Before lockdown, I was quick off the mark to get to Jealous East in Crouch End to pick up a ‘NO SNOGGING’ surgical mask following an announcement on their Instagram. I’d followed the artist behind the masks for a while.
Dave Buonaguidi’s (aka Real Hackney Dave’s) work is brilliant. His screenprints have a happy-go-lucky charm that’s hard not to adore and his texts play with British humour and slang joyously.
Recently emerged from the “beige factory”, the influence of the artist’s former career as an advertising creative shows through his work. Buonaguidi has perfected the art of creating text-image combinations that speak to us with humour, love, and grit.
In the following interview for Art Plugged, Buonaguidi speaks about creativity with a purpose, the importance of showing your personality alongside your work on social media, and the “finer arts of smoke and mirrors and bullshit”.
Q: First things First, introduce yourself! What do you make, how do you work?
A: I am Dave Buonaguidi, I am an artist, I’m 55, grey haired and overweight and currently living on Shacklewell Lane in Hackney. I mainly do screen prints, and I print all of my work in the studio at Print Club London. I like printing big fluoro pink word based fun onto found objects, recycling and upcycling neglected and beautiful things that I find in flea markets and online auction sites.
Q: What is your artistic background?
A: I have a pretty eclectic creative background. I did a foundation course and then graphics course at art school back in the early 80’s, and then went into a 35 year career in advertising. I was a ‘creative’ in advertising, but looking back, I don’t think it was a particularly creative business, certainly not nowadays. It is very prescriptive, clients know what they want, and you are selling to a very well-defined audience, and as a result all the personality gets boiled out of the work you create. Basically, it’s a beige factory. It’s also a business run by money obsessed arseholes, which is not my thing.
As much as I loathed the ‘industry’ I did love what I did. I loved to use my creativity to solve a problem, which I think is the basis of commercial creativity. Throughout my career I became very frustrated with the lack of pace, and the obsession of craft and the odds of actually getting work that you were proud of made. In advertising, if you create 50 ideas, you will probably get to make 1, and it won’t even be that good.
I set up a few creative agencies, and because it was an ideas business, we always created products and ideas for ourselves, like the MAKE TEA NOT WAR poster for the 2003 anti-war march. In 2014 resigned from my own agency to set up another business that didn’t have wankers in it, and during my ‘gardening leave’ I did the screenprinting course at Print Club London and decided to become an artist.
Q: Your work centres around words, what is so important to you about communicating in this way? Where do you pull the words from?
A: Obviously the ad business, and the combination of words and pictures to create ‘messages’ has been a big influence on me, but the most inspirational thing for me was a book on World War 2 propaganda poster that my Italian granny gave me in the 80’s. I love the idea of creativity with a purpose. There has to be a reaction. That’s what we were grilled in in advertising, to create powerful messages that cut through all the other shit out there. In the 80’s, music was exploding and musicians were using the medium to make a point, and I loved the approach of the Pistols in the 70’s and Frankie Goes to Hollywood in the 80’s, creating work that was controversial was the thing I loved, because it exposed the different voices and personalities that make up culture and more importantly challenged the control and power of the establishment.
I want to create work that creates a reaction. I want people to laugh, cry, and think when they see something I have done, but I always want to make sure that the look is distinct and ownable and that the irreverent tone of voice and personality is mine too. So, when i am thinking of ideas, I try to make the words work hard and create that tone. I particularly love slang and the way every area around the UK has it’s own slang and then play with that.
Q: What is your favourite piece you’ve created?
A: I don’t know really. I don’t really get too attached to anything I do, once it’s done, it’s done. I get really excited about the stuff I’m doing next, and then once I’ve done that, I’m over it. When I was a kid, I had lots of mates who would make things out of Lego and then display them in their rooms, I just had a box and I’d make something, play with it for ten minutes, then smash it up and start again.
Q: Do you prefer working on certain materials?
A: As a screenprinter, I can only print on stuff that is flat, but I have really enjoyed printing onto plywood and then having that lazer cut and then pasting it up on various walls nearby. I did a piece OI! CAN WE HAVE OUR ART BACK at the bottom end of Kingsland Road that was a reaction to the theft of 2 large pieces of art, one of which was a collaboration I was involved with.
Q: Who or what are your biggest influences?
A: I love the pop art movement, for the subversive nature, the look, the colours, but also the way that the art was also interlinked with design, fashion and music. We had a similar thing with punk.
Q: How do you strike the balance between being an artist and being your own salesperson?
A: As an old ad whore, trained in the finer arts of smoke and mirrors and bullshit, I find it very easy, but I work with lots of artists who find it difficult. Being an artist can be a difficult existence: you come up with ideas and make them and then hope that other people will like them so much they will give you money. You are only as good as the last piece of work you create, but it obviously helps if you can create the atmosphere for your art to become noticed and ultimately sell.
I’m not one of those artists with a trust fund that can just be artists with a view that making money is not important. I am a commercial artist, I make my living from selling my work, and I need to support my two kids and ex wife, and my horrendous cocaine habit.
Q: Social Media as a tool for artists – pro or anti?
A: Very pro. Social media is your own personal broadcast channel, and if you don’t use it to your advantage you are missing a trick, and that means sales. With mine, I don’t just talk about my work, I like to talk about everything and anything, and have fun. I think it’s really important to know who the artist is. What they think about, who they are, what they love, what they hate, what makes them laugh and cry, because when you connect with the artist, I think the work they create has more meaning and emotional connection. That combo of personality and output gives me the potential to build a bigger audience that might be interested in what I do.
Q: You’ve worked with JEALOUS and Affordable Art Fair. What are your thoughts on whether there are gatekeepers in the artworld, and how it’s currently structured?
A: Working with galleries obviously helps, but the trade-off is they take 50-60%, which can sting, but the job is to get them to sell you and your work and really earn that percentage. They make money, you make money, they build your brand and so on and so on. The art business is what it is, but the artist has the ace in his or her pocket, without the actual work, there is nothing.
Q: What are you angry about right now?
A: I don’t get angry anymore, I really have nothing to be angry about. I used to get angry when I worked with Machiavellian wankers and when I was in a bad marriage, but I’m am in a great space right now, being creative and doing what you want is a great place to be.
The lockdown has been interesting and I get mildly annoyed about celebrities shooting off about how quarantine is like being imprisoned, inside a mansion with a park for a garden and a swimming pool, and especially big corporations who have fleeced the British public for decades moaning about needing bale outs. Fuck ‘em all.