The End of The World & Portobello Marsala
Studio Visit and Interview with D Young V, October 2017
By John Vochatzer
I first met Dave Young (D Young V) when I was about 19 years old during my brief stint as a film student living in an Academy of Art dormitory. It was a weird and confused period in my life; I had a mullet and wore plaid wool blazers, pretty much worshipped Harmony Korine, and included psilocybin mushrooms as a regular staple of my weekly diet. Much like the bulk of my fellow students at the time (and, as I can imagine, 19-year-old art students everywhere) I had no idea who I was or where I wanted to go in life. Dave, who was the RM of the dormitory at the time, was different however. While everybody else I was surrounded with seemed more-or-less deplete of any kind of real drive or ambition, night after night Dave would be steadily and madly grinding away at these crazy-ass meticulously detailed pen drawings. I held him then in high regard as someone who, unlike my peers at the time, was on a mission. Someone with a purpose and a creative vision they were hellbent on pursuing. And I still see him that way.
Over the years since then I’ve had the pleasure of following Dave’s art as it has vastly developed and transformed: from the astronomical monsters he drew back in the dorms, to neighborhood watch war tanks and post-apocalyptic portraiture of Tenderloin locals, to humongous hand-drawn anonymous figures drowning in binary code and futuristic hieroglyphics plastered illegally across the streets of Paris and other international cities. Dave’s work has been on a solid trajectory growing constantly firmer and louder in its message to us about the effect that this brooding culture of detachment and alienation has on us a individuals and, if unchanged, may very well have as an effect on our civilization at large.
Recently, Dave gave me the opportunity to visit him in his studio space as he set up and prepared for his current exhibit at San Francisco’s Mirus Gallery. The show is comprised of a variety of both new and old repurposed works done over the past decade, resulting in what I can only describe as a cumulative gesamtkunstwerk of his entire oeuvre as an artist. In the follow-up interview Dave was also kind enough to share many of the thoughts and motives behind his work, some of which are as powerful and inspiring as the work itself and provide a valuable insight into the inner workings of the guy I’ve always looked up to as the sort-of artist laureate of downtown SF.
JV: Hey Dave whats up dude! So post-apocalyptic themes have pretty steadily permeated your work over the past decade, being evidently expressed even in the title of your current exhibit "After Our World Ended." Can you elaborate for me a little bit on how you got into exploring these ideas and what are your inspirations behind them?
DYV: The title of my current project 'After Our World Ended' was meant to imply a form of empathy and responsibility for the world we live in. I specifically chose the word 'our' in the title to provide more of a subjective standpoint between the viewer and art. Though my work is fictional based, I attempt to portray a view of the world through my work that reflects the world we currently live in. I use the word 'world' as a way of portraying society or a system of beliefs.
The foundational narrative of my work is meant to display what may potentially happen to us after our society and system of beliefs crumble. What happens when everything we know, take for granted and perceive as everyday reality disappears? What elements of our humanity will come forward, what elements may recede? What aspects of our current culture/society will be adapted, altered or discarded completely? How will the people of the future interpret the past to fit the beliefs of their new world?
I began exploring these ideas in part due to a personal frustration in the way our society operates, combined with an infatuation with punk culture and science fiction films. The ways in which a society can change or be manipulated have been concepts that have intrigued me for sometime. The world is continually changing; it is currently growing faster than ever. Very little thought has been put on where are we going with these changes and how will the decisions of today affect the people of tomorrow. As a society we are so caught up in the now that little attention has been placed on where our actions may lead us. We can't see the forest from the trees; and despite centuries of cause and effect we still make the same decisions, fall into the same patterns and make the same mistakes that people did hundreds and thousands of years before us.
I often wonder if the world as we currently know it fell apart, either at once or over a series of generations; would humanity still fall into these same patterns or would we come up with something entirely new. Could we redefine culture, spirituality, morality, communication and even the ways we perceive and experience emotion? How could our thinking evolve to fit the needs of a new world? What new (and older) elements of ourselves would we utilize to adapt? I prefer to remain optimistic and cling to the hope that our better side will show through. I attempt to express that hope and curiosity in my imagery in order to see the positive sides of what new order may emerge as a result of complete social chaos and destruction.
