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Dirty Donny | interview | rock | artist | Lollipop
An Interview with Dirty Donny
by Scott Hefflon
Dirty Donny is a rock'n'roll artist. Sure, lots of people talk the talk, but Dirty Donny walks the walk. He's a full-time artist, has a distinct style (without being pigeon-holed as "oh, that guy who does zombies and chicks with big tits" even though he tends to draw a lot of, um, zombies and chicks with big tits), and he's well-known by the type of bands who spend more time in sticky-floored rock dives than their own shitty apartments. They're peers, dig? This unpretentious strain of rock (often with a capital R, but "all the wrong people" claim allegiance to The Rock, and you know the type of poser fucks I mean) is blue-collar, straight-shooting, and hard-workin', and Donny's right there, man... When I hired him to do the cover of this here issue (via email), he was quick to reply, easy to work with, upfront with his requests/ demands/conditions, and he kept me updated with his progress between start and finish. Like a pro, only cheaper and cooler to work with.
So if your band's artwork sucks (and trust me, it does), think of hiring Dirty Donny next time 'round. In the meantime, buy him drinks and lap dances and see if he'll throw ya some sketches for flyers, cuz your flyers suck, too.
I'm glad we were able to work something out. So many artists are either too disorganized to get back to you or they're prima donnas who want too much cash for something I don't even get to own...
What I do is I sell the art on the side, so that's where I actually make the money. Something 16" x 20" will sell for $700 to $1000. I put about a month into each one, so when ya work it out to an hourly wage, it's still minimum wage...
Were you one of these guys who was always scribbling in notebooks in high school?
Yeah. Well, I quit in ninth grade... I was never into school. I was 14 or 15 and just started working in restaurants - fast food kinda bullshit - and playing in bands and stuff. I was a teenage retard. A lot of my buddies gave me shit for dropping out, but most of them ended up dropping out in grade 11 or whatever anyway...
I'd rather have fun and be broke than be an office stiff. Last time I went back to my hometown, Ottawa, I saw a guy I went to grade school with wearing a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase, and I was like "Holy fuck, I'm glad I'm not him." I'm a real strong believer in having fun.
How old are you?
28. Or 13, going on 40.
Did your good friends draw and play in bands as well?
They're all creative dudes, yeah.
Do you still have that community type thing?
Yeah, totally. A friend of mine who's 30 or so just went back to school - film school - and everyone else is, like, 19 and driving him nuts. He's actually doing a documentary on my art. Some cool bands are letting us use their tunes, like The Demonics and Electric Frankenstein... Sal from EF is coming up to do an interview, and we have some live footage of the band cuz I did all their stage banners and stuff.
What's the angle?
Art and music, I guess. He's just going to film us at the drag strip, hanging out and partying...
One thing we talked about in our emails was the demystification thing, how a "business meeting" could be some guy buying you a beer to discuss ideas for his band's next cover.
Yeah, Gearhead was totally like that. I got on that right away cuz I didn't want him [Mike Lavella] to change his mind. I read and love the magazine, and it was the Big Daddy Roth issue, so it was really cool...
Was that your first magazine cover?
Yeah, and now Lollipop... I've done a few 'zine covers too. I used to do a 'zine of my own called Dirty. It was kind of a cross between Motorbooty and Answer Me - it had shock value and gross elements as well as art and music. That's actually how I met Electric Frankenstein.
How many issues did you do?
Three. One day I'm going to do another... I never really closed it down, I just stopped doing it for a while. The artwork had really picked up...
How'd you get the name "Dirty Donny"?
It was a nickname people called me in my late teens. And it was kind of a nickname for me and a group of friends - not really a gang, but just a group of guys - and it just kinda stuck. I started signing my name that way in the 'zine and signing my art as Dirty Donny as well, and people seem to really connect with nicknames for some reason... Well, and I'm a scumbag.
Right on. How so?
I like to drink beer, eat hamburgers, watch porn, drive fast cars...
