Dan Cimmermann – artist interview; colour, rebellion, street art and re-imaging British historical figures…

You may have noticed over on my social media accounts that I’ve been selected to be one of two bloggers in residence over at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle. Basically, I have the glorious opportunity of creating content on Culture Vulture (and on their platforms) championing their artists, commissions, exhibitions, art of sale, residencies etc. As a passionate advocate for independent and original art – it’s a match made in heaven!

The Biscuit Factory holds a special place in my heart and lots of happy memories – it’s an independent gallery space (the largest indie commercial art, craft and design gallery in the UK); it is enabling and doing great things for the artistic community in the region, alongside bringing people like me National and International artists and their work into their gallery. Housed in a former Victorian warehouse, they showcase and sell the work of over 200 artists and makers in seasonally changing exhibitions. They champion independent, original and handmade. It’s a space that I’ve discovered so many new artists and art forms……each exhibition is an eclectic mix of art, prints, sculpture, interiors, craft and jewellery.

One of the artists currently on display at The Biscuit Factory, Winter Exhibition is Dan Cimmermann. He also happens to be one of my all-time top favourite artists, who I stumbled upon when visiting The Biscuit Factory a few years ago…. As soon as I was awarded The Biscuit Factory residency, I was determined to make sure Dan Cimmerman, would be my first artist interview.

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Dan’s work and The Biscuit Factory has long been intertwined in my head and I remember visiting the gallery space at the beginning of my Culture Vulture journey and falling in love with one of his big pieces. I didn’t know who Dan was, why I liked it so much – but the combination of colours, brush strokes and a historical female figure, made me fall in love. It was bold, it was empowering and it was exactly, the type of art I wanted to see more of and champion. Dan’s work and style is me in my visual arts comfort zone – it’s the type of art that I feel at home looking at.

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The first piece of Dan’s work I fell in love with

Then began the Cimmermann rabbit hole – I mentioned the piece to my pal Bobzilla (another extremely talented artist) and I fell into this world of Dan’s work. Those who follow my social channels, know I’ve long been an advocate for street art and street artists to be a respected genre in their own right and I’m head over heels for street art. I’m a street art addict! If you’re a street artist on Insta, I probably prolifically lurk your channel, I go on street art city walking tours, buy books on it, go to talks on it….sometimes it’s the only reason I visit a city, the street art! And I am so excited and happy that street artists are getting their rightful place in gallery spaces and commissions. It warms my heart – it really does. Dan is one of those artists; he has managed to make the bridge between street art and a gallery space……

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Dan Cimmermann in Tokyo

The Biscuit Factory, has exhibited and featured Dan’s work for a few years (he’s been making work since 2001 though) and the eagle eyed of you, if you recognise Dan’s style, will have noticed a beautiful mural outside Ernest Newcastle, which was an outdoor installation commission by Great Exhibition of the North. Folks were invited to walk him do some live mural painting…And inside Artisan event space connected to the Biscuit Factory, another mural is waiting to be discovered. It’s an absolute BEAUT.

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Mural inside The Biscuit Factory

Cimmermann’s colourful paintings and murals are a blend of ‘street’ and ‘studio’; through a process of reworking layers of paint and pen, he adapts classical works of 18th century portraiture. His work is often a reflection upon British identity and a rebellion against societal rules of old, he’s also not shy about using politics and themes like Brexit in his work. So I wasn’t surprised to stumble across more of his work in the Art of Protest gallery in York this Summer.

Dan is currently exhibiting a small selection of pieces at The Biscuit Factory as part of their Winter show – they are open to view every day between 10am-5pm. However, check out their website for their Christmas opening times as they are different. Those who know Dan’s work – will know some pieces cost well over £1000….. and some much more than that, but with this exhibition there are a mixture of price points – I’ve got my eye one…. It’s a beaut! However, if like me, a larger Cimmermann piece is the ultimate dream; The Biscuit Factory run their Own Art Scheme – a programme run in partnership with Arts Council England, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Creative Scotland. Own Art makes buying art easy and more affordable by letting you spread the cost of your purchase over 10 months with an interest free loan. So it could be more within reach than you think!

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On display in The Biscuit Factory Winter Show 19

So enough of me and my fangirl moment for Cimmermann and his work – and let’s hear from the man himself. I reached out to Dan a few weeks back, explaining my residency at The Biscuit Factory and was delighted he responded and agreed to an interview. A testament to despite being an Internationally successful artist which a busy schedule, that he still has time for a lass from Gateshead who loves his work! (If you follow his social, you’ll see that often his family champion his successes too – they even comments on my Insta posts when I’ve champion Dan’s work – literally so LUSH!)

So over to Dan Cimmerman….

Let’s start with the textbook Culture Vulture question, tell me about your journey into the arts?

Cleveland college of art and design, Middlesbrough and then Leeds met Fine art.

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So quite a “traditional route”….Did you always want to be a visual artist?

Yeah. I did want to be a graphic designer at first but I found working to a brief too restricting. I was more suited to fine art, doing what I wanted and with the element of chance I can pursue in painting.

You have a very distinguishable style…. how did that develop over the years?

I’ve always been interested in portraiture. It started at sixth form college, where I would imitate Freud, Bacon and Shani Rhys Jones. Also, Alison Watt, Peter Howson and Hockney too. I travelled a lot after university and found it fascinating how the world imagined Great Britain and the Brits. The stereotypes of the English gent for example or the threat of the hooligan or drunk Brit abroad.