JV: From an optimist's standpoint, what aspects of our humanity do you think define that better side and might ultimately be our salvation? And why do you think it is that we as a species have continually made the same mistakes again and again?
DYV: I’m becoming a firm believer that achieving empathy with others is key. It's best for me to attempt to put myself in the context of somebody else's situation in order to better understand them without judgement. I find that people are often more alike than one may think. It's also best not to harbor resentment and hate towards others despite how awful their actions maybe. I find that hate can often fuel hate and serves as a destructive and deteriorating emotion that can consume one's entire being like a cancer. If possible it's best to accept people for who they are and assist them in any possible way to become the person they hope to be. As humans we are all connected and the way you treat both yourself and others will create a sort of ripple effect amongst us. It's best to maintain the golden rule at all times and do one's best not to project anger and frustration onto others, for the way you affect others will determine the way they affect you.
As people we must realize that we are not alone and our daily individual concerns despite how important they may seem to us in the moment are not the end all be all. Each day passes and a new day arises. What can often matter today will be a fleeting memory tomorrow. The only things that truly matter are the way you affect those you love and surround yourself with, and even those you've never met. I find it best to try and be a positive force in this world. That can be extremely difficult and trying at times, but it's far better than the alternative.
If anything our salvation rests in love for both ourselves as individuals and those we interact with. Every person has an identity, thoughts, emotions, perspective and intelligence. They are their own individual entities with something to contribute to the world if set in the right direction. It's wise to recognize that and let it flourish.
As people, I feel we've spent so long and hard trying to inflict our dreams, perceptions and wills on others. Parents often project their narrow views of the world and frustrations onto their children. The sexually repressed inflict their self hatred onto the sexually liberated. The rich often see those with less as less. People often view one another in such a narrow light based on their own individual experiences and limited perspectives of the world and the way it operates. It's more common than not for people to inflict their insecurities, frustrations, repressed desires, guilt, shame and anger onto others. These so-called 'judgements' repress us as people and hold us back, often without us ever knowing it. People often treat other people as obstacles standing in the way of their immediate needs. If a person or people does not conform to the wants of other people; those people will be met with hostility.
The world is a difficult place to navigate and requires the strongest backbone possible. If people are willing to take a long look at themselves and make the effort to discover why they are the way they are and why they react to things the way they do, then the world can become a very different place. Achieving self awareness can be one of the most difficult things possible, but the rewards can be astounding. I find the more one allows themselves to search within for who they are and what composes the identity they've created for themselves then the stronger attachment they will feel with others. In a culture bent on individualism and relentless financial gain the path of self discovery can be intensely difficult but not unachievable. I believe that our salvation may rest in this.
The repeated mistakes of this world I feel often arise from misunderstandings and a detachment from others. Wars are continually fought, genocides and human rights violations occur more regularly than ever. Massacres have become so commonplace in our culture that they seem like a near daily occurrence. The wealthy continually beat down and disrupt the middle and lower classes. Those with less are often treated like pawns in the game of power by those select few in power. As a society we allow ourselves to be continually manipulated into believing that our happiness and security depends on what those in power provide. This could be religions, material possession, outrageous concepts of beauty, financial success and more. We fill our lives with these things and become dependent on them never really knowing our true potential and the real wealth we could actually achieve.
If anything, despite all the parallels seen throughout history and our present day the most common factors are ignorance and slavery. This slavery can be religious, economic, spiritual and even sexual in nature. It seems that in order for any civilization to grow it's dependency revolves around the slavery of others. These slaves can be some external people brought in to do the bidding of that society; or these slaves can be members of that society themselves. This is the most common factor I've observed. That slavery is wholly dependent on an ignorance that is forced onto others by those in control. People are often turned against each other on the basis of race, class, sexuality, religion, etc in order to fuel the needs of a few. It's easier to point the finger at someone(s) based on superficial details then to recognize or attempt to defeat the actual problem at hand.
Despite our technological and even creative advancements; our progress in ethics, morality, spirituality and sexual awareness are lagging far behind. I believe it's time to recognize and confront these issues if we are to progress and survive as a people.
JV: Wow dude great answers. You've got me wanting to do a lot of serious self-reflecting after that. On a more (or less, depending how you look at it) lighthearted note: can you describe yourself using three doomsday scenarios?