Rock'n'roll. Did you go to art school or anything?
How'd you learn?
I just did. I collect a lot of stuff and I study it, and I check out details to get inspiration wherever I can. There's probably a proper technical way to do stuff, but I don't know any of that stuff.
Kinda like Angus Young never took guitar lessons.
No way! Yeah, I feel I learn stuff every time I do something. Every painting I do, I really try to push myself, to learn a little more about the craft. There's so much to learn... I'm working in acrylics right now, and I have a set of oils my grandfather left me before he died. I'm going to jump on those soon and try them out.
How are you with tech stuff?
I don't do my website, but I know my way around it. Any monkey can learn how to scan and save something as a jpeg. I saw a lot of great artists get into computer art, and it takes them over and really seems to harm their work. Some guys, like Frank Kozik, can really do it well, but most artists I know who went computer, it harmed their work, and now they're coming back to line drawings and painting. People are into buying original artwork, so it's really worked in my favor [to stick with painting].
I'm totally pro-technology...
Totally. A lot of people get in touch with me through my website. It's essential, by this point. It's my portfolio and an easy way for people to get in touch with me. And luckily, I've worked with some pretty well-respected people - like Electric Frankenstein, The Demonics, Gearhead, and now Lollipop - so one job leads me to another. The work is good, the pay's getting better, and clients are pretty easy to work with...
And you get repeat customers... You've been working with EF since '97 or so... (Made easier cuz EF releases a couple/few records a year.)
I also do show posters for them, which I've been doing since the late '80s.
Do you have shows or hang in galleries?
I do some group shows, like the Electric Art Derby in Montreal, and Gallery Bink (www.gallerybink.com) in Portland, Oregon has "Hot Rods and Hot Bods" in September. Artists like Pizz, Glenn Barr, Von Franco, Anthony Ausgang, and other guys...
One of the "problems" is I can never accumulate enough stuff for a show. When I finish a job, it sells. [Time travel: After the cover for Lollipop was finished, photographed, and scanned, it was sold.]
What about experimentation? You mentioned you're going to start painting in oils, do you think your first piece will be a masterpiece?
No, but it'll be my first oil painting, and collectors love that kind of stuff. It'll probably take a lot of time to finish, but I'll just keep working on it until I'm happy with it. Then it'll be done.
Actually, I'll probably goof around a little first, do some smaller-type stuff. And I'll do some reading and some research, really take my time with it...
That's actually how I got [Iron Maiden cover artist] Derek Riggs to do a cover for me. He was fiddling around, Photoshopping different animals together and placing them in mystical-looking settings, and I got to use the "experiment" for, I believe, his first-ever magazine cover.
Yeah, I've had that kinda stuff happen too... I was finishing up a painting for a client and I got an email from Puffball asking if I had anything they could use for a 7". They couldn't afford much and I like the band - and it was going to be a split with Peekshows - so we struck a quick, easy deal.
And your collectors and clients are cool with that?
Yeah, they're almost always down with having their art be the cover of a record.
Do you come from an artistic family?
No, Ottawa is a pretty grim town. Very middle class, or whatever you call it. My dad works with the Canadian Bank; he's a pressman. He prints money. He works with the color, I think. He's been there for 30 years or so.
You didn't want to go that route?
No, he could've gotten me in there when I was 17, but I worked at Kentucky Fried Pigeon, playing hot wing hockey and drinking beer.
What's a day-in-the-life like for you?
Well, my living room is split, half is TV and entertainment and the other half is my studio where my computer and pinball machine are. Working from home can be distracting, and I have a bit of a problem with that. High score on pinball, but no progress made on my piece. My neighbor and I bootlegged cable for a while, and that was really cool cuz I like TV - but I can veg out on the couch and work... I like The Munsters and The A-Team and the Learning Channel and stuff. The rent's pretty cheap here in Montreal, and I have a backyard I share with my neighbor. Condos are going up everywhere, so I'm going to have to move to a shittier neighborhood soon.