So I started to bring this into my work via figures from British history, defacing them and disfiguring them like a beautiful old pub would be defaced and scarred over time by new generations.

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Tell us about your creative process? How do you go about painting a piece?

I work with quintessential British characters. I’ve painted Captain Cook, George Stephenson, portraits from Sir Thomas Lawrence and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Figures from high art and the upper echelons of society, something that felt a million miles away from my background in Middlesbrough. I never plan a painting or sketch first. All of the experimentation occurs on the canvas or wall. I react to what’s good and bad and build a composition from there.

Chance is the most important thing; it’s finished when it feels balanced.

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How do you select your characters to represent in your portraiture?

Something that strikes me as powerful or interesting to reproduce. It might be the pose, the history behind a portrait or the scale. Changing the scale can be really exciting – creating a large head based on a small portrait gives a new meaning and potency to the original.

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Since starting The Culture Vulture, I’ve discovered so many artists, like yourself – but I used to when I first started out a few years ago, make a tradition of visiting a big piece you had in there and used to always say “when i’ve made it big – i’m going to buy that piece”… I’m still working on it!

Let’s talk – I can give you a discount!

Now let’s chat about you and the Biscuit Factory….How did your relationship with Biscuit Factory start?

I started exhibiting there a few years ago; it was great that they wanted so many pieces for a group show. The space is so vast that their seasonal shows are like a series of solo shows in one. I showed 15 pieces the first time and then had a solo in the main space in 2017 entitled, ‘Northern Soul’. They are a great gallery to work with and they have championed my mural work too – I have produced two large pieces on site there.

I’ve visited The Biscuit Factory many times – I like that they help to make art accessible to the public and champion the work of young artists with their student prizes.

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Mural commission by Great Exhibition of the North outside Ernest, Newcastle

They are one of my fave galleries on a National scale, not just regional….Why do you think it’s important indie galleries like this exist?

The arts are suffering in state education so galleries like this are the future for creatives to meet, buy and show their work.

You’ve got a small pop up exhibition in their Winter Exhibition – tell me more about the pieces in it?

All the pieces were either produced or inspired by a recent residency I did in Tokyo, Japan. They focus on the Brit abroad, a kind of contemporary grand tour for normal folk. The smaller pieces are based on a procession of figures through the streets of Tokyo. There’s a lot of movement on the streets there, thousands of people moving in one direction in an incredibly orderly fashion.

The larger pieces try to simulate my feelings of being alone there – strange language, food, honour rituals, behaviour. Brit abroad. And the compensation for many blunders I made because I was British.

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On display in The Biscuit Factory Winter Show 19

I’m gradually growing my collection of art – in fact moving into a new place in 2020 and I’ve probably thought more about the art I’m purchasing than functional things like “buying a bed”…..Why do you think is a good thing for people to have/own art in their home?

Everyone needs something to stimulate their minds. Whether that be art, design, film, tv. Some kind of visual stimulation. I couldn’t imagine not having art on my walls at home.

You’ve got a large mural piece in Artisan space on the wall in The Biscuit Factory with Henry VIII vibes- can you tell me more about that piece?

Again this is based on my time in Japan, it was completed very soon after my return. I used figures from the Tudor period to represent the stoic, regimented approach of the Japanese. I merged these with geometry and shapes that I saw on the streets of Tokyo.

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Mural inside Biscuit Factory

What other street artists/visual artists inspire you?

Loads. Favourites at the moment are Justin Mortimer, mr Ayrz, Micheal Reeder, Tom Wood, Nicola Samori, Howard Hodgkin, John Wentz, Emilia Vilalba, Neo Rauch, Erik Jones, Ben Slow. I could go on and on.

Do you have a preference painting on canvas or on walls? Is there a process difference?

I prefer canvas in the studio as I can keep dipping in and out, reassessing and refining. But the excitement of a wall piece is hard to beat. I want the work to be immediate. I don’t want to spend too long refining a street piece, I want it to be quick and filled with the energy of that session.

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Well you certainly capture your energy in your pieces – You’ve had such a long career – do you have a highlight you’d like to share?

Portrait of my dad in the BP Portrait Award in 2001. Or getting my work in an exhibition in New York. That’s always been a dream since day one.

Any advice to any aspiring visual artists?

Work hard. Develop a style. No matter how good you are, you need to keep producing work and invest the time to develop. There’s no magic bullet.

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Any advice to artists wanting to approach The Biscuit Factory to display their work?

Get a solid series of work together and send them across to the folks there. Be honest and open about what you want to achieve.

Do you have anything planned for 2020?

Potentially a solo in London and Sheffield. Group show in New York at Booth Gallery. More work with the Biscuit Factory, Sidney and Matilda, Sheffield and Rise Gallery, Croydon.

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Well, that sounds like a busy 2020! Thank you Dan…. It’s so brilliant to see a Northern artist make it regionally, Nationally and Internationally and such a great message for the next generation of creative artists.

Also love the “work hard” message….. a career in the creative industries is not impossible – but it’s about giving 100%, working hard, being authentic…

You can check out some of Dan’s work on his website and you can also visit The Biscuit Factory to view his currently, exhibited pieces. Head on over to their website for info on their opening times this festive season!

Over and out Culture Vultures

 

 

 

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