Interview with Dave and Tony, now on Umbigo’s cover of the month

London, Berlin, Lisbon, and a life split in two. Dave and Tony are two areas of interest, two childhoods, a combination of techniques and preferences that one day met and have since thrived as a unit. They preserve the child they once were from the past, and today they are the processing of wounds and scars into an artistic vein, with no illustrative guidelines, clear narrative or literal references. The work is punk, a purposeful defiance that mirrors an imaginary that is theirs and all of ours. Since we too were once small naïf beings, in a world that was as much a dream as it was disturbing.

And, while the origin of time is often plastic, the outcome of a creativity that is never completely bound to reality, their works are bursts of colour and spontaneous, makeshift daring that, in the end, leave behind traces of wonder, like a sweet restlessness.

Famously attracted to toys, counterfeit goods, the uncanny and the disconcerting, Dave and Tony have created exhibition environments where everything coexists: reality, at times tangible, at others artificially generated; hints at other possible liberties, or a paradoxical hidden clearness. In Umbigo’s September cover, the duo reveals how, beneath the bright, significant and polychromatic layers, dwell intimate feelings of shame or subversion, which burst out through art – rebellion – in a chaos that, if once orderly, is now (rightly) destined for transgression. 

I understood you recently moved from Berlin to Lisbon. Why Lisbon, and in which ways do you feel the city is shaping you and your artistic practice?

We landed here by sheer accident and have remained ever since. For us, Berlin had reached a logical conclusion, and the long dark winters were pretty hard to deal with. We find Lisbon well suited to our way of life and our personalities, and the light is great. Lisbon has helped to restore faith in our own practice, allowing to focus on our own work full time.

An overview on your work shows that, if on the one hand, David’s work is directed to a certain expressionist painting, a bit brutal; Tony’s visions are in a way more design-oriented. Where do your interests meet and find a common ground?

“Dave and Tony” is a united vision. We do everything together, from conception to final creation. We met in London, and have known each other since 1995 and our interests crossed over at an early point. After being together this long, it’s hard to separate out common ground. Sure, we work independently with our given skills, but ultimately our vision is combined from the get-go. Dave does paint, whereas Tony doesn’t, but painting is not Dave’s only medium anyway. Everything Dave does has always had a brutal undercurrent. Tony crossed over from designer to artist through his appreciation of anti-fashion and DIY, béton brut, art brut, outsiders, naïve art, Arte Povera, post-punk and industrial music, techno bands like Brutalismus 3000. In our world, everything is underlined with brutality in some form or another. We would, in fact, consider all of our work to be brutal, and if you must, grotesque and confrontational.

So, would you say you never have to compromise with each other?

Generally, we tend to pre-empt each other’s thoughts. We do argue and disagree often enough, but we both always get our own way.

The more I dive into your projects, the more I recall children’s divergent thinking and freedom of expression. How much of your inner child do you still keep?

It’s true that we work in a spontaneous, free-spirited, free-flowing, non-linear way. Our subject matter is always dark, usually underlined somehow by childhood happenings. Childhood is what has shaped us, our only place before we knew each other, it’s probably the only place we have secrets from each other.

Still, although continents apart, we come from similar backgrounds – working class boys, similar family structures, immigrant fathers who married local women, being homosexual in a conservative setting. Commonalities and divergences come from all these things – our class struggle, our homosexual struggle, shame, our struggle with nationality and questions of belonging. Our inner child is omnipresent though trauma history, we both carry inner child wounds/scars. As children, we were somewhat imprisoned by our settings, so the idea of freedom came when we broke away from family and societal systems, leaving home to find places for ourselves as soon as we could.

Therefore, the toys often portrayed in your creations, and also motto of the recent exhibition entitled Witchcraft TV – Steve Made Us Hardcore. Actually, those pieces evoke a kind of ghoulish energy, or as you referred, a grotesque look. Considering your experiences, does this mean you see childhood in dark colors?

Toys are just a part of our world. We share an interest in collecting. For as long as we’ve known each other, we’ve collected things and stuff. As we’ve gotten older, our collection has grown – from strange toys to objects, porcelain, artworks, curiosities, scarcities, rarities, but we also physically find things on the street like most of our materials, clothing, you name it and we’ve probably found it. The story of each thing is what interests us, whether real or imagined. We have lived in many places and collected these stories. We live with all our things, in a sort of managed chaos. Our work justifies our collecting. As things disperse, things return to chaos. God forbid when we die. And Dave always wanted dolls as a kid but got given Action Man instead. Our work comes out as a grotesque form of what we never had as kids. We often question the meaning of authenticity and the fake.

Where and how do you see yourselves in the nearest future? Any plans or upcoming initiatives?

We are planning another outing in Lisbon before the end of the year. Watch this space. But Lisbon will foreseeably remain our home, we can see ourselves getting old here. We do find the Lisbon art scene fairly Portuguese-centric – until now, justifiably so – but hopefully the city will begin to embrace its foreign artists who have become part of its dynamic structure. 

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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