The multi-talented Dean Cavanagh talks to Louder Than War ahead of his upcoming ‘Neo Pop Art Exhibition’ which starts on the 15th of August and runs for a full month in the city of Leeds.
It’s a vibrant collection of Cavanagh’s own fun, clever and superbly twisted takes on some of the last centuries most iconic and influential music & film images and icons, going from Madonna & Darth Vader to the Campbell’s soup can image, all fused with the artists own sharp sense of humour and mindset.
Since Dean began creating the prints four years ago the collection has been exhibited and sold internationally, but the upcoming Leeds exhibition will be the first exhibition which will see the full collection of Dean’s work come together under one roof.
Louder Than War: Hi Dean. Right now your gearing up for “Dean Cavanagh’s ‘Neo Pop Art Exhibition”. You’ve created some really fun, outrageous and clever pop art images such as the ‘Velvet Underground Banana pin’ print (see above) & the flamboyant retake on the Smiths cover ‘Meat is Murder’, all of which have been exhibited and sold internationally…have you been pleased with the success and popularity of the collection?
Dean Cavanagh: Like everything I do it’s all about pleasing myself first and foremost. Ever since I’ve owned a computer I’ve been messing around with images and creating original versions from existing ones. I’ve always been interested in appropriation art going right back to Marcel Duchamp and Andre Breton right up to Warhol, Fluxus and Jamie Reid. It’s simply a kind of remixing of imagery. Bowie is my favorite appropriation artist of all time because he managed to configure pre existing art into all kinds of disciplines, especially self reinvention. I never created the images to sell and it was only through people asking for copies that I decided to print them up. A couple of galleries got in touch and it kind of took off from there. I’ve had people from all over the shop buy the prints so it’s a nice thought that my twisted mind is on display across the globe. Doing prints is a lot more liberating than writing scripts because they are instantaneous and don’t take years for people to see them.
Going back to the beginning of the collection can you give me a bit of history on the images you’ve created, I remember first coming across your work online about four yrs ago, but which were the first images you created and why?
Dean: All the pieces are “Pop Art” in that they are instantly recognizable to anyone who is plugged into culture. I really like striking images, be they complex or minimal. Warhol’s banana for the Velvet Underground album caught my eye as a kid and I love the simplicity, the still dazzling muted colors and subtext of it. I decided to stick a safety pin in the banana and kind of update the image and show how that album played a part in the later creation of punk rock. The “Punk Banana” has become quite popular. I’ve had a few inquiries from people wanting to use my appropriation for commercial ends but I’ve turned them down. I think prints is as far as I want to go with it and I wouldn’t want to add to the already booming crass commercialisation of punk rock. Let it rest in peace ( laughs).
You describe the prints as ‘great talking pieces’, created using a long line of iconic images and art work that’s influenced you through the years, images which really stand out and demand your attention, but what do you find are the most common reactions to the collection?
Dean: Well obviously you need to be familiar with the source image and understand that everything in art is already a copy of a copy of a copy going right back to cave drawings. Some people get offended when others say to them “anyone can do that”, like it’s a negative or an insult. The whole point for me is that the beauty lies in the fact that anyone can do something. There are lots of things that I’d like to try my hand at and I’ll no doubt fail, for me that’s the real inspiration factor in life, that you can at least try. Criticism, positive or negative, never bothers me because I’m not precious about anything I do and I don’t wait around long enough to listen to autopsies as my mind is usually on creating rather than death. In my opinion The Story Of The Blues by Wah is one of the greatest songs ever written, so to have one of my prints hanging in Pete Wylie’s house is vindication enough for me.
There’s plenty of humour as well within some of the images isn’t there, with titles to some of the pieces as sharp, funny and wicked as the images themselves
Dean: Humour is important, in my opinion, especially in visual art, to puncture a lot of the inherent absurdity in it. Whatever criticisms people level at Damien Hirst there is no denying he has a great sense of humor. Warhol was the same. He was having a great laugh behind that “cool” facade. Look at Gilbert and George. Hilarious odd bollocks. “Cool” in and of itself is a construct that only happens when you’ve managed to convince enough people that something is “cool”. Visual art plays tricks on the mind so you may as well have fun adding layers to it during the creation. Take something as iconic as Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover. Legend is that Barney Albrecht found a photo of a dying star and showed it to Peter Saville the designer. He consequently did his magic on it and it becomes a “classic”. It’s a beautiful piece of art now that was essentially a ready made. Now for me – and I dare say lots of others – that image has always looked like a mountain range. I stick Sir Edmund Hillary on the image with his climbing gear and voila we have “Known Pleasures”. I only fuck over images I really like so it’s homage to homage to homage which loops back into copy of a copy of a copy ad infinitude.
