Portrait of DMOTE. Enter his world and history from Sydney in 1985 to NYC in 2012. A true graffiti activist.
Here's for FatCap readers an exclusive portrait of DMOTE (TATS cru) by Sarah Lester.
Additional images from DMOTE & Luke Shirlaw.
Hailing from Australia DMOTE (Shannon Peel) has a seriously diverse creative resume, none of which was particularly planned. He started writing grafﬁti in 1985 upon a move to Sydney but his afﬁnity with the hip hop movement began years earlier. Living in the country and already heavily into b-boying he and his friends sought out all the material on this culture they could, watching movies and documentaries like Beat Street, Break Dance, Wild Style, and Style Wars. Like the rest of the world outside NYC, this was how he and his friends found out about the culture that was exploding within it.
DMOTE is quick to acknowledge the difﬁculty involved in gaining knowledge about your subculture when he started writing, in this pre-internet time they were extremely divided. "If you were a skater, you were a skater. If you were a skin-head, you were a skin head." If you managed to get your hands on a VHS copy of Wild Style or Style Wars they were barely watchable having been copied and played so many times. During their ﬁrst ten years of writing exposure to the New York scene was minimal but occasionally photos of NYC subway graff would fall into their hands. These images were held as sacred insights into the heart of the movement, divulging styles and happenings from the other side of the planet. As the scene grew and strengthened in Australia different people fed hip-hop culture with their area's of expertise. Blaze (Australian DJ/Producer) would put mix-tapes together, they'd get taped by everyone and passed around, he was the man doing that research. From that it would snowball and Blaze would wind up educating their community on the soundtrack of the movement. As DMOTE puts it, "The whole sub-culture was perpetuated by that kind of enthusiasm."
After 15 years of doing grafﬁti on the streets of Sydney it's not hard to believe he built a name for himself. These years of painting were in no way a master plan to land a job, it's just what he did. Running with bad kids, doing grafﬁti, smoking weed and living the life this lifestyle allowed. As he got older he focused more on painting and developed a highly polished style that set him apart from other artists and gained him solid recognition. Brand owners that were hip to the subculture began approaching him and the job offers began. After producing two successful t-shirt designs for Ksubi (formally Tsubi) the owners asked where he wanted to do with his life, having never had a job his response was: "I just want to work one day a week". Eventually one day turned into three and soon he was doing the majority of the labels graphics. With no formal fashion training and a graphic design diploma he learnt to apply his creative sense to a landscape far different from the street-scape he was accustomed to. Much of his industry knowledge is attributed to his friends at the time who worked in fashion and allowed him some invaluable insight through working with them. Things spiraled and in addition to the work at Ksubi his designs were sought by Insight, Reebok, Motorola, MTV, festivals, conferences, events and artist collaborations. This brought him to the attention of Pat Tenore (RVCA founder) who offered him the position of Art Director. In 2007 he accepted the job and relocated from Sydney to California, into a full-time gig at RVCA. All these things came, he says most earnestly "...from positive energy and doing something you love."
In this time where artists are sought after to bring some cool-factor to a variety of brands and products DMOTE remains strong in his convictions to keep the grafﬁti separate from his work. The wake-up call for him was a commissioned job in Sydney painting for M&M's. "At the end of the day I want to walk past advertising jobs and be happy about what I've done." When the piece - a huge billboard on Sydney's Oxford Street - was near completion he did walk past and although he admits it looked cool he didn't believe in it as a project. His main response to it as a piece of his work was "What is this?" Immediately he dropped out of the project and had a friend complete it for him. This culture and art-form are his personal thing and it being used as a business tool, for him, extracts the passion and heart. He is also of the belief that grafﬁti and canvas should keep to themselves, that's unless there is some historical signiﬁcance i.e you're CRASH, DAZE or FUTURA etc, otherwise, he feels it simply isn't important. He whole heartedly applies this to his practice, seeing himself as a kid who started 15 years after the movement. "I want to keep my grafﬁti on the streets."
Now based in NYC as he's been for the past 3 years his love for the art-form has been renewed. Living in this graff mecca his focus has channeled toward certain fundamentals: structural elements of letters, connections, movement, and the way he builds color within his pieces. Starting simple and then building from the base out. The streets continue to inspire him with their never-ending catalogue of tags and throw-up's. In Australia he'd given up on grafﬁti, in California he'd stopped but in NYC he's feeling it. "NYC feeds and inspires me," he comes out of his house and it's apparent the street energy in NYC is alive and well. Dj's playing in the park, people playing ball in the streets, he admits he may spend too much time hanging out. The day we had a chat he said he woke up, went out to shoot hoops, hung out and went to a gallery, then ended up at bar "It's very easy to do here in NYC, you can't do that in Australia."
Back in 1999 DMOTE was introduced to the TATS CRU through mutual friends on their visit to Australia. Since then they remained friends and over ten years and multiple trips to New York he came to know the entire crew. Once he moved to the city he began painting with them consistently. Having come from a place where loyalty is paramount he steers clear of grafﬁtti politics by painting with good friends who he has more than enough opportunity to paint and collaborate with.
The past few years have seen DMOTE focus on a more 'ﬁne-art' phase of his career. As a creative he's always dabbled in a variety of artistic genres and explored mediums from drawing to painting and print-making. Having worked in so many different area's throughout the course of his life he admits, "I feel like I haven't had an identity up until this point." As with anything through trial and error we learn what we want, and what we care about and just as importantly what it is we don't. Applying his skills to fashion and advertising there have been lessons that revealed some area's of his expression are sacred and should only be done for the love. His present work as a painter sees him exploring more realistic and textural subject matter and although he says he's unsure of his clear future path he has a strong sense of direction. Having come this far as a creative without a highly orchestrated plan it seems that by doing his thing, creating work he is proud of, painting with people he respects and staying true he is already on course. He is adamant that "Ultimately you make your own luck and path in this world." It's pretty clear he already has. For more information on DMOTE and his work you can check his website or his blog.