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Juliette Furio chats with painter Dolan Reskov, who explores how the discipline, beauty and freedom from his past in graffiti and street art translates to the canvas.
Street artist turned painter, Dolan Reskov aka Cheeba, gained some notoriety as a “writer” (graffiti artist) in the late ’90s during the 2nd wave of Sydney street art, which saw a revival of the ’80s New York graffiti style. Unless you are familiar with graff or have an interest in its history as an art movement, this may not mean much to you. Roughly translated, it’s fucking cool. Having talked at length with Dolan about the secret world of graff and how this self-taught, street-based formation has influenced the artist he has become today, the overriding feeling is one of freedom, exhilaration and existing on the fringe of both the art world and society.
JLF: As a painter, what is your self-described artistic style?
Dolan Reskov: Free-form expression, crossed over with graff and a bit of everything thrown in the mix.
JLF: Define ‘everything’.
DR: I take influence from every artist that is worthy, so I might not directly replicate them, it might not even show, but I’m constantly exploring art.
JLF: What lead to the decision of becoming an artist?
DR: I was always into it. I started drawing as immediately as I remember.
JLF: What did you draw?
DR: Mainly people. I used to be into characters, I would invent these crazy looking gangs of dudes. Also, from a very early age I would ride the train lines to discover graff. It was something that I used to go home and draw; I would draw the buildings and then the graff on them. The graff itself came later, in the teenage years. I started when I was 13 or 14 pre-any sort of notoriety, but it was the most fun. It was just me, my brother and a couple of other close friends. We were out in the ‘burbs and we had no real connection to graff as of yet. It was more about the adventure, sneaking out at 2am with your cans and coming back the next morning to see what you had done.
JLF: You probably had the most interesting nights of any 13 year old!
DR: I would say so but you never know what is out there.
JLF: What kind of response did you get from your pieces?
DR: It’s usually been positive feedback. It takes some level of credibility to get out there and do it over and over, illegally. The first people to notice are other graff writers. They were into the unique style that me and my bro – my graff partner – had developed based on old school New York graff and psychedelia. So it was always a bit out there. A lot of writers would perfect a piece and vary it over and over again. We would always do something completely different to the last time. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t.
JLF: That’s what comes with experimentation, and something you find in painting to this day. Do you see yourself reflected in your art in any way?
DR: Definitely. It’s a visual standard that I want to see, a certain kind of glamour that is sharp and sophisticated. Whether it’s the guys or girls that I’m painting, there are elements of me in their attitude and “style”. Fashion is an ugly word, but it’s about the way you present yourself and are aware of what appeals to you, being on top of your game. Classy guys like Brian Ferry inspire me. People who are a little out there. Not necessarily fashionable or trendy, but simply artistic in the way they live.
JLF: So your personal standard of presentation and behaviour carries through to the figures you paint?
DR: Yes, which also comes to show that they are reckless and debaucherous as well. When I talk about fashion, glamour or style, I don’t mean something that is upmarket. I’m talking about pushing the envelope creatively, about individualism and a standard of life that should be aspired to.
JLF: In terms of life then, what does that entail?
DR: It means firstly living with truth and integrity, as well as enjoying the finer things. It means finding what is actually worthy and aiming for that. Contributing to the world rather than just consuming or taking up space.
JLF: That’s beautiful. It sounds like you are creating your own ideal world.
DR: You could be right about that. It comes back to what I drew as a kid.
JLF: In your first series of paintings, The Ladies, what was going through your mind at the time of creation?
DR: It was about what I wanted to obtain painting wise. I’ve always been able to draw. So I took that to another level with a medium other than pencils. I also wanted to say, ‘Here I am, I’m on the scene and this is me.’ It was very important for me, to claim my own artistic identity. As for the subject, the women, it’s not about the female body as in the nudes you often see in art, it’s about the women themselves. Representing the strength and beauty I see in them.
JLF: They are indeed powerful. Their stances are assertive and the colour scheme is bold. Is the end result what you expected?
DR: No. Because of my partner’s help, I was opened up to something that was there all along but that I hadn’t tapped into. It turned out a lot better and a lot quicker. It was also different in the fact that I started out wanting to be controlled and design-like. Minimal, clean. I became the opposite. The application of paint is a lot looser than drawing, so I don’t like to plan it too much. It’s dominant and I find it will show you where to go.
JLF: It sounds like you had a click, where the freedom you felt in street art was suddenly translated to the canvas. Have there been unexpected developments or dead-ends?
DR: There’s been many developments and dead-ends. Although the dead-ends are really just detours. They don’t last long. It’s about experimenting, trying things other than ‘proper’ paint such as house paint, spray paint, ink. If I come across something in a tin that looks and feels like paint then I’ll try it out, to some degree. I find that those mixtures really help in creating something different.
JLF: They do create a unique buildup of texture.
DR: Definitely, and that was something I didn’t realise I would be into. And yet I was always about that, because graff is about painting on walls, on trains, these really difficult surfaces. You’re always scraping together your left over cans and painting on anything you can.
JLF: Painting by any means necessary.
DR: Exactly. I like that phrase. I learnt from Basquiat that composition is pivotal and that it’s OK to do whatever you want – you are free! You can stick your parking fine on your canvas if you want. I also learnt that you have to be proficient, if you want to achieve anything. Just keep going, put it out there.
JLF: What would you say have been the most major influences on your art?
DR: It started with graff. I love it, it’s an addiction and a world of it’s own. The first artist that got me though was Basquiat, who I discovered through album covers and other graff artists. He is the transition between the two, really. I don’t know what it is but his work makes me want to do art. It’s just beautiful. Fashion illustration also made sense to me because it’s similar to how I draw. I also think it has been a build up of visually pleasing things; record covers, a beautifully designed car…a great song, even. It’s about the construction of a beautiful, well-designed, meaningful thing.
JLF: Is there a message you are trying to impress upon your audience?
DR: Art – all the arts – are beautiful; to appreciate them and not scrutinise them so much. If your heart is in it then there is a lot to take from it, if you want to. If it’s just you alone it doesn’t matter what anyone else feels. What do you really feel? Do you really like that song, or is it just because your mates do? If you were on your own, would you secretly be listening to something they think is daggy? So give it a go. Appreciate it for the contribution to the world that it is.
To see the work of Dolan Reskov in the flesh, keep an eye out for his collaborative painting show on the 3rd of October at Paddington RSL.
See more of Juliette’s interviews either on TBS or at her personal blog.