And of course, creating these prints take you back to your first job as a printer growing up in Bradford as a youth. Do you enjoy the creating and designing process as much as the finished image…and how do you decide on what colours and images to actually use, are they created depending on how you’re feeling at that time or are they a bit more planned out?
Dean: They wouldn’t let me near a lithograph printing machine back then. I used to operate a machine that made those tube containers for whiskey bottles you see in Duty Free shops. I had a love hate relationship with the print industry. My Mum was a Union Official in SOGAT (the old print union) and that radicalised me at a very young age and there were certain aspects of working in a print factory that I really enjoyed, especially camaraderie. Obviously the work was pretty hard graft and the hours were restricting so I finally jacked it in. I miss the confrontation of arguing the toss with the bosses, but that wouldn’t happen nowadays anyway. Print was a closed shop when I worked in it but that’s long gone. That criminal cunt Tony Blair managed to kill off the unions in homage to his hero Thatcher. I remember as a teenager being on a picket line and that evil bastard Peter Mandelson turned up in his dirty long mac and Hitler ‘tache spouting bollocks. I think I knew at that point that Labour had been infiltrated and corrupted from within. Don’t get me started! (laughs)
So how about the exhibition and the idea of showing your work, as an artist…you seem a cool laid back guy so do you enjoy watching people’s reactions to your work or are you in the back hiding out the way?
Dean: This is my first exhibition. I’ve had a few requests in the past but it wasn’t the right time. I feel I’ve got a bit of a body of work now, so…it will just be nice to have them all hanging in one space for a bit.
As you state yourself, these images are affordable which is obviously key to everyone being able to purchase and enjoy your art work in the comfort of their own homes…especially in these economically challenged times we’re in right now eh?
Dean: I could never justify asking people to pay large amounts of money for prints. I know some of them have been re-sold for pretty large amounts but that’s economics unfortunately. As long as I stick to charging what I feel is justified that’s OK and I can live with it. A few people have told me that I’m undervaluing my work by not charging enough! Can you see the absurdity in that statement? (laughs) That pretty much sums up the art world in my opinion.
So if I asked you what you feel are the most popular or talked about prints what would they be, plus what are your own favourite images in the collection Dean, and why?
Dean: The “Pop’s Not Dead” print sold out really fast. I sent a few to a gallery in Texas and was really chuffed with the response so I suppose it’s got to be that one. Known Pleasures is a large screen print and I’ll eventually get it framed and hang it at home.
The ‘Dean Cavanagh Neo Pop Art’ exhibition will be hosted in your home county of Yorkshire at the Outlaws Yacht Club in Leeds, tell me about the venue?
Dean: The Outlaws Yacht Club is a wonderful place. It’s in this street level basement and it’s like a cross between a French cafe, an art space and a living room. The guys who own it, Craig Christon and Joe Gill, are trying something new with it. They aren’t following any trends and have created a lovely environment to relax and socialize in.
The opening night will feature a DJ set from your good self; music and art is always a great combo and it’s the basis for a top night… with such a mass appreciation and love of music I’m wondering what records you’ll be spinning?
Dean: I’ve been donating some graphic design to a Krautrock label recently because I love their work and attitude so I’ll probably be playing some of their tracks. I’ve always loved Motorik music and got into it through Northern Soul as a kid. Who knows though. It’ll depend on how I feel that day.
Dean Cavanagh’s Neo Pop Art Exhibition runs from the 15th of August to the 15 of September at the ‘Outlaw Yacht Club’, Leeds.
Full details can be found on the Facebook event page.
Dean Cavanagh’s Saatchi Online website can be found here.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by carl on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.