“Taming this Wild Medium,” an Interview with DADSOCKS
DadSocks is Tempe, AZ-based stencil artist Bill Taggart, whose work is highly influenced by street art, hip hop culture and social justice. A New Jersey native, Bill was first introduced to art during his boyhood travels across the Northeast and discovered stencil art more than a decade ago while watching some street artists stenciling against a south Manhattan building. Bill’s stencil method involves layering different shades of spray paint with hand cut or laser cut stencils. His work often takes anywhere from 15 to 100 hours to complete from concept to canvas.
Monomyth Studio: When/How did you know you wanted to be an artist? How did you get here?
Bill Taggart: I don’t know if there was a moment where the clouds parted and sun broke through to reveal my desire to become an artist; it just kind of happened. But, I was always fascinated by the arts in general. Other than music I am particularly fascinated by all things visual, particularly tattoo flash, pop art, film, and most importantly street art and graffiti. But I don’t think there was ever this deep desire to be an artist. I think the label was cast upon me and I struggled to accept this identity for myself until very recently.
How I got here is a long story that involves being a stock broker… and hating it. It also involves being surrounded by and encouraged by incredibly talented people. Without those friends and family I would not be doing this interview. They pushed and encouraged me to share my work and handed me my first opportunity to show publicly. Those first two pieces I showed in the lobby of Redemption Church sold the first week and gave me the confidence to pursue other opportunities to show.
Which of your pieces are you most proud of? Why?
This re-mix of a David Bowie illustration I had found and painted back in 2013.
To understand why I have to take you back to 2012 when I was confronted with a crossroads to continue painting as a hobby. I hated everything I did and I was displeased with the design/execution of my paintings. I literally decided to quit.
The next day after this decision I watched a short 3 min motion graphic video of a monologue by This American Life host, Ira Glass. In summary, he talks about taste versus your abilities. When you’re in the early stages of your ambitions, your abilities and your taste are misaligned. He talks about the only way to triumph over this is to keep making work until one day your abilities and your taste finally come into alignment. I decided that my decision to abandon stencil art after 5 or so years of on and off practice was pre-mature. I gave myself a year to create as many stencils as I possibly could.
Almost a year later, my skills and my taste aligned with this piece (in my opinion at the time). But, I am still not happy with certain things about it and continually struggle to love my work holistically.
Many of the readers of our blog are less familiar with stencil art. What can you tell us about stencil art and graffiti? Why are you interested in these art forms?
Well, I can tell you a lot about stencil art and graffiti, but a lot of graffiti writers wouldn’t consider it to be the same thing. I think the biggest differentiation is imagery versus lettering. Graffiti is more along the lines of hand lettering with a spray can – it’s about self-promotion and leaving your mark all in a way that says Fuck the System. A lot of street artists today found their roots in the graffiti scene and have capitalized off of this new branding of their art form by adding imagery and abstract stylization.
Stencil art on the other hand, while birthed from the same motivations and done just as illegally, has largely been protected by governments over the hand styling seen above. Look up any video about Banksy and this topic will most likely come up. This has created a rift because it demonized the style that laid the foundation for street art forms like stencil art that didn’t make an appearance until the 80’s.
Stencil art was birthed in Paris by the street artist Blek Le Rat. He pioneered the life size multi-layered stencil and was arguably the largest influence for Banksy (even down to the rats).
But, on a more technical side, stencil art is layering spray paint using uniquely cut stencils to create an image. Some hand draw the base image but most use a photo as a reference and break it down in Photoshop or Illustrator. If you are familiar with screen printing it is a very similar process.
I’m attracted to this whole street art/graffiti movement because of its subversive nature. It’s a way of getting around curators and getting your work out to the public. It, in turn, provides art to individuals who wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in a gallery. Not only that but it sparks conversations that wouldn’t otherwise be had; negative, positive, political, etc. I think it beautifully merges culture and breaks down the class structure that has been created around art in general.
