turn a street corner in sydney and it won’t be long before you’ll come face to face with the inimitable script that made DMOTE the renowned artist he is today. now residing in new york city, the epicentre of graffiti culture, shannon ‘DMOTE’ peel has expanded his creative repertoire to include fine art, design, and art direction.
we sat down with shannon to discuss his early influences, how he created his custom fabric print for bassike pre collection ‘20, and his thoughts on graffiti culture in 2020.
what was it about graffiti that first captured your imagination?
in the early eighties when i first discovered the art of graffiti it was in the background of video clips like malcolm mclaren’s ‘buffalo gals’ and rock steady crew’s ‘hey you’. i was dancing before i wrote graffiti, as was every young teen around the world at the time. hip hop was in its infant stages and exploding. i was an artistic kid, so coming from breaking (breakdancing), the visual art to accompany this culture was writing. i started doing that in 1985.
how did you end up taking your art from the streets into the commercial world?
i was doing graffiti related jobs for as long as i could remember, but on a very small scale. in the early 2000’s, i started to do graphics for clothing and advertising companies, that’s where i met the guys from tsubi who offered me a more permanent position working for the brand. it was there that i really started to design and art direct.
how do you go about striking a balance between staying true to the graffiti art form and applying it to commercial projects?
i very rarely do my graff style or lettering for any company, i can’t just give that away so freely. the reason i was so happy to collaborate with bassike is that i have a history with the owners and respect and appreciate what they’ve done in their field, so it was an easy one for me. if i give my culture to a company, we have to complement each other and work together harmoniously.
" hip hop was in its infant stages and exploding. i was an artistic kid, so coming from breaking (breakdancing), the visual art to accompany this culture was writing. "
for a label that has historically avoided obvious branding, how did you go about creating the custom graphics for bassike’s pre collection print?
i just did what i do and left it up the team at bassike to place and apply it. we started with something very loud colour-wise and eventually brought it back to something more subtle and earthy. it was a nice way for such a busy graphic to level out and not fight the design of the clothing.
what’s your preferred medium to work with?
i work in a lot of mediums - spray paint is obviously a favourite. i’ve been using it way more loosely and immediately, i want you to be able to tell it’s a spray can - drips and fuzz are the most exciting parts of the medium. i’m not trying to hide those things. in my personal work i’ve been drawing a lot with a greasy permanent pencil. these again make the line much looser and more gritty.
what’s your perspective on graffiti culture in 2020? if it’s viewed or accepted differently in nyc compared to back home in australia, why do you think this is the case?
this is a complex question as there are so many levels and perceptions of what graffiti is. for me personally, real graff culture is in a great place. style is really developing and it’s exciting for me. it’s still very underground and will probably stay pretty internal. there are also the superstars of the culture that have emerged as major players in the art world. who’d have imagined as a writer growing up in australia that we would see a major solo exhibition at the national gallery of victoria by ‘KAWS’. that’s incredible to watch, so across the board it’s thriving and flourishing.
as far as public perception goes, new york will always be vastly different. most people who grew up here have some degree of association to the art form. everyone has a cousin or brother who wrote at some point. the pioneers are 60 years old, so imagine how many people in the past 40 years have come in contact with and want to be part of their stories, it’s engrained in the concrete and the walls here. people live outside and with it every day – imagine if you woke up one day and there was no graff on the streets in new york…
what does a typical day in your life look like?
ha! i just had a baby so it’s all him. he’s super cool and very exciting so my day is changing nappies and trying to figure out how to get anything creative done...
on your bookshelf?
i should read more but never have the time… i did just listen to the audio of the beastie boys’ new book. i look at a lot of art books, my mum just brought me the book from the ‘japan supernatural’ show at the nsw gallery.
on your tv screen?
‘watchmen’ was dope and i’m mostly through ‘the outsider’ with ben mendelsohn - pretty creepy. my favourite show is ‘jeopardy’.
playing on repeat?
so much new music, but artists I’ve loved over the past few months are 070 shake, royce da 5’9”, moses sumney, burna boy, and saint jhn.
what are some of your go-to spots to eat, drink and get inspired in nyc?
i always try and see the galleries in chelsea and the upper east side as well as MOMA. it’s a great day when i can get to the bronx and see my people in hunts point. i’ve lived in greenpoint for ten years now, so the waterfront has always been a place i can walk to and reset a little.
for food and drink – café mogador in williamsburg is our favourite breakfast spot, vamos al tequila in greenpoint is the best for mexican, but if you want real authenticity in any type of food, you have to go to queens.
what’s next on the agenda for you?
i’m part of a group show in east hampton that i’m very excited about, more details to come!