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Shai Dahan – The Swede from LA

Presenting in our latest interview, a talented and extremely busy street artist… Shai Dahan. A man who eagerly spears some of his time to shed light into his life, his inspirations as well as his future plans.
Read on and get to know more about a multi cultured person, driven by inspiration who is also a family guy… 

(ISSA) – Hi Shai,  What would you choose to drink? Coffee, Tea, Beer, Soda or something else?

(Shai Dahan) – I am a coffee person. A lot of it too.  I have a routine to get into the studio daily, and the first thing I do is make coffee.  I think routines are great to force you to go work as an artist and I suppose the coffee is the trigger.

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– Introduce yourself to our readers!

I am a Husband, a father, a son, and an artist. In that order I suppose 🙂  I am an Israeli-born, California raised, New York influenced, Swedish resident if you want to be specific.

– Where does your tag name come from?- 

I use my own name.  I had a tag name when I was in High School.  It was lame so I wont repeat it.  But today (and for the past 10 years or so of my art career) I have just used my own name.  I figured a name like “Shai” is already kind of unique in its own way.

– How do you define yourself? Artist? Street artist? Anything else?

– On paper? Contemporary Artist and Street Artist but I think that this is mostly for people who need to categorize or define artists.  Especially here in Sweden.  But for myself? I am just a guy who likes to paint.  Indoors, outdoors or on doors, I just want to paint 🙂

Shai Dahan in Sweden

 

– How did it all start for you, and what is it nowadays?

I was raised in Los Angeles since I was 10 years old.  Grew up in the beach lifestyle enjoying growing up with skateboarding and surfing culture.  Was introduced to graffiti culture in 1993 when I Was about 14 years old. I was basically in a couple of tagging crews and ran around writing.  A few years later I started painting on skateboards and surfboards.  Very influenced by the skate culture.  I eventually moved to New York and began to work on some street-art projects and meeting some amazing artists and friends.  They really inspired me to really try to push my artwork and develop my own style.  I started by doing my ‘Birdgun’ Series.  Basically stencils and paintings of birds with guns for their heads.   I exhibited in a few group shows in New York and Los Angeles  and after moving to Sweden in 2010, I really started to work as an artist full time.  Since 2010 I have had numerous solo shows and projects and murals which has really helped my career and now I do it full time.  

-What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Well, 6 months ago my routine was a bit different than today. Over Christmas, we welcomed my daughter who is my first child.  So, my mornings are not what they used to be.  They are usually very sleep deprived now.  But, my schedule is routine when I am working.  I usually eat a healthy breakfast, have coffee, take my two dogs on a walk and then walk out to go to my art studio.  When I arrive at my studio I start my mornings with some kind of Podcast. Either art related, history related or just random. Some examples are audio books on art history or a podcast called Futility Closet which is just random oddities and history stuff.   I like listening to that while I start my mornings.  Painting to me take a bit of time to get the flow going.  In my studio I usually work on multiple paintings at the same time so the first few hours in the morning are mostly prep work and getting started so Podcasts are usually great.  After lunch, I migrate to music and depending on what I am painting, will change the music.  From classical, to old 45′ soul, to 90s Hip Hop to completely random music.   It all depends on what kind of work I am doing. Sounds strange, but it really makes a difference.  When I work with spraypaint and doing backgrounds for example, I tend to listen to Hip Hop. But when I work on small details, like eyes, or hands, things that need my attention, I switch to softer sounds like classical piano or orchestra music. I work usually from 8 in the morning until 6 in the evening Monday thru Friday.  I try to discipline myself to treat my art as a job.  This way, it makes me work hard and continue to grown.   Even on days I am not in the mood to paint, I go into the studio and clean up or organize or work on sketches.  It has to be treated this way for me to be able to continue to make a living from it.  

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– In all forms of art, inspiration is crucial. What inspires you?

My inspiration comes from different things.  Nature for one.  Since moving to Sweden I really explore the outdoors a lot more than I used to.   My wifes family have a summer house which is out in the woods.  Like 45 minute drive into the middle of nowhere.  I go there sometimes to paint.  Its fantastic. No internet service, my phone goes out of reception, there is no TV.  Just very oldschool.  Fireplace and deers.  On the otherhand, I get inspired by history.  My last few exhibitions revolved around time periods.  The early 1900s, or the Royal Guards.  The exhibit I am preparing for now is heavily inspired by Greek mythology and old classical artworks.  I been reading a lot of books on Carvaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Herbert Draper, Jan Van Eyck.  Even my horse paintings get heavily inspired by the likes of George Stubbs for example.  I really love the idea of how much symbolism was in their works.  Little details. I am trying to push myself to do more works like that, and still have my mix of the street-art culture by mixing spraypaint and colors into the fine-art side of my style.

– Before going out to paint, what’s on your check list to take along?

– Phone, sketchbook, roller and paint. Thats it.  Sometimes, I go without knowing what to paint, so I just grab a 5 liter bucket of white paint and a small bucket of black (for outlines) and just head out.  I think it is more fun that way.  Paint whatever comes naturally to the environment you are in.

– Do you have an artist you admire and why is it?

