Combining the visual and verbal language of advertising and propaganda with unique imagery and found materials, Dave Buonaguidi is carving himself a distinct aesthetic within contemporary print. We caught up with him mid-lockdown to chat about his message-based approach, as well as special series he’s been working on for Smithson collectors…
Hi Dave, we’re so excited to have you on board at Smithson! It’s great to catch up with you during lockdown – hopefully we’ll be able to arrange a physical studio visit soon. Tell us how were you first introduced to printmaking?
I first tried my hand at it in the early 80s when I was college, but I didn’t really know what I was doing back then! I then went into a career in advertising for 35 years. I really like the communications element of advertising and I’m a big fan of propaganda material, and there were little tipping points where I thought maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, maybe there’s something else. One of those pivotal moments was in 2003, when I made my ‘MAKE TEA NOT WAR poster for the Anti-War march. We printed one hundred of them and put them on sticks and gave them out at the march. The next morning, I went down to get the paper and it was on the front cover of The Sunday Times!
By 2014 I was just sick of the advertising work I was doing and was put on Gardening Leave for a year. I did the printmaking course at Print Club in London then and it was like an epiphany. It really changed my life. In advertising when I come up with one hundred ideas if I’m lucky I’ll get to make one of them, whereas in art I can come up with an idea, make it quickly and then hopefully sell it just as fast.
Establishing a sense of creative autonomy outside of the commercial world then. Would you say that’s what drew you to the printing process?
It’s lovely process because you start digitally on the computer and it comes out as a positive or a negative, but then when you’re printing the looseness and chance things that can happen are really special. As an example, I’ve been doing some posters for Pride with monoprint, blending the colours together and you never know what’s going to happen. In the same way, I’ve been working on a series of ‘splat’ prints for you guys where I’ve got this amazing shot of a model I know and I’m going to drop balloons of fluoro red paint onto them. I’ve done some tests and they look amazing, but I still really have no idea how they’ll turn out in the end.
My approach to creativity is to be very quick but also to be reactive, so I like the instantaneousness that printing offers. If something happens, do something, get something out there. As an artist I believe you have a role to respond quickly, and I think you can do something more than just create a nice picture, it should make you feel something, which is why I come at it with a message based intention. Printmaking really allows for that.
"As an artist I believe you have a role to respond quickly, and I think you can do something more than just create a nice picture, it should make you feel something..."
Yes, and there’s definitely something very interesting there about the printmaking process and how in advertising things would traditionally ‘go to print’.
It feels like what it used to be like in advertising back in the day, when you’d come up with an idea and send it to print in the Evening Standard and then watch them printing it in the hundreds of thousands. I like that instantaneousness; it feeds into the way I like to respond to things going on in the world.
How about the materials you use and print onto? Are collecting items regularly and gathering ideas?
I’m a rummager! I like going to car boot fairs and auctions, and because of the way I’ve been trained, I’ve got a fast trigger hand so if I see something and I think I can print onto it I can very quickly work out what I want and do it. It started off with maps, but I’ve been doing lots of photographs, postcards, money – anything that’s flat enough to print onto I’m interested in!
In that way, I’m always trying to create editions of things but they’re all one-offs, just like with the ‘Bristol Is Always A Good Idea’ maps where each one is original. Even though some of them are technically the same map, they’ve been owned by different people, on different journeys, used in different ways and so there’s a backstory that I love. You’re also upcycling something that would otherwise be sitting in a cupboard or under the stairs into something you can suddenly put on the wall. There’s a purpose there which I really enjoy.
That goes back to the reactionary element of your practice, doing more than creating a ‘nice picture’ but something that will spark emotion in the viewer.
Yes, because you’re printing onto something that already exists. A question we always asked ourselves in advertising was ‘how do you go about creating something that hasn’t been done before?’ I think Marketing or Design is not the place to be original, because you’re dealing with an audience that are there to be receptive to a message. If you do something original, it will take them time to get used to it. So, the model that I used to employ was a little bit of something you know, a little bit of something you don’t and then wrap it all up with your personality.
With printing, I’m not the first person who’s doing text and I’m probably not the first person who’s using fluorescent pink or printing on maps, but doing it all in one go and then wrapping it up with a fun, playful tone of voice, I think it allows the viewer to create more of an emotional connection as well as creating an aesthetic that’s easily identifiable.
