Introducing Shai Dahan of Abztract
In this segment we would like to introduce to you artist and co-founder of Abztract Collective, Shai Dahan. Giving us a deep look into street-art culture, check out our interview below along with some of his artwork. All of his artwork can be picked up through our friends over at Abztract.
Name: Shai Dahan
Hometown: Raised in Los Angeles, grew my passion for Street-Art while living in New York, and now residing in Sweden
SG: How did you get into graffiti/streetart scene and how long have you been doing it?
SD: To be totally honest, my first vandal-ish experience was when I was 14 years old. Me and a group of friends did really terrible graffiti in LA. I thought I was so awesome. If I met my 14 year old self now, I would slap the heck out of him for taking such a high risk at such a young age. I did it in broad daylight sometimes, in front of people and without a lookout or even without trying to be careful. I was arrogant and ignorant. But then again, that is what being 14 is for.
I then fell inlove with the skateboarding and surfing culture while in Los Angeles. Once I got into my twenties, I began to paint surfboards and skateboards. I eventually moved to New York City where I continued to paint skateboards under the website Deckyourself. I basically did a lot of customized skateboards. Painting peoples dogs on skate decks and such. Eventually, my good friend Rich came to me about starting a website where we can expand the idea of painting on skateboards.
That’s how Abztract started. It really began from me inviting other artists to paint on skateboards and selling them on our website. Eventually, at some point, we crossed a line into the urban / street-art culture. I was very familiar with many different artists and websites who were in that culture. For years I read Wooster or knew who David Flores and Kaws were. But once Abztract started working with the artists in New York and LA who were really knee deep into that culture, the more I fell in love with it. Before I knew it, we had some amazing artists working with us. Philip Lumbang, Jordan Seiler of Public Ad Campaign all were on board with us very early on. It was really strange how quickly I met many of our artists. The most beautiful part of this culture is that everyone knows everyone. It is like one big family.
Now, a bit over 4 years since we began Abztract, we have a fantastic group of artists from all over the world. We worked with some really great brands too that understand this culture rather than try to piggy-back on it. We have curated art shows in New York, Los Angeles and this year we will have our first European show. But at the end of the day, I still get the joy of seeing new work from our artists on the streets. That is the most thrilling for me. It really inspires me as an artist. I have done a bit more street work since my days as a 14 year old tagger. But I think that now, doing art on the street has to have a purpose for me. A meaning. The risk, the public viewing, the reason, it all has to have a definition. I think that to me it is really important to deliver work on the street for the public when I feel really strong about what it is I want to say.
SG: Who/what are your biggest influences in your style?
SD: Well, I have always been drawn to painting and sketching animals. When I was younger I was a nature docent in LA. Took young kids on walks in the hills and knew way more facts about birds and wolves than I should have. Since then, I have always been attached to animals. I think over time, I really tried to find a definition for my art. Once I started painting my “Bird Gun” series it became clear to me that I really wanted to express how animals are so submissive and almost helpless in their own environment. Being in a natural environment becomes very difficult for them due to the human tampering.
From then on, I knew I wanted to express that in a humorous and witty way. I began painting birds with weapons for their heads almost to show how armed an animal must be to protect themselves or their environment. And really, how in a reverse thought, we tend to be so brave stepping into their environment only because we carry weapons. If we stripped that away, we are really just as fragile.
The style is continuously evolving for me. My biggest inspirations are Josh Keyes, Conor Harrington and Veng of Robots Will Kill really. All of them for different reasons. Keyes really knows how to deliver the message in his painting in a very simple but beautiful way. It is really the smallest detail that has the most impact. With Harrington, I think its the combination of graffiti, spray paint and the drips mixed with some of the great detail he puts into his characters is something I am really in love with. There is just a real authentic signature in his work that I really admire. With Veng, its the detail in the animals life that he produces. Being part of Abztract Collective I had the chance to watch this guy paint. I never will be able to claim to have spray can control after watching him. The kid was born a natural. You can see it in his work. He just really can paint a life into his animals and characters. When you step back you really feel the life in them. I take my influence from all of that, along with the culture I am around and let that form its own method or message.
SG: What other artists/graffiti related or otherwise – are you excited about now?
SD: Lister, Boxi, Blu, Peeta, Joe Iurato, Damon Ginandes, Taka Sudo, Dan Witz, Ludo, Candice Tripp just to name a few. I have a much longer list than that, but honestly, as an artist, you get excited about art daily. I spend a good portion of my day looking at Unurth and a few other sites just to see what new work is up around the world today. Its exciting. Its like having your favorite musician possibly drop a new single and you never know when so you check every morning. I love that. I love there is just so much work out there on the streets by artists instead of behind closed doors. People walking around can snap a photo of a new piece by someone the same night it goes up, and then post it online for everyone to see it. It’s a beautiful cycle.
SG: What are your favorite media to use and why?
SD: I am still exploring to be honest. My most recent work for a gallery show I am doing in Philly, I tried a bit of everything I am familiar with. I used acrylics, watercolor, wheatpastes, markers, spray paint. I do layers of different things and try to work them together. I feel like it really depends on the piece and what it deserves. I am really enjoying acrylics right at the moment but I try to incorporate a bit of spray paint and other things to it.
SG: When posting your art on the street, how do you choose a location and what process do you go through?
SD: Usually I try to do it in places I know. Its the only way I feel comfortable enough because I know the people, the area, and the rounds. I pasted a few times in Venice, CA, New York and now that I am in Sweden, hoping to dip my fingers in Scandinavia. It is really about finding a spot that works well with the piece. I look for colors of the wall or whatnot to really work together with the paint or wheatpaste. I want the wall the art is going on to be part of the art once they join, not just a place to hold my art. It should add to the neighborhood, not take away from it. I don’t want to cover up a wall just for the sake of getting something on a blank space. I want it to be there because it ties together into the culture in that neighborhood. Become part of the city. Even if it is temporarily.
SG: With the popularity of street/graffiti art, what were you doing or still doing before you made it in the art game?
SD: Well, I don’t think I “made it” in the art game. I think that my biggest accomplishment is Abztract. It is being able to collaborate and work with artists I admired and read about well before I began Abztract. It is being able to curate a show and see people who I never met talk to friends about a piece or pieces myself or one of our artists is hanging. It feels like we are helping the movement. I see Street-Art very similar to how Hip Hop started out. People at first didn’t understand it, or felt threatened by it. But it had its followers. It had a movement. And street-art is very similar. A lot of people just write it off as vandalism. They don’t understand it or they fear it is destroying their community. I think its the opposite. In the same sense that Hip-Hop gave hope and motivation to kids to do something they love and knew about (rhyming and breakdancing), street-art helps a lot of people want to give back to their community through art. By being able to put something and even if it only remains for 24 hours, someone walking down at 7 am to work, will notice it and put a smile on their face because they saw a painting where normally they saw an ad for American Eagle. It suddenly makes our streets our very own galleries much like every corner with a rhyme circle became its very own private Hip-Hop show.
SG: Where do you see yourself or where do you want to go with your art in the next 5 years??
SD: Abztract is growing daily. We have new artists joining us in the upcoming months, new shows and new collaborations. We never expected things to grow so quickly and so large but I think we stuck to what we always believed: Honesty and Quality. We communicate with our artists and clients very openly and we try to produce quality products with those artists. I think that a company has to shift and change as the culture it is in shifts and changes. I think the only way to do that is to be in it. We have always tried to be part of the street-art culture and myself being an artist, and my partner being a collector, we understood very well what Artists and our Clients want. We were able to provide a really great brand without crossing over the line and disrespecting or offending the culture itself.