Dan Ericson, also known as "Dunn The Signtologist," got his unique nickname for his unconventional brand of street art -- painting monochromatic faces onto old street signs. Black Thought, legendary MC from hip-hop group The Roots, dubbed Ericson -- who often focuses his work on iconic members of hip-hop culture -- the "Signtologist," the name stuck and the Denver-based artist never looked back.
Ericson's stunning and novel art has been featured in XXL Magazine, The Denver Post and has been created for hip-hop legends like De La Soul, Pharrell Williams and Slick Rick just to name a few. Ericson recently chatted with The Huffington Post about how hip-hop culture has influenced his work and why he chose street signs as a canvas.
What is the story behind your name: the "Signtologist?"
I met Black Thought outside The Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colo. during a soundcheck. I was waiting around the venue because I had a painting of The Roots and Black Thought just happened to be waiting for a cab when I approached him. I gave him the art and he signed a record sleeve for me that said "To Dan THE SIGNTOLOGIST" I asked him if I could use that name as I was going by "the Street Sign Artist" at the time, which was a mouthful, and he said sure, but only if I could give him a lift to his hotel and the rest is history.
(SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOS OF THE SIGNTOLOGIST'S PAINTINGS)
What brought you to using street signs as a canvas?
It was a complete accident. I ran out of supplies doing a project, it stemmed from a mistake I made ruining my final canvas in a series. I needed a canvas in the middle of the night and I had an old faded sign in my carport. I decided to use the old sign so I could finish the project that was due the next day.
Who, and what, are your main influences?
I grew up reading comic books and comic strips -- those were some of the first things to interest me as an artist. I studied a bunch of art history through out my time in school and I grew to appreciate all types of art and different eras of artistic movements. I'm inspired by artists like Andy Warhol, Justin Bua, Picasso and Van Gogh to name a few, but there are too many to list that have impacted my work. As far as sonic influences -- any type of music inspires me, as it is a talent I don't possess. Obviously hip-hop music has inspired a large portion of my work, and I always have some sort of music playing when I'm working in the studio.
How does your process work?
I usually pick a few photo options once I have selected a subject and then play around with which picture would work best when broken down to a monochromatic state. I choose people who I admire, respect and have inspired me.
The signs are recycled or, if need be, I will purchase specific signs to complete commissions for clients. I usually start out picking a subject who I am inspired by and then see if any of the signs on hand in the studio would be a good fit for this person on a deeper level. Typically, I pick signs for a new project depending on what I have on hand in the studio at the time. In some cases, I just pair the subject up with the sign randomly, with others it's more specific and intentional.
Everything starts with a Sharpie outline of the subject on the sign and from there I start adding layers of paint and in some cases reflective scraps. Every painting's process is always slightly different, for example: the current state of the sign is always a huge factor of how I approach creating a new piece of art. I prefer to listen to records mostly when I'm painting, I don't always listen to who I'm currently painting, but music is a huge part of my creative process -- it motivates me.
Some pieces are paired up specifically, for example: Maya Angelo or the Dalai Lama on a school sign -- these are people I try to learn from and I want to share their knowledge with my audience. Others are completely spontaneous. I once did a painting of Tupac on a shot up, slow winding road sign after creating my signature 'Biggie' stop sign which was a commentary on stopping the violence in hip-hop. The Tupac piece was hung at a gallery and a friend came up to me during the opening and asked me, "Did you mean for it to say 'DI SLOW R?'" i.e. 'die slower?' That freaked me out because the text appearing in that way was unintentional and had a way deeper meaning if you were familiar with Tupac's work -- I don't show that piece anymore. Even from day one of creating this type of art I have welcomed mistakes as I learn from them to improve my craft and it makes my art work that much more unique.
What drew you to hip-hop?
I first got into hip-hop in middle school after hearing Public Enemy for the first time I was hooked. I was always enamored with the culture and art forms it produced, but had no idea how a white kid from south Denver would ever fit into the scene. So I admired it from afar and learned what I could from movies, videos, magazines and my favorite source for information and inspiration: album art. The moment I realized there was a place for art in hip-hop was after seeing the album art for De La Soul Is Dead. I was inspired and made more urban and hip-hop themes a subject in my own art.
After graduating with a degree in animation from the Colorado Institute of Art I was seeking employment with no luck, so I started taking on smaller unpaid projects in hopes of building my portfolio. I did a weekly award-winning comic strip called "HOOD" in a few college papers with a friend for four years. At the same time I was creating black and white flyers for a local hip-hop group called Rhythm Vision and these experiences got me used to meeting deadlines, working with clients and helped me to hone my monochromatic style. I went back to school to update my design program skills and fell into this street art niche -- I just ran with it and haven't looked back since.
Who are your favorite MCs of all time?
My top five favorite MCs of all time are: Rakim, Chuck D, Black Thought, Big Boi & Andre 3000.
MCs and groups who currently have my ear: MadChild (of Swollen Members), The Roots, BlkHrts, FoodChain, A.V.I.U.S.
What's it like being an artist in Denver?
Denver is a great place to work in and network from to the rest of the world. It's my hometown and l feel Colorado holds it's own, regularly innovating its own unique style in art and music.
My Ol' Dirty Bastard sign has become part of a traveling snowboard park and camp called SoGnar's Mighty Midwest Tour. On Feb. 25th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. DJ Low Key and I will be curating The Art Of Records show at Family Affair on Larimer and coming up in June I have a solo showcase at Gallery 3 in Reno, Nevada.