Happening upon one of Dee Dee’s paintings on the street, you encounter the fresh and the fiery, or the dark and mysterious. Her work is pulled from the future yet references the past, put together in texture and color. In Dee Dee’s world, every perspective is valid. She doesn’t have to use words; She can do it with a picture. Once you understand her process, you can almost feel the beat of the song she heard in the rhythm of your step and sense her mood.
An otherwise engaged face can be cradled with a delicate veil, and others, filled with confident moxie-filled punk mien. Who and what Dee Dee paints is giving yet guarded, sharp but smooth, collected, and ardent. A colorful mood is thought up in tandem with a lyric or phrase from someone’s song, vibration, and spirit. It is created in allegiance to what resonates in her soul and woven with what she dreams.
I believe the most accurate way to describe her process may be to call it an intentional manifestation. She purposely creates a consistent ambiance for extended periods to envelope herself with a specific music band, genre, or sound. A fresh memory is put together in a physical work from an old song. A visual continuation of a creative minset, like a baton being passed. Her insight in music is anything from Bauhaus to Broadway. Her chosen style builds a state of mind. It registers in the way she may dress and the work she creates. Then, in secret, she will shares with us, in open places where we may go and it becomes what we will see. She sets upon us all the mystery and the feeling that is so uniquely Dee Dee.
Although you won’t see Dee Dee, you will feel her. Dee Dee is with us in the streets, the guardian of spirit and sentiment with a mystery and beat all her own. You can sense her humanity and her responsiveness. Her curiosity in others and devotion to a genre she skillfully wraps herself in.
Human beings have this beautiful connection through creative expressions, such as music, art, cinema, and writing. When you walk down the street and see her work, it is unmistakable.
I saw once a painted series on canvas of “Doors in New York City,” based on downtown. These unique six-foot life-size portals look like what you could see every day walking in the lower East Side of New York, and in one is a rendition of one of Dee Dee’s characters, nestled in the mix of the graffiti and pasted notes. Her work is an iconic part of New York’s culture. I asked the artist if he knew Dee Dee and he did not, which affirms the statement beautifully.
My time getting to know Dee Dee has been very exploratory and gratifying for me. I’m watching movies I didn’t know about (and loving), find myself re-listening to lyrics I would pass over, and take some extra time when in front of a vinyl record. I feel like I have made a pen pal and met someone who understands me. There is something familiar about her, and that transcends into her work as well. Perhaps the familiarity and link is the tune, the poem, or the article we know and love. Perhaps its how personable she is. We definitly have music in common, and find myself going down a rabbit hole with her on the subject, talking about 80’s obscure bands and she goes right with me, and we laugh at the cooincidences and people we both know of and relate to. I sometimes think about all of the things that have transpired since that music has been made and I think about all the time her work has weathered within the streets in all the circumstances, steadfast.
In all seasons, she shares her devotion to emotion, like a warm embrace. You can see versions of her as you pass by and observe the work she bestows in obscurity, out in open spaces in a place she designates, that becomes the keeper of her spirit and emotion and the mystery of her tune.. Sometimes, pasted outside where the seasons and moods often meld, the warm sun may shine, the gales may blow, and the rain may fall, and within all literal and metaphoric occurrences that encapsulate life, you feel her mode. She is bright, personable, and responsive. She is engaging and interested in a beautifully balanced way. There is a brilliant slice of her in silence while we go about our days, and as you understand her better, you can feel her hope, joyfulness, and most of all, brilliantly without her being there, her company.
DP- What are the must-haves in Dee Dee’s playhouse for you to be able to create?
DD- Many magazines, lots of Exacto knives, silkscreens, and a few hundred cans of spray paint!
Music is probably the most important. Music is everything. I will always be listening to music. I try to make a piece feel the way a particular piece of music makes me feel. I want to inject that feeling inside my art. The sound will inform colors, how something is painted. I can sit and listen to a song on repeat for a ridiculous amount of time (and often do) as I work to the point where it becomes hypnotic. It can be like a transcendental state where ideas really flow.
Generally, each year, I will be listening to a particular artist who will be very instrumental in the inspiration of my work for that year (which I refer to as a wave). Some years it is a compilation of artists, much like a mixtape. Sometimes it is primarily one. There has been Bowie, Duran Duran, Bauhaus, Prince. I have already begun my next wave… so far, this year is very Led Zeppelin. The lightness and darkness, the mysteriousness.
Films are also very important to me. I like to get lost in stories and feelings. David Lynch does that the best for me. Kubrick as well. The other evening I was rewatching Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and the feeling was beautiful… I like to hold the feelings they give me and make art that gives me that same feeling. I am a vampire that lives off feelings!
DP- Music is a focal part of your creative process. Do you play any instruments, write songs? The way you express yourself is almost poetic.
DD- I would say if you give me any musical instrument I can make music with it.
I fell in love with music when I was very young. I think of everything I do in musical terms… I think of my pieces as songs, and the streets where I place them are the radio stations that play my songs. A show is a concert. It is how I relate to the world in so many ways… And I feel that many people who love and follow my work relate to me in a similar way to someone who follows a band. I recognize it.
DP-Talk to me about your anchors; how do you choose them, or is it something that happens organically?
DD-An anchor is what I refer to as an image that I will build a collage around. I never choose them; they always hit me just like love at first sight. I just know the moment I see an image, I want to anchor a collage on. It can be a face, a body, a body part, an element. It’s basically the idea. I SEE the idea, and then I build on that idea and follow it where it leads me. The anchor calls me over and then points me down the path we are going to take together.
DP-I love that you recognized the streets as the most immediate gallery and the place where everyone can have access to art. Are locations predetermined, or do you make a work and then look for a spot that feels right for it?
