dean blunt talks art, transcendental meditation, and how atlanta could be a paradise
On the back of his latest gallery show at Cubitt, Dean Blunt gives i-D a rare interview.
Dean Blunt is a rare thing. A cult musician whose creative output far surpasses his desire to talk about it. His fans are as much drawn to the wry humor and rough aesthetic of his artwork -- videos, vignettes, poems, plays and books, that toy with street dealings, pop culture and social comment -- as to his raw, hard and enchanting music.
Aside from his solo music and releases under the group Hype Williams and Babyfather, his latest crew, there's also the Dean Blunt real life hijinx. Recently, he sold ten model vandalized Foxtons Mini Cooper cars on eBay, with what looked like crystallized weed in the trunk at $350 a pop ("It was good to get rid of them, needed the p").
Before we talk, Dean -- a native of Hackney and temporarily back in the borough -- explains over email that he doesn't talk about his art directly, "as I don't really care to be involved in discourse about it, plus I don't know how to."
Although he says "art's just another sandpit to play in" alongside his prolific, varied, and obtuse musical work, over the past three years, his paintings and installations have been subject to four solo gallery shows in London alone. At his current exhibition, at the Cubitt Space in Angel, visitors to the installation trip a crowd dispersal alarm on entering, triggering an ear-piercing mosquito siren, making it near-unbearable to linger. If you manage to stay inside though, on a wall resembling a building site hoarding fence, a stock photo of a laughing mixed race couple is framed cheaply with a drip of spraypaint on one corner.
"Whether or not I had an intention is besides the point," Dean says simply. "I've been more amused by the shit that comes out of people's mouths when they haven't been guided." He wasn't at the private view, but since the show opened he says a lot of people have felt the need to prove to him that they got the joke. At which he thought what joke? "British people hate feeling like they have egg on their faces" -- when they're embarrassed or sense someone's taking the piss out of them -- "they're quick to sew a jester's hat."
At the end of the day, Dean says, "the show is just the show." But in his art, it seems he's causing two realities to collide. While music is direct, art is exclusive, often a closed door to people without the right education and inside cues. "The things people pick out says a lot about them," he states. On the one hand a girl who came up to him early morning at a party to let him know she thought the show, 'was obvs about gentrification.' "It's funny," he says, "That the only people who talk about gentrification are the people guilty of it. All o' dem. Every phase had its riderz."
Dean is in the artworld, but ambivalent about it. "The more I do it, the more I realize that by participating in the gallery system, I'm just contributing to the same ol' dominant '1st world problem' white middle class discourse I've stayed away from. So nah."
Until now, all of his earlier shows have, in varying ways, exposed cultural representations and appropriation. Urban, staged at the ICA, created an indoor hip-hop shopping mall; New Paintings at Space commemorated the logo of Evisu jeans across eight large denim canvases. Brixton 28s remembered an old gang from Brixton whom Dean and his friends had regular run ins with.
When Dean says that he is doing transcendental meditation, at first I stop and wonder if he is being serious. But he claims, "Transcendental Meditation is an effortless practice that brings a lot. Pareto. The hardest thing to remember is how simple it is. Focusing too much on the mantra defeats the objective." Dean says he'll be teaching TM to a class of Hackney kids, "followed by lessons in how to make tunes." He describes the benefits of TM as becoming "hyper-aware" and less mechanical in your thoughts, actions and reactions as we, as humans, are prone to be. "There are people who would be open to stuff and it's not given to them. Simple. Share the love a little bit and maybe something could happen." Though the concept sounds similar, he won't be teaching through the David Lynch Foundation for 'consciousness based learning.' ("Rip off.")
His next project could bring all these together beautifully on a much larger scale. It's a film that's shot between London and Atlanta, but -- "I can't say that much really... [it's] sort of a black action hero slash UK stoner buddy movie." Over the past few years, Dean's been spending more time in Atlanta, which was the "first place where you have so many classes of black people… sounds like Narnia." He'd stay in Atlanta forever, he muses, "based on that shallow fact," chiming as it does with a place constructed in his imagination as a kid.
Aside from the film, this year will see the release of the first Babyfather record ("music is kloser 2 god innit"), which features co-production from Arca, and will drop "before it gets too hot." His next art show will be in Rotterdam at MAMA, followed by his last in London, for a while, at Peckham's Arcadia Missa which will open doors in May.
"Then I think the tote bag crew can cotch for a minute. peace x"
Dean Blunt's exhibition is open at Cubitt Gallery until 28 February
Text Sharon Thiruelvam