The Invading Sound of
the Enemy Trumpets
Interview by Simon Malivindi for Emofag Webzine.
Hi Dennis! How are you doing these days?
What are you up to?
Things are going great, man! Lately I've been busy redesigning my website with a friend and I'm really excited about how it's coming together! My old website was built with software that made updates very difficult but the new site looks really good and it will be much more interactive. Right now I'm just relaxing at home. You have my undivided attention.
Did you study art at school or are you a self-taught artist?
Self taught. I've only taken one formal art lesson in my life and it was a requirement at the State University where I studied literature for a few years.
You've said it's been difficult to make people accept that your ballpoint drawings are not some kind of jail art. How are things now?
Fuck 'em! The right people are embracing my art and that's all that matters. I don't have any lofy 'high art' career goals. This is what I do and people either like it or they don't. I'll be drawing until the day they pry the pen from my cold dead fingers!
You have a very particular and minutious technique. How would you define your style? Did you get the chance to meet some young wolves inspired by your technique?
I don't think about it much, but if I had to define my style I'd probably say something like 'Ballpoint Horror Noir'. Academic types might call it 'Obsessive Compulsive Revenge Fantasy'. And they'd be right! People actually think I'm colorblind but I just really love this hyper-shaded style I've developed over the years. Occasionally artists contact me and ask for advice and I'm always happy to assist. I don't think I'm some hotshot artist but I'm at least as qualified as the average jerk on the internet. It's important to support the young wolves so the pack grows stronger!
The combination of post-nuke, medieval & pagan elements in your work creates something unique. Do you have to think about it all or does it just come naturally? What is usually the first kick to start a drawing?
These days I'm usually drawing for a specific project so I tend to be relatively thoughtful and strategic. I actually consider research and reflection an important part of the creative process and it's important to consider this when setting realistic deadlines. The first part of the drawing process is usually me pacing and wringing my hands nervously. This can go on for days. Then I usually blast some appropriate music to get the blood flowing. At some point I start scribbling on scraps of paper with no particular investment in the outcome. This allows my hand to relax and my mind to unhinge. Eventually I tap into a flow and set the controls for the endless seas of grey. Then it's just a matter of locking myself down for hours and hours at a time. Total immersion!
Do you have a particular ballpoint pen brand that you use?
Bic Cristals with black ink.
Who were the artists that inspired you the most as a kid? You fed yourself on comic books and monster movies, what were the ultimate references for you at the time? Are they the same today?
My dirty secret is that I don't particularly enjoy reading comics. I like to look at the pictures but I find it distracting to absorb imagery while contending with lots of tiny words. The shame! But I spent most of my childhood making my own comics and reading some of the grittier mainstream stuff. I resonated with flawed anti-hero types and that was about as far as my superhero interests ever went. I was very inspired by Frank Frazetta as a kid and started collecting his books when I was in third grade. My teachers got upset about all the sex and violence but my mom was cool and defended my interests. She probably thought it was weird that I was into that stuff at such an early age but there were certainly worse things I could've been doing. Frazetta's work has the narrative momentum of comics without all the words. The brilliant EC Comics covers from the 50's were like that too. Very economical but absolutely absorbing. I hope art schools are teaching EC Comics to their students because when it comes to 'sequential art' a shambling zombie will always trump a man in tights. It may not be readily apparent but I'm hugely influenced by the Symbolists of the late 19th century. When I'm accused of peddling filth it's always nice to blame older (preferably deceased) artists for their corrupting influence and in a strange way I trace my artistic heritage back to those great decadent visionaries.
Don't you think that art was more creative, subversive and pertinent two or three decades ago?
Not necessarily. If you look back there was some incredibly dull and pretentious crap being cranked out a few decades ago. We certainly live in an age of unprecedented fear and conformity and sterile homogeniety masked as diversity and freedom. But every age probably thinks their age is the lamest. We tend to only see importance and meaning from a distance. This is an age of spiritual warfare and it will be fought in the realm of aesthetics. Be prepared!
Can you find some kind of interest or enjoyment in mainstream art? What do you think of guys like Richard Prince or Damien Hirst?
I find enjoyment and inspiration in the most unlikely of places. Creativity becomes stagnant when you close yourself off to influences, even mainstream influences. Regarding those other artists, I'm not familar with Richard Prince but I tend to find installation artists like Damien Hirst very boring. I would only be interested in dead animals as references and I would only resonate with an artist like Hirst to the degree that both of our works contain perverse remnants of the medieval 'Momento Mori' motif.