DYV: My three doomsday scenarios:
1: Complete social deterioration. This is the case seen in Mad Max (the first one). The film displays the beginnings of a complete system breakdown where the laws, bureaucracy and social resources are no longer adequate for the needs of the population and the direction society is headed. The failures of the system set in motion the beginnings of the apocalypse.
2: The rise of artificial intelligence. This where humanity puts complete faith in machines to navigate their lives and do their decision making. Decisions and actions are calculated by programs as humanity gives up control over the path they're headed. As a result we may become dull, apathetic, dependent, docile or enslaved. This is what is seen in films like The Matrix, AI and Terminator.
3: Destruction of the environment. After our resources our spent and overpopulation has turned us to war, continual human rights violation, enslavement, genocide(s), etc.; we are on the brink of extinction. Mass industrialization has made much of the world unlivable and our population is now rapidly declining. Culture, identity and history are no longer relevant; we lose who we are completely entering into a state of being less than human before we potentially end our own existence indefinitely. Elements of this are seen in films like Automata, The Road Warrior and The Road.
JV: One last apocalypse related question: Which post-apocalyptic movie world would you most be willing to live in and which one the least?
DYV: I’ll admit that this is a very complex question and there are so many genres of 'post-apocalyptic' to choose from. I can only choose one per question, then hear goes...
The post-apocalyptic movie world I would most be willing to live in is 'The Matrix'. I choose this because there is strong empathetic bond and deep sense of hope among the main characters. Though there exists doubts and even betrayal in their belief system, for the most part they are still willing to remain open minded as they work together to achieve the common goal of their survival and future. Additionally they are provided with the resources (however scarce) to achieve their purpose.
Additionally, the film's narrative provides a mystery of whether man or machine began the war. However it was man that scorched the sky thus sealing their fate. I had always felt that humanity in this film is traveling the path of redemption, setting right the mistakes and arrogance of their ancestors. The spiritual and philosophical tone the film sets regarding awaking and seeing beyond the world placed in front of you allows a sense of change and growth. I could get on board with that...
The post-apocalyptic movie I would least be willing to live in is 'The Road'. The world set up in this movie displays the absolute worst in humanity. It portrays a mood of total desperation, confusion and near hopelessness. With the few exceptions shown in the characters of the father and son, the old man and the family (shown at the films end); most every other person existing in this film seems to have nearly lost their humanity completely. No vegetation grows, there are no animals to hunt, the world is dying and what's left of humanity has all but deteriorated. This may be the most depressing and horrific post-apocalyptic world I've ever seen on film.
Automata is a close second....
JV: Word. I don't think I've seen Automata yet and will have to check it out. Totally agree about The Road though, that movie is completely harrowing and horrifying in terms of what could very possibly lay in store for us as a planet.
You told me recently that you'd been reading a lot lately, anything good that you would recommend?
DYV: I’ve spent much of the year reading (and re-rereading) the classics. I generally like to rotate between war related novels and spiritual related related reading to balance my perspective out. Some of the books that I've enjoyed are '1984' by George Orwell, 'Siddhartha' by Hermann Hesse, 'A Movable Feast' by Ernest Hemingway and 'The Catcher In The Rye' by J.D. Salinger. I'm currently engaged in 'Anne Frank: Diary Of A Young Girl', after that I will move onto 'The Power Of Now' by Eckhart Tolle.
JV: This question might sound weird and out of place, but it's something that popped into my head while I was laying in bed the other night so I figured why not include it in this interview: If you could throw a lit stick of dynamite standing from where you are and it would land anywhere in the world, in-door or out, where would that be and why?
DYV: That's actually a very interesting question. I thought about it for some time and couldn't actually think of anyone or anything to throw it at! Most of my life's frustrations are with myself, but not so frustrating that I'd light up that dynamite and hold it tightly in my hands!
I think I'd just like to store that stick of dynamite to use on a rainy day. Blowing shit up can liberating sometimes....
JV: Haha, good on ya. Lets talk a little bit about street art. How did you first get into doing street art and how do you think it has affected the development of your overall aesthetic as an artist?
