Dan Kitchener is a man of many mediums, but above all, he is one of the UK’s finest street artists. Photos of him standing against his wall pieces force you to take a second to fully comprehend the scope of the artwork- and the capabilities of the man behind them. Size is is just another tool in his silver toolbox, and he uses it to connect with a larger, more receptive audience- the street belongs to everyone. Seeing his images swell up with emotion on a computer screen, I can only imagine how striking they must be to encounter in person. In this Dan Kitchener interview, Dan tells us the importance of lighting, narratives and why he likes his artwork big!
Q 1 || Some of your work, like the city scenes, showcases impeccable realism technique, but you also do a lot of surreal imagery- do you prefer one over the other?
No, I like all the different styles that I paint. The key to my work is diversity and also not being restrictive, self imposed restrictions! If I get inspired from a certain landscape then I’ll paint that, and if I have an idea for a fantasy illustration or image then thats what I’ll create. It’s great having freedom to choose. So I have no real preferences, what ever I am creating at the time is my current favorite!
Q 2 ||A lot of your work evokes graphic novel imagery- what role does narrative play in your murals? Do you ever write? Is there a story in your head before you start, or does it piece itself together as you paint?
Narrative is vital to my work, all my work infact! I usually have a story running through my mind, which I then dip into, almost like a film running continuously. I then choose a camera angle and scene and then illustrate or visualize this still form the film, its why I focus on movement, energy and atmosphere as well as theatrical lighting of a scene. My background in TV/film and 3d animation has allowed me to visualize cameras looking at scenes form different angles.
I don’t write these stories down, but do sometimes give a snippet of the story alongside the image, to give a taste of the universe the image is from. I like this dipping into alternative realities! I also like to immerse myself in the worlds I create, by listening to music and then trying to feel like I am in there and experiencing the image I am painting, be that steamy rain, neon filled futuristic Tokyo streets, or huge genetically altered beast spitting flames on the battlefields of WW1!
Q 3 || What is the most important thing to consider when thinking about how to convert a small image into a large scale piece?
That’s tricky to explain, trying to keep the original feeling from the sketchbook is important, the energy and flow of that initial idea, difficult to not dilute that when translating onto a large surface. I don’t become overwhelmed by scale, I prefer larger scale as it makes far more impact. I always try to use the space as effectively as possible, looking at the position it will be viewed from as well as the architecture around and try to pick an image that sits in the space with maximum impact. I don’t just slap any image anywhere.
Q 4 ||Street art holds a certain level of intimacy that organized exhibits like galleries lack. Do you ever feel vulnerable when putting your art and whatever message it may convey out there, especially when it’s being presented on such a large scale?
I don’t think vulnerable is the right word. but I do feel very exposed when I paint street work. Its available for anyone to see and scrutinize, and I have to be 100% happy with everything I do before I can leave the wall. I am never happy though, always feel I can tweak the pieces….This is a positive thing though, I feel that it helps me improve and develop, challenges my work and the way I work. It’s a kind of pressure I guess, but not in a bad way.
The messages in my art are never political, so I have no fears of offending. I try and create art thats beautiful, inspiring and will maybe brighten an environment. I’d much rather brighten peoples days that put across a political statement. I appreciate the ones that use art for that, but for me, I just like creating images that inspire me, or invoke a mood or memory… I don’t want to be controversial or ‘cutting edge’.
Q 5 || Are there recurring themes in your work that you find yourself gravitating towards?
I am fascinated by lighting in all aspects. This then directly relates to mood and atmosphere, the subtle changes of lighting position can completely change an images and the feeling it puts across. This to me is an endless source of inspiration. Quite often when driving, walking or running, I have to stop to take a quick photo on my iPhone. I’ll see something quite mundane on the face of it, but that is actually an unusual lighting of a scene and will inspire me to paint something at a later date. This happens all the time. I like the way I can get inspired anywhere at any time, and I will then use something in a scene that’s totally unrelated, but I have seen the mechanics of how it works. This again stems back to my TV and film work, where lighting is so important.
I believe having a broad grounding in all forms of art really helps develop my art. I draw on so many different skill sets for my painting, it’s not just about putting paint down, it’s the approach, the attitude and the ability to problem solve and work out what in a scene makes that scene work. The other key theme is scale, and this has theatrical themes I guess… Especially with my fantasy sci-fi illustrations, I love drama, filmic feel, energy and power, capturing the moment before a huge beast strikes, that pent up energy and explosion of movement, I love capturing these moments.
Q 6 || Your love of light is definitely evident in your work, especially in your city scenes- do you have any photography experience that comes into play here, or are you just drawn to the different ways in which the world can be illuminated? (Dan mentions his TV/film background in Question 3 and 5)
I use photography to just capture images for my own reference, dipping into photos to inspire other works. It’s all about understanding how lighting, anatomy, landscapes work and how light interacts and alters landscapes, particularly when dealing with colour and colour theory. IT’s fascinating! So I use photography as a tool, part of the creative armory, it’s vital to what I do, but never a final product, it’s not enough for me, it’s just the first stage!
Q 7 || What is the message behind your renderings of urban landscapes? To me, they reflect aspects of humanity and innocence, among other things- I’m really curious about your personal attachment to them.
I love freezing a moment in time, and then painting this. In major cities that I have been lucky enough to travel to, Tokyo, London, Cairo, San Jose, Lima, NYC etc., everything is so fast paced and frantic, there’s such beauty in the everyday mundane landscape that people pass by. Lights, colour, energy, reflections, rain, it’s truly beautiful. I like the idea of showing this beauty in quite an everyday scene. It’s about standing there and really looking and appreciating the environment.
Q 8 || And finally, are there any appearances or projects you have coming up that you’re particularly excited about?
This year, I am just carrying on creating. I feel so lucky to be able to do this full time, I don’t have specific plans, but want to paint more and more, and some bigger walls. My diary tends to fill up quite quickly with events, and traveling, and this is great, but I don’t set myself any real specific goals. I like to remain fluid and let thing progress naturally. That said, I do want to travel to new places around the world and paint. It’s great to do this, cross pollination of art across the globe! I am in Hong Kong, Jan 14th, to run the marathon (My 10th marathon in 11 months, I love running!), so will be painting there, my first time in HK so that’s very exciting!