our clothing. We literally lifted his face off a record cover, plastered it onto a tee shirt and used them as prizes for the campaign (you need ace prizes if you want to kick goals on kickstarter). I couldn’t tell you how many we sold of those, but it was a lot. His legal team from Bravado sent us a cease and desist letter and we immediately stopped.
Perhaps we crossed a line there, but the simple truth is without those prizes the sculpture wouldn’t have existed and the sculpture was truly a beautiful thing that many people fell in love (including Lionel). So our model is that the clothing funds the art and sometimes to connect the concepts it’s important that we sample our fashion and art.
Andy Warhol famously says “Making money is art”. Damien Hirst has built an entire career starting a discourse around life, death and MONEY. And if we plan to keep making these large monolithic meme culture tributes, we’re going to continue selling clothing that samples life.
Oh snap, just realised Kanye is signed to Bravado too. Hey guys.
BH : That makes sense. But what you create, is it actually art? I ask this because we wanted to put you in front of Mana Wynwood and Moishe Mana the top dog mover and shaker in the property and art world said “it didn’t look high end enough”. Even our own publicist who was keen to share the project with press in the end hesitated because she thinks it’s an amusement ride and not art. What do you say to that?
DANGER : Yeah art is funny like that. It’s subjective and the definition of what is and isn’t is very very very wavy to say the least. There’s many examples of famous artists creating works that sparked controversy or took their time to be accepted. Duchamp’s Fountain, Hirst’s Shark, McCarthy’s Tree … if you haven’t seen Tree, look that one up!
Art is made by artists. It’s often validated by galleries, collectors and sale prices. But like I said, we don’t do galleries. Our work exists in music festivals and public places. We’ve never sold our work either. To this day I have never met anybody that wants a 5m tall Lionel Richie Head in their home or private gallery.
I think that’s why were so excited to share our work here. In Miami. At Basel House. Miami is the worlds biggest art gallery and know we’re going to be a part of it. Many of our works are born on the drug induced fields of music festivals around the world. Sharing our creations at Art Basel Miami just makes sense.
BH : What’s next then?
DANGER : Next year is going to be a big year for us. We’ve received multiple grants for building new sculptures. The first of which is a dissected Damien Hirst head, I’ve been talking about him a lot right? We’re going to cut him in half and see what’s inside. He will be on display at Sculptures by the Sea, Sydney and Perth in Australia 2018. Pretty excited about that.
We’re also toying with the idea of making some Snoop Dogg hot dogs or maybe a giant tug boat with Lil Yachty’s face on the mast. Often we thrash about these ideas with shitty photoshop mockups (a la internet) until we have something that sticks. Something that we think would be fun and might ultimately bring joy to people who see it. We figure if we’re having fun with our work, it’s going to be contagious and we can’t loose. It’s not about the money, it’s not about the fame, it’s about trying to make an impact and having fun in the process.
See you at Art Basel Miami 2017. Love.