You started your career printing t-shirts for Mutilation Graphics. How do you remember those days?
Those were challenging days on a personal level, but they were very exciting creatively. I worked hard and learned lessons in discipline and stamina that have served me very well as an underground artist. I discovered Mutilation Graphics in the back of Fangoria magazine when I was about 15 years old. There was an ad for these insane punk shirts and I talked my older brother into driving me out to the address. I thought it might be a store but it turned out to be a house in a quiet suburban neighborhood. That afternoon I met Neil O'Leary, the guy who started Mutilation Graphics and who would soon become a close friend and ally. We exchanged art and he got me into all kinds of cool zines like Pandemonium, Black Market, and Blatch. He also had all these old punk radio shows collected on 8-track tapes! A few years after our initial meeting, just days after I graduated high school, I moved away from home and started working as a silkscreen printer for Mutilation Graphics. It was sort of like running away with the circus. I was a clueless punk and I slept in a car and other humbling crashpads until my girlfriend at the time convinced her family to let me move in with them. I spent the next 4 years printing shirts while I attended school and worked on my drawing skills. We were printing all of John Zewizz's Sleep Chamber shirts as well as work by underground artists like R.K. Sloane, Jeff Gaither, and Spider Webb. We also had an exclusive license with Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth and I got to print all his monster shirts, which was a huge honor. This was 1990, just before Ed Roth had a resurgence with the 'lowbrow' scene. In many ways Mutilation Graphics was the culmination of my childhood interests and I rode it until finally I decided I needed to strike out on my own. The business was eventually sold to some guys from Oakland, California who started a company called Ransom Notes and they sold the screens to another guy who launched Rotten Cotton. I set out on my own adventures and never looked back.
Time travelling again: tell us more about your first days in Portland. Why did you move there and how long did it take you to set up there properly?
More tales of poverty and squalor! I moved to Portland for the same reason everyone moves here: Bigfoot. I arrived on a freight train that I hopped in Oakland, California and rode north through beautiful Mount Shasta. I didn't give a fuck in those days and nothing could stop me from experiencing life on my own terms! I arrived with no money in my pockets and I didn't know anyone on the West Coast. It wasn't easy or practical but I was fortunate and within a few weeks I had met some of the people who remain my closest friends to this day. I wouldn't recommend my path to others but I do believe that struggle tempers the soul.
Have you ever thought about inking your art on people's skin?
I actually had a tattoo apprenticeship set up with Spider Webb back when he was inking out of a little shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the early 90's. Spider Webb was a legendary oldschool artist and advocate for legalizing tattooing back when it was still underground in New York City. He tattooed the porn star Annie Sprinkle on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in protest. Unfortunately I left town before we could actually get started but he really liked my drawings and encouraged me to persue my art. I'd still love to learn the craft of tattooing if a good opportunity ever arises but for now I have other callings.
You signed the Darkthrone artwork for the second time... Are you good friend with Fenriz & Nocturno Culto? How do you discuss the concept with them? How many hours did you spend working on Dark Thrones & Black Flag?
Technically speaking, I didn't sign my first Darkthrone cover! The F.O.A.D. album was such a departure from previous Darkthrone covers that I felt it had to be very striking upon first glance and compositionally it was just more powerful without my signature. I've done that quite often in the past. The immediate impact of the image is always of paramount importance. On 'Dark Thrones & Black Flags' the signature just made sense. There was a perfect place for my name on the wagon. Anyway, I have a very solid working relationship with Darkthrone and they've already commisioned me for their next LP. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have pretty clear ideas what they want but they also allow me total freedom to develop their imagery. It's actually a perfect relationship. They're funny and polite and they take care of me as their artist. I couldn't be more pleased with our friendship. We've never actually met but they've invited me to visit Norway and join them in the mountains of the Hiking Metal Punks!
When a band contacts you to get their artwork done, what's the thing you're going to look first? Who's the band(s) you'd love to sign the artwork for?
I can tell a lot about a band by how they approach me for a commision. I only deal with honest and respectful people so I'm not likely to bother with some incoherent and impulsively banged out message. If a band comes to me with the right attitude I go straight to the music. Most bands approach me after seeing my work on a record or after spending some time on my website so they usually know what to expect from a collaboration. Man, there are a lot of bands I'd love to work with! A lot of 'oldschool' types talk about how great it was 'back in the day' but I think this is a great era for underground music and art. There are so many amazing bands these days! Well, I'd really love to do a cover for Roky Erickson! He's never had cover art that did his amazing songs the justice they deserve. I'd like to do art for Slough Feg, one of the most underrated metal bands in America. I'd also like to work with Tyrant from Sweden. They really impressed me when I saw them at Party San this summer. Actually there are a lot of Swedish bands I'd be thrilled to work with!
