When Poesia first put a call out for contributions to help with graffuturism, I jumped at the opportunity. I immediately knew the perfect person to profile for my first piece. Boston based artist Dana Woulfe has been on to something “different” for quite some time now. His origins are deeply rooted in graffiti, but he does not fall victim to the many trappings and constraints that the politics and “rules” of writing tend to produce. Woulfe’s abstract works have a story of their own. They strike a symbiotic balance between organic and technical styles. He has managed to find his own identity, keeping the essence of his “writing” background, originality. I have been writing my name on stuff for over 20 years. I also write about art and artists and curate art shows. This isn’t about me though, I am just here to introduce Dana Woulfe through this interview below. – Mike Hammecker
MH: Tell us who you are, where you’re at and where you’re from:
DW: My name is Dana Woulfe and I am an artist living and working in Boston, MA. I grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Boston for school in the late 90’s.
MH: You have been making art for quite a while, under a variety of monikers, explain the transition and the types of work you did during that time.
DW: Yeah…I feel like I’ve been in some constant state of transition for the last 10+ years…never really sticking to one name or thing for too long. For me the different monikers have always been for different types of work…and I think I’ve struggled with how I wanted to represent myself for a while. Ie. As a graffiti writer, a designer/firm, an artist…etc. So I’ve kinda experimented with a few different things…
DW: My graffiti name “Synk” I rarely use publicly. People who know me as a writer call me that but I never really represented myself as such. The Boston scene has kept me humble so it was never a fame thing for me and I like to stay off the radar as much as possible I guess… My solution to showing the graffiti based artwork as well as my design work was to create “Illside Ink” which was my moniker for many years. I did a lot of events and gallery shows under this name and with Project SF until a few years ago when I decided to switch everything to just Dana Woulfe and really focus what kind of work I was doing. I’m not really sure why it took so long…it feels obvious now, I mean I have a unique name… but at the same time its kinda funny to be in a genre with all these artists using monikers…I feel like I stand out because I don’t use a “street name”.
MH: How has your graffiti background influenced your current style?
DW: Graffiti influenced everything. I have learned a lot through a ton of different influences and experiences, my family, school, friends, travel, art, design, fashion etc., but graffiti was one of the first things that I was really passionate about and it never left me. Almost everything I’ve done creatively since starting to write has referenced my graffiti background, be it techniques, textures, color schemes, compositions or a sense of motion within a piece. I will never claim to be a great writer or a big bomber, but I took it seriously and owe it a great deal for everything it gave back to me.
MH: How would you describe your current style?
DW: I have a hard time describing what “type” of artwork my work is…and in a lot of ways I don’t think its up to me. I’m just making what I think looks good and the viewers can decide what it is… I try to create paintings that have depth and movement, a sense of space and energy that the viewer can feel when they are in front of it. I’ve moved away from painting anything representational and work in complete abstraction now. I love to make a mess when I paint, using big drippy brushes, lots of splashing paint and overspray. I want to let the expressiveness of the mark making come through and then build off of it…capturing the energy of the initial strokes and creating some structure around it. The end result is some blend of organic and mechanical, underwater and outer space.
MH: In an art movement that is often very mechanical and technical, your work has those aspects, but also has a lot of organic undertones. Is that something you are conscious of?
DW: Absolutely. I grew up in the woods, surrounded by nature, so it is always something I look to for inspiration. As I’ve experimented with different painting techniques I have been drawn to the natural tendencies of the paint, the drips, splatters, washes, overspray etc. I like the juxtaposition of the structured vs. organic… letting that stuff come through gives my work a more organic feel I think…and less of a technical and mechanical foundation.
MH: How has the internet(and its worldwide access) influenced you style and work?
DW: The internet has been a pivotal tool in the history of graffiti obviously… It really opened up the dialog between artists and allowed styles to migrate much quicker than they would have before. For me personally, I really only knew writing with the internet. I mean… my first few years I wasn’t super concerned with what the rest of the world was doing. It was about stumbling around the city tagging with friends for me… just having fun and not worrying about much else. As I got older and more involved, I learned of the websites like ArtCrimes.com and 12ozprophet.com, which were all pretty new at the time I think. Anyway… it was super eye opening for me to see what everyone else was doing and it really upped my knowledge level in general…helped me take my work to a new level for sure. People will always hate on the internet for watering down regional styles, but I see both sides of it. There will always be the history of the regional styles embedded in any graffiti community, but the internet has brought the level of knowledge and talent way up. Allowed a lot of people to see work they may have never otherwise seen…and inspired them to take their work to a new place. That’s a good thing in my opinion.
As for now… the internet, specifically Graffuturism.com, really changed the game for me a couple years ago when Poesia first put it together. I literally had no idea there were so many artists exploring the same space. I mean, my head was buried in traditional graffiti for the most part and what I as doing in the studio was kinda separate. My experience with abstract graffiti was limited to Transcend crew mostly, seeing She One, Joker, etc in magazines/internet and painting with Ouija a couple times locally. Since my initial exposure, it’s been amazing to watch the Graffuturism thing grow. I think it pushes artists to do bigger and better work. Being exposed to all these other people amazing work just forces you to keep constantly upping your game.