DYV: I first got into street art ten years ago. I didn't fully understand what street art was at the time, nor it's relationship/differences with 'graffiti'. I had seen a variety of strong (rebellious in nature) monochromatic imagery all over the city (SF). I was unsure if this type of work was political, class related, gang/crew related or purely creative in nature. My work at the time was all black and white and very bold in it's line work. To me, it seemed a good fit for translating into street art.
After some research and the help/inspiration of Babylon Falling I began to translate my work to the streets. Babylon Falling was a local book store/gallery run in the Lower Nob Hill area of SF. The premise of the space was to open people up to idea of revolutionary concepts. The store had an array of books on street art/graffiti that I continually learned from during my time hanging out there. Babylon Falling was also the venue for my first solo show. Everything for me regarding my art career/philosophies and current friend basis began there. Before Babylon Falling I was pretty clueless...
JV: You've travelled to Thailand, Mexico, Istanbul, and many other places with the agenda of doing street art. What have been some of your favorite places/experiences and what other cities/countries do you have on your radar?
DYV: I’ve had a terrific amount of fun in all of the cities I've traveled to with the intention of doing street art. Every city has it's own unique benefits and culture. I really enjoyed the enthusiasm and hospitality I experienced in Hong Kong. Despite the enormous population of Hong Kong, the network for street art is relatively small. I felt that in my three weeks there I met and interacted with almost everyone involved with this type of art. It really allowed for some very personal relationships to develop. The people I met often allowed me to stay at their places and take me around to different neighborhoods, abandoned buildings and even through the old Hong Kong international airport to put my work up. One artist even gave me his apartment in central Hong Kong for four days while he shacked up with his girlfriend in order to better accommodate me. People have very busy lives, so receiving this much attention and hospitality was humbling to me, especially as an unknown foreigner. I have every intention of revisiting that city in the near future.
Istanbul was one of my favorite cities I've visited. It provided a certain grit that I have not experienced in America in several years. Many parts of this city remind me of TheTenderloin (SF) and 1980's-mid 90's Lower East Side (NYC). It's a massively urban city that's connected with so many aspects of history going back to the Roman Era. One can really feel that history as they walk the city streets. Despite the language barriers I encountered, It was still fairly easy to navigate. Istanbul is not huge on the international scene for street art (surprisingly), but one wouldn't know that seeing it's vast array of outdoor murals, graffiti and large scale (very well) painted illegal works. Everybody I encountered in that city holds very strong to their beliefs, are very upfront in what they want to communicate and appear to exhibit very little fear or anxiety when approaching everyday life. The artists I encountered were highly talented, very socially conscience and displayed a great deal of courage when executing their (illegal) projects. It's highly inspiring to interact with so many people with such strong backbones, grit and beliefs. Additionally as a single male from California visiting a city like Istanbul can definitely add to one's ego. Woman there love single men from California and they are not afraid to show it. It was refreshing to be the one pursued and approached, as opposed to the opposite way around. As a male I do gain a high level of satisfaction in my female pursuits, but receiving that treatment towards me was certainly equally as satisfying. I've been to Istanbul twice now and fully intend on going back...
To conclude my answer to this question I will say as a street artist and muralist; creating work in both Paris and Mexico is exhilarating. The public view on art in these places is so appreciative and positive it left me questioning the cultural appreciation that exists in places like San Francisco and other parts of America. Much of my experience as a street artist in San Francisco borders on apathy by comparison to these places. When putting up illegal work or painting an outdoor mural I was approached by families, children, elderly people, small business owners offering me work and everyday people curious about what I was doing. I genuinely felt like an 'artist' in these places, where my talents and ambitions were on par and equal to that of any other payed profession. My experience in San Francisco has been the complete opposite of that; it was refreshing to know that other parts of the world view art in a much higher regard and curiosity then in places like The Bay Area.
JV: While on the subject of the bay area, I've known you and followed your art in San Francisco for almost 15 years now and watched it morph and develop in various directions, how do you feel about how the city has changed over this course of time and how/has it affected you and your art?