Photoshop has poisoned most of the artwork in the Metal scene. To me handmade artwork has much more impact and style. Agree? Can you give us three or four of your favorite album covers?
Photoshop isn't the problem, it's the untalented artists who misuse Photoshop that have dumbed down album covers. Technology can't replace good ideas, imaginative composition, and the soulful nuances of the human hand. Photoshop is sort of a perfect tool, but it's unwise to overestimate perfection when it comes to art. For example, if you use a ruler you will get a straight line. If you draw a line freehand you'll get an imperfect line. But the imperfect line will contain something of the line-makers imprint and essence and that line will be far more engaging to the eye. The same principle applies to album cover art and I tend to appreciate artists who have taken the time to develop their own unique vision. It's hard for me to pick favorite covers because I love so many for different reasons! I grew up with Away's art for Voivod and 'Killing Technology' is definitely a favorite. Of course I love Derek Riggs' early paintings for Iron Maiden, all the obvious masterpieces but also the singles like 'Sanctuary/Drifter' with Margaret Thatcher lying dead in the alley. It looks crude and simple today but that painting was incredibly subversive at the time, especially for a metal band. I really like the Rudimentary Peni covers by Nick Blinko and Pushead's drawing for the 'Cleanse The Bacteria' compilation. Ketola's art for Watain is very good, especially his iconic 'Sworn To The Dark' cover. I really like the Japanese artists Sugi and Yossie and of course the enigmatic 'Tom' who despite the name is actually female. Some less obvious recent favorites would be Benjamin Vierling's portrait of Joanna Newsom and Arik Roper's cover for Mammatus which is inspired to some extent by the classic Hawkwind covers 'Space Ritual' and 'Warrior On The Edge Of Time'. I like that old Birthday Party record with the Rat Fink cover too! Man, the list of amazing album covers is endless...
And what's the Dennis Dread work you're the most proud of so far?
Another tough question! I really like my drawing for the new Golers LP 'Backwoods Messages'. I went in an unusual direction with that one but it worked out well. For entirely different reasons I'm also very proud of my art for the Lucifer Rising project. It was refreshing to get an opprortunity to work beyond my usual expectations and I think I rose to the challenge and really expanded my range of depth with those drawings.
You're also the editor for the great zine Destroying Angels. Can you present the zine to our readers
Destroying Angels is a cut & paste zine in the old tradition that covers just about any aspect of underground culture that interests me. I published the first issue in 1998 and I've been releasing a new issue about once a year ever since. There are no editorials, no reviews, no letters sections, and no barcodes. It is simply about celebrating and sharing my passion for great underground art. At some point people lost sight of the "fan" in fanzines and started cranking out drivel that was all about complaining and asserting false "scene superiority" but I wanted to keep the spirit of true fanzines alive. I don't waste my time on anything I don't wholeheartedly enjoy. The zine is very labor intensive because I create each issue entirely by myself, from start to finish, so I produce them in very small numbers.
The last issue was dedicated to the pagan religions & cultures, something you embrace yourself. Can you tell us more about that?
The issue you're referring to is Destroying Angels #9. The number 9 is sacred to the Norse tradition and there are frequent references to this number in the Eddas. So when I began to focus my attention on Destroying Angels #9 I knew I wanted to hail the heathen themes and imagery that have impacted me so profoundly. I also wanted to explore how heathen imagery has been distorted and exploited by certain political agendas. It's a shame that in Germany that particular issue was seen as 'suspicious' simply because I used runes and swastikas on the cover. Regarding my own worlview, I couldn't care less about organized religion and that includes modern 'pagans' that dress in funny clothing and behave like victimized Christians. My spirituality consists primarily of oaths sworn and oaths honored. Our mettle is reckoned in the silence of solitude. As the Hvaml asks: 'Knowest how to summon? Knowest how to sacrifice?'
Did your studies in litterature and comparative mythologies increased your interest in paganism? Or was paganism appealing to you since forever?