MH: Who were some of your early art influences, and who are your current ones?
DW: My first art influence was my grandmother… Elizabeth Jehan, who was a working illustrator and painter all her life. So I kinda always knew what I wanted to do…having been inspired by her at a very young age. I never doubted that I could make a living being creative which I now realize is a very rare thing growing up. More current influences are pretty diverse… From Abstract Impressionist masters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock to a bunch of my contemporary mentors/peers (who as I previously mentioned are constantly pushing/inspiring me to do better work)…Poesia, Joker, Remi Rough, She One, O Two, Kofie and more, as well as my close friends like Kenji Nakayama and Josh Falk whose work ethic and passion always keep me going.
MH: You recently moved into a new studio, tell us about it.
DW: Yes, I recently took on a big new space with a couple friends. We took a big raw space and divided it up to build our dream studios. Josh Falk and I are on one side, and Jay LaCouture runs his business Anti Designs on the other. We also left a couple spaces to rent out as needed. It was kind of a leap of faith, but I felt like it was now or never… My wife, Elle, and I just had a daughter (my first child) a little over a year ago, and shortly after I quit my full time job to spend more time with her and in the studio. That was scary enough, so jumping into a huge space with higher rent then my previous studio was just stupid really… But so far so good! Once we got in here the projects have found us and I feel like my work is getting better…plus I’m more inspired to be here in general.
MH: You do a lot of work in, and out of the studio. Do you prefer one over the other? And if so, what is your ideal project?
DW: I think if I could paint outside every day, I would. I love working on a big wall. It’s one of the only times that I am completely focused…I don’t notice time passing, hunger, tiredness etc. Its really fun for me… The studio however is where I take everything I’ve learned on the various projects/walls/pieces and perfect it. Try to craft together perfect pieces of all the other things I’ve done. One feeds the other for sure…so I need them both I suppose. But I am always more excited when I am painting something big outside. So I guess in that sense the perfect project would be a residence with a studio/gallery portion and a big mural along with it.
MH: Tell us about Project SF
DW: Project SF is an artist collective that I had been a part of for the last 10+ years. Greg Burdett (MRNVR), Nick Zaremba, and Josh Falk started it in the late 90s as graffiti crew. Over the years it grew into a more diverse collective of artists with a lot of collaborative projects and events. The idea was that every member has a special skill set to some extent…and when we combined it created a bigger entity. Ie. The original comic book Super Friends. I joined in the beginning years when we we’re still doing graffiti mostly but while I was helping to direct things we focused on some fun collaborative mural projects which ended up leading to what I am doing today. It has been a great source of motivation, inspiration…and a lot of fun… for me since joining, and the members will always be family to me.
MH: (refer from above question)You collaborate quite a bit with various artists, who are some of those artists and how do they differ in terms of workflow?
DW: Collaboration is a great way to see your work and process in a different light. Its always added something to my personal work when I collaborate with others. Project SF is all about collaboration so it has always been a part of what I have done with them and I’ve explored some of those collaborations further with artists Stephen Holding, Kenji Nakayama and Josh Falk.
DW: Each artist is different to work with and offers different opportunities; Steve has been a great friend for many years and we always have a good time when we are together. So our collabos are about having fun in the moment, and don’t involve a lot of planning. Our styles have slowly grown together more over the years, so working together on MetalWoulfe was a really fun experience for us both…one we will have to dive into again soon I think.
DW: Kenji has been a studio mate of mine for several years (up until recently when I moved out) and we often collaborated on a variety of projects…murals, paintings, and a few gallery shows. I have a great deal of respect for Kenji and learned a lot working with him over the years. Our collaborations started a little more planned but after a while they just happened naturally…with very little planning or discussion. Our collabos are some of my favorite work I’ve done over the last few years.
DW: Josh is my new studio mate and partner in Studio Fresh, the freelance business we recently started doing murals, installations, and other creative projects. He has also been a long time friend of mine, and we have been collaborating closely behind the scenes of Project SF for years…so this new venture of ours represents an opportunity to take our work to another level and try to make a living doing what we love doing.
MH: You do a good job of keeping your own style/identity in the commercial work that you do. How challenging is it to keep your style and balance what the client is looking for as well?
DW: Well… I have spent a lot of time in the commercial design and fashion world as well, where I have sold my soul and lost all personal touch in what I did. I made a decision to try and get away from that, so now when I do commercial work, its important to me that I get to touch it personally and that the result satisfies me as well as the client. I think we are slowly building a reputation for what we do, so people are coming to us for a creative solution based on our aesthetic, which is the ideal scenario. So now…basically if it’s not something we want to do…we don’t do it.
MH: Whats next for you?
DW: Lets see… I’ve got a couple big mural opportunities in the Boston area I am hoping to complete by the end of the summer. I have a solo show at Lot F gallery in Boston in September that I am getting ready for. Going forward I hope to get some opportunities to paint some walls and show some work in other parts of the world…and I’m super excited to see where Josh and I can take Studio Fresh!