DYV: San Francisco has changed drastically over the course of my time here, especially in the last five years. Despite my love for this city, I have found the recent changes to be stifling as an artist. After witnessing so many art galleries, project spaces and dive bars that served as gathering points for creative people shut down or be forced to relocate; it becomes difficult to maintain faith in the value of culture. This combined with the mass evictions that have taken place in recent years; the city has given a clear message that those with less are unwanted. San Francisco has always been an expensive and tough city to live in, but if one was willing to push just a little bit harder they could make their way here. Unfortunately now the line between wealth and poverty has widened so drastically in such a short time that this city now serves as a prime example of the downsides of capitalism.
Sometimes I feel like I'm witnessing the beginnings of some post-apocalyptic movie where the small minority of rich people live in these high rise luxurious buildings while everyone else lives on the streets or in some inhumane government housing. The fact that the cost of rent/living is adjusted to fit the salaries of the incoming wealthy and not the vast majority of working/creative people is frightening. It's not enough any longer to have a decent paying job or two jobs and make your way. Anything that is not a highly payed/skilled profession is no longer acceptable here. I find it strange that people I meet who are new to the city with more education, valued work experience and much higher income than myself often live in very cramped quarters with little space to themselves. The city has decided to sell the same thing (housing) for three times the price. Every building that gets bought out, every business that is pushed out is only done so to make more condos that nobody except an elite few can afford, it's really disheartening to witness. Additionally, everything else has gone up in price from transportation, coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and food. There seems to be little restriction on the price of all goods. It's as though people just keep on adding more to the price of things just to see if they can get away with it, thus creating this completely unrealistic market value that everyone has to abide by.
These changes have clearly created a massive homeless problem. This city has always had a large homeless population that was generally isolated to a few neighborhoods, now it's everywhere. I see tent encampments in almost every neighborhood and people shooting heroin constantly. I feel that many of these people could at one point afford some sort of housing here, but that is no longer the case. There is a general sense of overpopulation here that did not exist five years ago. The streets are crammed with cars and the sidewalks are filled with people. Too many tech and tech related industries have moved here that would be far better suited existing somewhere outside of the city. The overwhelming swarm of highly young professionals migrating here has not only broken the spirit of San Francisco but is putting a strain on the cities resources.
The general mentality and lack of socialization of this incoming class has put a permanent scar on the face of SF. One can see it on the street or any public area. Most of these new people are simply not adopted for city living. There is little or no willingness for them to integrate into the communities they move into. They exist only in a world suited for their immediate needs. The property owners, politicians and small businesses wishing to profit from them enforce this mentality. I find that this new population is incapable of physically navigating streets or moving out of the way for other pedestrians. It's as though they have no awareness of their surroundings or the fact that there are other people walking on the street with them. This last year I've actually developed walking rage as a result. The social etiquette and manners of many of these people is atrocious, they appear to have never interacted with others outside of their immediate communities. It used to be when somebody bumped into me on the street or at a bar I generally received an apology, that is no longer the case. I find it increasingly difficult to relate to a population of people that has such little life experience, education, cultural awareness and general regard for others. It's highly unfortunate that their only worth to other people is the amount of disposable income they earn. Everything seems to have been handed to them in life, and now they flock to a city that caters to them entirely. This is a class of human beings entirely stripped of grit and struggle who honestly believe they live in a world meant to serve their needs. This seems like a generalization and it may just be, but I know that I am not alone in this opinion.
I feel that the identity of San Francisco was once a liberal/creative mecca where people who couldn't fit into the restricting mold of most of the US fled to. Its identity has completely changed to this mentality of greed-conquers-all and your value to others is based on the amount of money you have in the bank. It's difficult to remain optimistic and inspired here as an artist when the general public has such a small appreciation and regard for the arts. Although I continually create art I find myself less and less inspired by this city. Instead I find my inspiration in those I hold close and dear to me, as well as seek it out in other cities where what I do seems far more appreciated. Of course I still live and create art here, so all hope isn't lost!
JV: Can you tell me a little more about your current exhibit at Mirus Gallery? What was the experience like of assembling a show that basically encapsulates your entire tenure as an artist over the past decade or so?
