Despite my general dislike of exhibitions of street art in galleries, I’m always curious to see if it can work and was quite excited to hear that Paul DON Smith had an upcoming exhibition. I’ve been a fan of DON’s work for a long time now, and walked to the gallery yesterday with my fingers crossed, hoping he wasn’t going to let me down.
I needn’t have worried. Although DON’s work on the streets often works because of the location or surface, his art work is actually perfect for the gallery too. DON paints the most outstanding portraits, and his work really is the kind of art I would want to buy and hang on my walls.
DON’s famous ‘Banker’ image was also in abundance in the gallery…
As well as DON’s usual portraits, there was also a series of star sign themed pieces, with small lights inserted in them:
I prefer his portraits but I can see how these pieces could be popular.
The centrepiece of the exhibition was this curious cupboard which I just couldn’t stop peering in…
I’m not quite sure what the meaning of this piece was, and felt a little self-conscious in the tiny gallery staring into it on my own, but I loved looking at it. I wonder if this is what it looks like inside DON’s head…
My only criticism of the exhibition would be that there wasn’t enough space. I’d love to see DON’s work spread out a little more in a slightly bigger space, like perhaps the Pure Evil gallery or Stolen Space. But other than that – wonderful! DON is one of the hardest working street artists I know of, and he never disappoints.
Do you remember back in March when I had a chance encounter with one of my favourite graffiti artists Paul “DON” Smith? Well, he kindly agreed to do a quick interview with me by email, and it gives me great pleasure to share it with you today. Naturally, I’ve included a lot of images of his work, too. Enjoy!
So, should I call you DON or Paul?
LOL. Don is great, but pauldonsmith.com could be better, so you know how to get hold of me.
How long have you been producing street art?
I have been an active graffiti artist for 25 years, but my recent street art, where I create images that I think an audience/people may like, has been a shorter time; say 5 years or so.
Have you always worked with stencils, or do you ever use different techniques?
I have mostly been a freehand spraycan artist, but I am now a mixed medium artist, I have starved myself long enough, I am free.
Why do you choose to make street art, rather than painting on canvases and exhibiting in galleries?
LOL. I do both, but mostly its on the streets, for now I paint originals and paint original limited editions, through selected galleries or my website.
Have you ever got in trouble for painting somewhere you shouldn’t have? If so, what happened?
I used to get into a bit of trouble, but that has long gone; my teenage years, many years back. The police know of all my illegal work, as they offered me a clean slate if I could tell them of other works. It saved time them knocking at the door again, me time and them time, it’s called “taken into consideration” (TIC).
Do you have a “day job”?
Yes I am a self-employed graphic designer.
Do you have any objections to your work being referred to as “graffiti”? Is there a difference between “graffiti” and “street art” as far as you’re concerned?
Not really, I am just more selective now on the locations. It’s all the same, it’s just if the audience can communicate with it or not, if it has a message or is it just ‘ME’ ‘ME’. The market has opened up with the wonderful success of Banksy and Blek.
You seem to paint a lot of portraits (which is why I love your work!). Is there a reason for this?
I think it’s a nice thing to see. One will identify with it quickly and may find it endearing. I tend to stick with portraits that influence myself and I am reaching out to see if others feel the same. Artists, musicians, actors, writers, thinkers, designers, distinguished characters, also portraits of individuals who the audience/people do not know and it’s interesting to place them on the world stage.
I’ve noticed a slight religious theme to your work recently. What’s that all about then?
Powerful images are amazing to paint. I do little twists too with this, like “Queen save the God” [below], I had not seen it reversed before and thought it was nice as the Queen/monarchy is head of the church. Keep the faith, it’s a great thing, like humans, we are powerful.
Which other artists do you admire?
Monet, Turner, Constable, Duster UA, Rodin, Hodgkin and many others.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers about your work, or about street art in general?
More to come so watch this space!
A big thank you to DON for taking the time to talk with me! For more information about DON’s work, please visit his website: pauldonsmith.com.
I hope to do more interviews like this and in person in the future, so watch this space and do get in touch if you’re an artist who would like to have a chat.
Today I had the day off and ended up down the Southbank. It was a glorious day, and something incredibly cool happened. I always stop by the skate park when I’m walking past so I can see the latest graffiti and street art. I have become quite the graffiti hunter over the last few months, and love to find new pieces by my favourite artists. A lot of people think graffiti is just vandalism, but it’s not. I agree that some tagging can just look messy, but have you seen some of the art on the streets of London? Some of it is really incredible.
One of my favourite street artists is Paul DON Smith, and today I was lucky enough to run into him while he was producing a brand new piece of work.
DON’s work, along with a small collection of other street artists, is what I would call “real art”. His work, quite often portraits, is beautiful and full of so much detail. The piece I saw him painting today took about an hour and a half, which I never would have imagined. You always think of graffiti as being something fast, not something which consists of layers and layers of paint applied using different shades of spray paint and different stencils. Details are added in with marker pens and tipex, and it’s so much more than just writing your name on a wall.
Once I realised I was watching DON at work, I had to stick around to the end. The finishing touch was a stencil of the words “queen saved the God”.
When I spoke to DON, he seemed particularly proud of this little twist. He said he’d been thinking about the Queen and religion, and wondering if people in the UK were losing their faith. He said this was a “thinky piece” and it is. I love how he’s used an image of the famous Michelangelo piece and turned it into a comment on the state of religion in the uk.
I spoke to Don briefly after he finished his new piece, and asked him how he could get away with working in broad daylight. He said that it was ok on this particular part of the Southbank (there were two other artists working at the time), and that he usually worked during the day and didn’t “give a fuck” about getting caught. He was off to Shoreditch to paint the same piece there, too, and happily posed for a photo before leaving.
Interestingly, DON seemed keen to get his work in a gallery, but I personally think the streets of London are a better gallery for his work than any four walls could be.
Keep an eye out for Don’s work around London. There’s a lot down at the Southbank skate park, and around Shoreditch, although they do tend to get painted over quite quickly. One you’ll see a lot is his money man – a banker who is just letting all the money run down the drain.
Here are some other pieces by Don, which I think you’ll agree are much more than mindless vandalism.