College enriched my interests but they've been there since I was very young. I've always been fascinated by monsters and scary stories and that has informed my art and worldview more than anything else. My brothers used to take me to the library when I was very young and I spent most of my time in the 'monsters' section of the children's book collection, gradually working my way around the shelves from picture books about Godzilla and the classic Universal monsters to more advanced 'youth readers' about the folklore of lycanthropy and vampirism. As it turns out, the 'monster movie' section was shelved next to the 'folklore & legends' books, which were shelved next to the 'mythology' section! As I worked my way around the shelves I eventually stumbled upon a copy of d'Aulaire's Norse Gods & Giants. I was probably 6 or 7 years old at the time and already knew about Vikings because my father had supposedly named my oldest brother after Erik the Red, but here was an entire book of beautifully illustrated stories about monsters and magic and heroes. Not insignificantly, the gods were depicted with blue eyes and fair skin. They looked like me and I remember feeling as though a secret door had just been opened! Needless to say, I spent countless hours of my childhood in that tiny corner of the library. You can probably blame the Dewey decimal system for most of my morbid obsessions and heathen proclivities.
You're also involved in Bobby Beausoleil's struggle for freedom. I really enjoyed your report in Destroying Angels #9. How are things for Bobby these days? You printed some 'Free Bobby Beausoleil' T-Shirts, are they still available?
I'm glad you enjoyed my writing about Bobby BeauSoleil in Destroying Angels. He's a controversial figure but there is much more to his legacy than murder and Charles Manson. That story about our first prison visit is very important to me as it represents the commencement of a pivotal friendship. A slightly revised version will soon appear as the liner notes for the Lucifer Rising boxed set to be released in 2009 by the Ajna Offensive. This will be a beautiful 4 LP set containing the complete and definitive Lucifer Rising recordings, including previously unheard sessions that are simply amazing! Most of the music was recorded in the late 1970's against terrible odds at Tracy Prison, one of America's most violent correctional facilities at the time, and the score emerges as a provocative relic of lo-fi dark psychedelia. As I mention in the liner notes, for me this project has been a close collaboration and nothing less than a sustained ritual of liberation. In my opinion Bobby has repaid his debt to society and should be free to enjoy his elder years with his family. That was the impetus behind the limited edition 'Free Bobby BeauSoleil' shirts. The proceeds from those shirts, humble as they were, went directly to Bobby's prison fund to support his art and generally improve his quality of life behind bars. The shirts are no longer available and there are no plans to print more at this time, but I continue to fully support his freedom.
Please tell us more about all these contests that you're launching...
The contests on my blog are just for fun. I enjoy having that relationship with peope who visit my site. I've also found them to be a fun way to get people involved in underground art and culture. I usually present some trivia related to art or film and give away gifts such as signed art prints, shirts, and movie passes to the person who posts the correct answer.
You're obviously a very busy man, what are you doing when you're not working? Do you have some time for travelling?
Busy is an understatement! I work long hours every week and if I'm not a prolific artist it is only due to the limitations of the 24hour day and the human requirement for occasional sleep. When I'm not working I like to spend time with my family. I don't have much time for travelling these days but I try to take a few short trips every year. This past summer I spent three weeks in Germany for my first European solo exhibit and it was absolutely amazing! Hail to Germany! I really hope to visit Europe more extensively in the coming years. In the meantime I have a secret getaway in southern Oregon that I retreat to once or twice a year to clear my head and commune with... HIM!
What are you seeking as an artist?
Transcendence or transgression, whichever comes first. To paraphrase your flamboyant countryman Paul Verlaine, great art should reverberate like 'the invading sound of the enemy trumpets!'
As a huge music fan, you have to share with us your last weeks playlists...
Ok, here's what's stacked up around the stereo in the past few days:
- Lebenden Toten "Near Dark"
- Hasil Adkins "Out To Hunch"
- Golers "Backwoods Messages"
- Repugnant "Epitome of Darkness"
- Midnight "Farewell To Hell" 10"
- Wehrmacht (demo)
- Flower Travellin Band "Satori"
- Link Wray "Jack The Ripper"
- Funerot "Nova II" 12"
- 13th Floor Elevators "Easter Everywhere"
- Evil Army "Under Attack" 7"
- Coil "Scatology"
- Cult of Daath "Slit Throats & Ritual Nights"
- Sacrilege B.C. "Party With God"
- D.R.I. "Crossover" (it"s playing right now!)
On the battlefield, 1000 years ago, what weapon do you choose?
I'd rather draw the aftermath.