– I have a few. As mentioned above, I get influenced a LOT by old, classical artists.   There are a lot of current artists that inspire me as well and I think a lot of the new, young, talents we see in the Street-Art world now are very much shaping the culture for the better.  Not only are they amazingly talented, but they push old guys like me to work harder.  It excites me to see young artists doing extraordinary work outdoors, because I enjoy looking at art besides making it. AND, it makes me realize these guys and girls have an entire career ahead of them. They are young and have years to continue. They are so good now, that I am excited to see what they will be developing into 5, 10, 15 years from now.  Its a very exciting time for Street-Art and it is a new renaissance.

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– Which cities do you think are the most inspirational in Street Art?

– Thats hard because I think this changes often. I know POLAND is doing BIG things now.  I was there a couple years ago painting my largest mural for Monumental Art Festival in Gdansk.  But, you have some amazing artists coming out of Poland. Etam Cru, Natalia Rak, Robert Proch and the list goes on an on.  They also have some great festivals there.  I think Poland is really the strong leaders at the moment along with Spain and Italy in my opinion.    In 2014, I had the pleasure of curating No Limit Festival in Borås, Sweden.   I founded the festival and was able to get it to happen for the first time in 2014.  It was intense and such a huge success. Sweden has been out of the Street-Art game atleast in the sense of having large murals pop up.  But now, with No Limit, we have been able to open doors.  Its very exciting.  We are now working on 2015 with a line-up of amazing talents again and I am so stoked because it really is helping us (Sweden) find a place in the Street-Art community.

-Do you have other passions apart from art?

– I am a bit of a dork and a geek.  I write a lot.  From children books to random cartoons.  A lot of this stuff I do not publish. Its mostly for fun.  I also run a company in Sweden called EAST 39th which is a Menswear brand based on my own artworks.  It was supposed to be just a hobby, something I would sell on my webshop but it somehow became a much bigger thing.  We are in stores across Sweden and growing very fast. It is a bit strange and fun at the same time.

-What is your wildest project that you dream of achieving some day?

I have a “bucket list” of sort. I write things on it from time to time and then try to work hard at accomplishing it.  Some things I have been able to achieve such as doing a Museum show, painting in Palestine,  speaking at TEDx, or hosting a festival.  All of those things, I wrote long ago and then set myself to try to complete them.

Things that are currently on my list? Having a solo show in London and/or Paris.  Painting a mural in Rome and Italy.  Releasing a book of my artworks and doing more charitable work. I try to do charity work annually.  At the moment I work 80% of the time and do charity 20% of the time.  My dream is to get to a point in my career where I can afford to do 20% work and 80% charity.  But with a family to support, I have to work really hard to get to that.  But I still try.

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– Does your art include symbolisms, messages or repeated patterns?

– It does.  My horses for example are a big symbolic idea. The Dala Horses for example are a big thing here in Sweden. But as an art history lover, I also love the idea how horses have been used in history to symbolize everything from death, to purity, to passion and I try to create that with my work now.  My newest work is taking it one step further.  I really try to find a way to express multi-levels of symbolisms and concepts within the composition.  From the layout, to the lighting to the characters.  It all has a reason and is all tied together.

-What is your reaction when you realise someone has vandalised your creation?

– I always believed “The Streets give, and the streets taketh away”.  If you go out painting knowing that, then you will be fine.  I don’t have a problem with that as much as I do seeing tags on old historic buildings. There is a building not far from where I live. It is a building from the 1800s.  Has a lot of history to the town.  Someone has been tagging it over and over consistently.  I love graffiti and I love the tagging culture, but I do have a problem with someone not appreciating history.  There are plenty of buildings to express yourself, but a building that is 200 years old is probably not something that should be included.  Just my opinion. I know I can get some flack for that or say that sounds hypocritical but I think anything that is older than your grandparents should be left off unless you are requested to add to it.

-What is it you believe that people first think of or feel when they see one of your works on the street?

– Hopefully joy or happiness or just think its neat. But I do know there are those who don’t like some of my work or don’t “get it” which is fine as well.  Its not for everyone.

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 – If you were a president what would you change in this world?

Well, I don’t think the president has the power to change the things I would want to see changed (racisim, facisim, etc) but I do think Art Education is important.  I am not sure how it is in other countries, but in the U.S. Art Education is the first thing to suffer.  They get budget cuts and it is not something that is taken seriously. I even recall my teacher in school telling me to stop doodling in my books because there is no money in art.  It stuck with me.  Now, myself (and plenty of other Street-Artists and painters) are doing a great living out of doing what we love.  I wish that was something our school took more seriously.  I mean, can you imagine a world without art??? Without murals? without colors on our walls?  thats not the world I want to be part of.

– Is there a question you think is important but no one ever asked you?

– “Why did you ever stop doing stand up comedy?”   My answer would be “Cause I was f***ing terrible at it”.  (true story).

 -Do you have any interesting creative plans for the future?

Well, I am curating No Limit 2015 this year again in the city of Boras, Sweden.  I have an amazing line-up of artists and super excited to hang out with some old friends (and hopefully some new ones).    I will do a couple of new large murals this year, got a couple of great solo exhibitions in the next two years and mostly looking forward to watching how my work will develop now that I am a father.

Thank you Shai so much for your time and showing us more about your many aspects. Cant wait to see those new murals!

 

Have a look at Shai Dahan’s speach in TEDx Gotenburg.

 

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Shai Dahan – The Swede from LA



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