DYV: The current exhibition at Mirus Gallery is a compilation of selected works that I repurposed from several gallery/street projects over the years. In short, I had selected earlier works I had created throughout the last decade and altered them. It was my way of connecting my present thinking to that of my past. Though my work exists in a single ongoing narrative, each previous installation displays the way I felt about myself and world at that specific point in time. The whole process was somewhat of a journey for me. I had to rethink my approach on what I am doing currently as an artist by reconnecting to the artist I was years ago. I was continually finding ways to reinterpret my past works to fit the way I think and feel about things today. It almost felt like taking elements of my former selves and maturing them to fit the perspectives of my current self. There was repurposed work from nearly every exhibition I have have done since 2009 including an array of works I had originally intended for street projects. It was exhilarating to tie all of these different creative elements into one cohesive project. I feel that physically connecting the work through a series of murals created the unifying effect I desired. Not only was the creation of the individual pieces integral to the creative process, but also the installation of them as well. The week preceding the opening was the most intense for me because it was like putting together the puzzle of my creative life. I learned a lot about myself through this process and more importantly through all the people that came out to support me. The response was overwhelming and unlike anything I've experienced through previous projects. Strangely, people I had not seen in years showed up the evening of the opening, thus further adding to the feeling of reconnecting to my past. This whole process and experience has changed me as person as a result. Nearly a month later as I approach the closing reception, I still feel deeply affected...
JV: Awesome. I have a few more questions: How do you deal with confrontation? Do you have any personality disorders?
DYV: How do I deal with confrontation? That's a fascinating question that I will answer in separate parts.
In my years of being a bouncer I've learned to remain calm in most confrontational situations. I simply allow myself to be as polite as possible when escorting a patron(s) from an establishment. Usually they feel embarrassed about their actions or are fearful of making a scene, which works to my advantage. When the situation escalates to a patron yelling at me or refusing to leave, I stand directly in front of them and move my body forward. As I walk, they begin to walk as I escort them to the door. In the cases where they assault me, I attempt to neutralize them physically to ensure my safety and even theirs. My intention to cause the minimal amount of harm to myself, the assaulter and any patrons standing in the vicinity of the assault. I don't want to be accountable nor have the establishment accountable for any unnecessary violence, I enjoy being employed!!!!!
When it comes to family confrontation which is often the most frustrating, I attempt to remain calm and not let my family members push my buttons too hard. Because they know me so well, they always know where to strike. I attempt to distance myself from those situations and not bottle up too much aggression that could easily come out later. Since I know my family equally as well, I can see their strengths and weaknesses. I often will allow a family member to vent until they exhaust themselves or realize that their temper tantrums are having little or no effect on me. At that point the family member may react by leaving the room or realizing their lack of control over their emotions before they apologize. I occasionally vent my frustrations out on them too, because I have too sometimes. Family can often be a test of endurance and love.
As far as street confrontations, I generally let them go because it simply isn't worth my effort or time. It's rare that I get into confrontations with strangers. It's also extremely counter productive. I simply have so much more to do in my life then get into a fight with a drunk, crazy, enraged or confused person. In the cases where a woman or loved one's safety is threatened by a stranger, I absolutely will defend them.
In the rare confrontations I have with a lover, which are never physical and always emotional; I listen and apologize. In 9 out of 10 situations of emotional confrontation (they're actually hasn't been too many of these in my life) the female is always right and I generally feel guilty for my actions. I let her vent, express herself and take out whatever frustrations she has on me. After that I take her out to do something special to make up for my actions and thus make her feel good about herself and our relationship.
As far as bottled up aggression is concerned, I get that out by walking, drawing, drinking and doing yoga. I have an immense amount of aggression stored in me and am continually finding ways to let it out out in the most productive ways possible.
Do I have any personality disorders? I actually don't know if I do or not, I'm not trained in psychiatry. I do know that I tend to feel things in extremes. I have been told that my emotions are as though I'm either riding a wave or coming down from one. I can be very obsessive which can come in handy for art, but be harmful in other aspects of my life. My emotions are highly complex and I feel them very deeply, they can be very hard to control. I am thankful for the friends in my life that understand this about me, they know my triggers and patterns and are able to stabilize me when the situation calls for it. The situation often calls for it…
JV: Who are your favorite living artists?
DYV: John Vochatzer, Liane Carter and Tom Sachs
JV: Haha, shucks. One last question: Can you please describe to me the last meal you ate?
DYV: The last meal I ate was Healthy Choice Portobello Marsala Pasta (microwavable). It was very tasty!