DD-Definitely both. I walk all over the city, and I am always looking at walls, doors, the architecture of everything I pass. I look at the surroundings as possibilities… so walking around with me can be quite annoying for people! I have to constantly stop to feel a surface or write down an address. I will also just grab some work, hit the street, and if a spot feels right, I will just know. It is like adjusting the tuner on a radio, and suddenly the station comes in. I just happen to be the one who has the song ready to play.
DP-What are the ghost tapes? Are they dropping? Have they dropped?
DD-They have not dropped yet, but I plan on dropping them in the near future as a number of people have said yes to doing them. The ghost tapes are interviews between myself and musicians/artists about the creative process. I am very fortunate in that I am quite friendly with most of my favorite artists, and a number of my favorite musicians are also fans of my work. I feel it would be interesting from the perspective that the conversations are between two people who create because I always find the creative process interesting, particularly with people who don’t do what I do, for example, a musician or a filmmaker. Also, quite selfishly, I will be asking what I want to know myself.
DP-Is your anonymity a way to keep expectations and the anxiety the art industry sometimes brings at bay?
DD-Interesting question. I honestly have no expectations to meet at all. I once heard an interviewer ask Prince what new music he was listening to. He responded, “When I want to hear new music, I make it.” That is precisely what I do. I make the art that I want to see myself. When I want to see new art, I make it. There is no expectation to meet. I love putting my work out into the world, and the fact people have responded to it is truly lovely, but the art itself is made for me.
My anonymity is a number of things to me. Who I am is so unimportant. I am right there in all my work. I find it so remarkable that today everyone wants everyone to know everything about them… and all of the time.
Do you remember that feeling as a child that you had on Halloween night when you put on your mask and went out into the night? I always felt it was like suddenly being given total freedom. I could go anywhere. I could do anything. You could be purely yourself. Now Halloween for me is all day, every day.
DP-Do you think Portraiture, depending on the intention, in the street can cause an internal individual or external societal dialogue?
DD-Most definitely. I think more internally, myself. My collages are mostly portraits of characters in a story I am telling. Some individuals who stop to take that in will discern what that story is for themselves. I have heard from some people what they feel the story is, and it always amazes me. How it resonates with them or how they see themselves within it. I have had quite a few people tell me they feel the characters in my pieces ARE them. I’ve been told many times my pieces have given them comfort, confidence, and strength. I think there are lots of things I am saying about myself in my work that people seem to also relate to themselves, which is wonderful.
DP-Do you think the female form is easier received and noticed than the male? Is this why you use women, or is there a deeper message?
DD-I actually use both men and women, though there are far more women depicted in my pieces than men. There is no real deep message behind that. I am trying to tell a story within my pieces. Those stories are told more often by women in my world. Maybe women just tell my stories a lot better than men.
DP-There is a fine line of domesticity and punk in your work; is this you?
DD-Interesting… For me, my work IS punk. The same way a bunch of kids would get together and want to start a band. They may not have been able to play their instruments, but they made noise and figured out how to say what they wanted to. Quite a few of my favorite bands started this way, and it is how I started as well. How do I say what I want to? I am just going to jump in and figure it out.
DP-What is it like to be a fly on the wall in your own shows?
DD-The ghost life… I don’t always attend shows I am in. I feel I know the work, I have lived with it, so there is no real need for me to go quite honestly. When I do go, it is interesting because I actually become totally invisible. I’ve stood next to people taking photographs of my work, I have listened to people discuss me. You get to hear what people actually think about what you do, which can be entertaining. Sometimes it can be startling, as I was once on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, and two women walking by were having a discussion about me. Of all the things two strangers could be talking about. Me. And I was standing right there.
DP-You have awesome T-shirts and Towels, and bags, and they look amazing! How does that feel to see people wearing them about or online?
DD-Thank you for the compliment. That is always so fun to see. I love wearing rock and roll tour shirts, so when I see someone with something of mine, it feels like people are wearing a tour shirt of mine. So many people love those, particularly the tote bags. I like having some things available like that because not everyone can afford a piece or a print, but most people can afford a tote bag or a shirt. If they love my art, they can have a piece of my work in that way, and I am flattered to become a part of their daily life.
DP-What are some of your favorite ways of creating familiarity with your audience, as you prefer to be anonymous?
DD-There is so much of me in my work. Everything I do has me in it. I tell things about me in them. I reveal secrets about myself in them. I think people pick up on this whether they realize it or not because the people who love my work seem to really get it. I was once told by a gallery owner at my first solo show. “I have met a lot of your fans. They don’t love you, they LOVE YOU” as she wrapped her arms around herself.
I think it is very much the same way I feel about certain bands or artists. Their work resonates deeply inside me. It is like a pop group of the moment with many fans who love them, but then over here, you have a band like The Cure. Their core group of fans LOVE them. They stay with them. It resonates from a very deep place. I have felt that from many of my fans.
While I am anonymous, I do have people reaching out to me, and I remain accessible to them. If someone emails or messages me, I am happy to respond. Like Prince once said, “My songs are my children… My fans are my children’s friends. I respect them and want to communicate with them.”
Quotes, notes, smells, songs and art can give us instant recall, both intellectually and emotionally. I look at her work, and I think, it was 2020, and Dee Dee was vibing to Prince when she painted that. Now with my memories of 1984, when Prince dropped purple rain, I think of purple velvet jackets, and that time in 2012 I was at the Veneta Project with my friend Kwesi singing and laughing, and now, Dee Dee comes to mind. No matter how different we all may be, or what we may listen to, music anchors us to to a holiday dinner, a mosh pit, a first date, a breakup, a summer someplace, even a temperature and what was happening can bring on a smile, or a tear, reminding us all of what the music can make us do. Lucky for us, music makes Dee Dee paint.