"The ambition for me has to be that when you line up ten pictures on the wall, people can identify my work immediately from the rest."
You’re establishing your brand identity then?
It’s definitely a branding thing. In the same way that Ben Eine has his circus fonts and Roy Lichtenstein has his cartoon fonts, you can create something that is a little bit ownable. The ambition for me has to be that when you line up ten pictures on the wall, people can identify my work immediately from the rest.
All the things I do are based on the things I’ve learned over the past 35 years of being in advertising – combining words and branding, tone of voice and humour and applying it, almost stitching it all up in one piece. It falls into place very nicely with what I want to communicate.
What about your relationship with colour? You have your signature fluorescent hues of pink and red, how do you approach that?
Yes, fluoro pink and fluoro red, and then there’s regular red. When I talk about creating my own brand guidelines, there are about four or five fonts I use, sometimes with the drop shadow, then these colours and it means that anything that I do has to abide by one of those rules. Again, that helps create a brand or aesthetic that people can connect with.
Within that I’m still able to explore different things, like with the ‘splat’ prints I’m working on for you. There’s no text in them at all, it’s just going to be my signature red. There are ‘rules’ but they still give you the license to play and have a few different strings to your bow.
You’ve touched on your appreciation of propaganda, could you tell us a little bit more about this which other movements or artists that inspire you?
I love all the propaganda material of the Second World War, and after that there’s some amazing Russian propaganda material more recently in the seventies, eighties and nineties. I grew up in that period when Americana was immensely powerful. The way that the Pop Art movement and artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol utilised that was very influential on me. I love that application of turning your art into mass production rather than being a one-off painting – when screenprinting started becoming more popular as a medium and being used to create art on a mass level.
Artist wise I really liked Jamie Reid. I was very young when the Punk movement happened in London, probably about twelve, but it influenced me hugely. It was a brilliant collision of the unrest that was felt amongst youth, and fashion, music and Punk – Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren and the sex shops. The way that Reid and other artists created a really distinct look that bounced out of pop art, almost ‘scrap art’, there was something really exciting about that and being a kid watching the impact it had. The subsequent influence that has had on artists made me believe that I could do whatever I want as a creative.
In terms of your childhood, was art and creativity something you were in touch with growing up? Does it run in the family?
My mum’s a painter and lives in France. She never was an artist by career, it’s something she enjoyed doing in the same way that I did before I changed careers. My dad on the other hand is a restaurateur and an optician.
The thing that runs through my family is my mum’s Danish and my Dad’s Italian and they both came over to the UK in the late fifties. I think there is a make-do and can-do spirit that you inherit from your immigrant parents, you just get on with things and try to find a way through. In that sense, my ability has always been problem solving and using my creativity to do that, and it’s the same way that I’m approaching my work now. I’m very fortunate that I’ve managed to launch myself a second career at my age. I started just doing weekends five years ago, and this January I finally went full-time.
Yes, and you can really feel the momentum building around your work. How do you envision your future as a professional artist?
In the past when I worked in advertising, we’d work with four or five year plans because you’re trying to grow a business. With art, I have no idea what I want or am going to be doing in a year’s time and that in itself is so liberating because it means I can just react. I want to be disciplined enough to do a few art fairs and shows every year, with new editions that I can launch at the event and then sell, but it’s predominantly about discovering new things.
There’s a lot of graffiti artists and paste-up guys that I print with and I’ve been really getting into exploring that – laser cutting letters and sticking them on graffiti walls in random phrases. I had a big public piece of work stolen off a wall, so responded with a 10ft high piece with these letters that said, ‘Oi can we have our art back?’ in fluorescent pink! I’m really enjoying playing around with ideas like that.
I’m also hoping to do a show at the end of the year with a street art-based gallery and it’ll have lots one-off pieces with type onto textured pieces of wood. I like the idea of creating more fine art pieces with a ‘crisper’ feel alongside some dirty street art. I’m really living the dream because although I’m of a certain age, I’ve got boundless energy, hanging around lots of great people, working with nice galleries and doing what I want to do. It’s just really fun! Despite the situation we’re in, everything is perfect.