I’m attracted to stencil art in particular because it’s mesmerizing to people. It’s taming this wild medium into an image that people just don’t understand right away. There is also immediacy to your successes and mistakes. There’s always one layer in a painting that reveals your complete satisfaction with the piece or your deep sorrow in your failure to execute your vision properly. This tension has given me a ton of patience and has made me a serious planner.
That’s a long-winded response… but you asked!
We read in an article in Arizona Foothills that you’ve spent time in a myriad of places: Central America, the Middle East, New Jersey, the south of the US, somehow landing in Phoenix. What brought you here? What does Phoenix have to offer an artist?
What brought me here originally was that job right out of college as a stockbroker for Charles Schwab in 2010. I made my adventures over seas to the Middle East with a non-profit about a year after moving to Arizona after I quit Charles Schwab. The relationships I built working for that non-profit introduced me to much of the modern design and art world I knew very little about – outside of street art.
Phoenix has a ton to offer artists but I think one of the most important things, that is not to be overlooked, cheap living and good day jobs.
Being able to pay rent, feed yourself, save, and have left over spending cash to invest in your art is an incredibly huge benefit for artists living in Phoenix.
Not to mention the incredible breadth of talent that is here in all mediums. Outside of New York and LA I have not witnessed this deep of an art and design network before. Now we just need to get them all working and supporting each other to show the rest of the country this is a place to grow in your art or design career.
What other prominent stencil artists have influenced your work? Why?
Logan Hicks a.k.a. the workhorse was one of my biggest influencers when I was learning. He revealed what was possible with multi-layered stencil art and keeps pushing those boundaries. I’ve been chasing his quality ever since.
Shepard Fairey a.k.a. Obey is another huge influence. His well executed concepts and simplistic design that always communicates what is on his mind, clearly, is always inspiring.
If you weren’t an artist, what other career would you consider?
Well, this is an interesting question because art is not my full-time gig. I am actually a full time Business Analyst for a large international staffing firm. I’m trying to move those skills into Web Analytics and/or Marketing Data Analytics. So, either what I’m doing now or, graphic and web design would be great too.
Have you had any mentors? How have they had an impact on your craft?
In regards to stencil art, YouTube was my biggest mentor. I have never had anyone teach me a thing outside of YouTube tutorial videos. But, I have learned a lot about design and I have received tons of constructive criticism and have been challenged by amazingly talented friends like Mark Gabriel Laos, Anthony Ferrara, and Amy Radcliffe.
What risks have you taken to get where you are now?
I think taking on any public project, from gallery shows to murals, is a risk. You’re showcasing your abilities for countless eyes to see and your success or failure is entirely up to the opinion of the viewer. But, absolutely, solo shows have been the biggest risk I have taken thus far. I’ve done two and I think I might take a break on those for a while. They are challenging emotionally and physically but well worth it if you put in the time and effort (not necessarily financially).
What mistakes have you made along the way that have led to beneficial discoveries?
I’ve made countless mistakes with stencil technique and have learned countless lessons. I think this is a difficult question to answer as I have made SO MANY MISTAKES!
If I have to narrow it down I would say in murals. I have constantly evolved this process but when I was attempting my first mural I planned on hand-cutting the entire thing with an exacto knife from a projection onto paper on a concrete block wall. I quickly learned this process would take me a year to complete and thanks to Mark Gabriel Laos, who was helping me at the time, convinced me to think of other solutions. If it wasn’t for him I might still be stubbornly at that wall cutting countless stencils.
Could you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now? What’s next for DadSocks?
In all honesty, not that much because I am getting married this year and I want to put my emotional and physical energy to making that a special day for my fiancé.
But, I am putting the finishing touches on my first super public mural on Mill Ave and 14th street in Tempe, AZ and I am in talks about another VERY LARGE wall near Desoto Market just off of Roosevelt Row.
In addition to that I am trying to focus less on client work and more on collaborating with and building relationships with other artists. Building a deep and supportive creative community is incredibly important for the thriving of the arts here in the Phoenix Metro Valley and I want to be a part of that in whatever way that I can.