Image © Funky Red Dog
An Afternoon with the Funkiest Dog in Town – Brighton artist Haley Funk talks Art, Politics and a spot of Urban Insurrection by Lucy Finchett-Maddock
Wandering in from the drizzly rain into a trendy and dimly lit bar in Hove, I meet artist Haley Funk or ‘Funky Red Dog’ (FRD) as he prefers to be called, to chat with him about his work. He greets me with a friendly and cheery nod, looking up from supping his pint thoughtfully and ready to tell me some fascinating insights into his career as an artist and local aesthetic pioneer. I came across the work of Funky Red Dog during the Brighton Open Houses event which now happens twice a year (Spring and Winter), compelled to visit ‘The Warehouse Gallery’ where he is resident artist, a space nesting behind the North Laines on Gloucester Road. I had ventured there to seek out FRD’s work as well as that of co-exhibitor local street artist ‘Cassette Lord’, and was met with the very striking red, black and whiteness of FRD’s work and the flock wallpaper backgrounds of his now iconic besuited dog heads. Haley was gregarious and approachable then, just as he was this recent dark January Tuesday when we met to talk art. I was replete listening to some of the aesthetic approaches, principals and mischievous ideals that FRD uses as his inspiration.
Funky Red Dog is a print-maker and stencil artist based in Brighton. He trained at Epsom Art College in the early 1990s then studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in London, where he specialised in printmaking and photomedia. Inspired by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquait, FRD began to screen-print. “I trained as a printmaker, I love the process of printing and the way it allows you to create repeated designs and patterns.” FRD explained the recent impact of digital photography on his work, the ability to capture an instant – coupled with the increasing trend of stencil art, made famous by shadowy ‘Banksy’ and other street artists of the era such as ‘Inkie’ – and how this process of screen-printing became replaced more and more with the use of stencils and spray paints. “I like to work with stencils and spray-paint a lot now. It’s a very similar process to screen-printing but quicker and allows for more variation on each print. I love experimenting with creating layered backgrounds using a collection of stencils, sprayed on top of each other, building intricate, random patterns that would be difficult when using screens and ink.”
He started with flyers, posters, prompted by a cheeky Dadaism and Surrealist spirit – DiY, doing things and documenting them, creating events, moments of art meeting life. Despite the use of camera changing his method, he still appreciated the element of machinery involved, the handmade element of a stencil, cutting, engraving, shaping and defining.
Graduating from St Martins in 1997, FRD realised he was one of many graduating each year, ready for their big break in the art world. The commercial aspect of art is not as free flowing and accepting as that of the safety net inside the academy, and as talented artists throughout the ages have done, FRD turned his tasks to raising money to establish himself as the up-and-coming, top dog in town (so-to-speak). In the late 1990s he painted backdrops and murals in the nightclubs and bars of London and ‘decorated’ the telephone boxes of Soho with hoax call-girl cards, stickers and screen-printed subverted adverts on the underground trains, culture jamming ‘Adbusters’ style. He went on to co-found the ‘Phood Gallery’ in 2000, in a condemned building on the Camberwell Road offering an open door policy to local street artists.
FRD has continued his open and refreshing attitude here in Sussex. In 2002, he settled in Brighton where he now lives and continues to decorate the street furniture with his surreal pop art. As well as painting live at festivals and creating his own T-Shirts, he also teaches stencil workshops, and has been working with Brighton tailor Gresham Blake to create a range of Funky Red Dog silk ties. Funky Red Dog has worked on community projects, collaborating with local street artists Wet Paint Productions, Snub and Cassette Lord on art therapy projects, and working with Shoreham Primary School taking the students on public art trails throughout the area. He spoke of how engaging the pupils with art in public spaces intrigued them, children as young as eight year’s old probing the difference between street art and public, educating with the age old question ‘what is art anyway?’
FRD is passionate about the role of public art, not only in Brighton but as a common resource to be cherished in all cities, seeing his role as an artist as responsible for providing, protecting and encouraging art in the community. FRD sees art as that which should be re-used, “… it has to be de-mystified”, illustrative of the street art style and its predecessor graffiti art, its ephemeral nature, constantly changing. He described the conceptual and actual difference between using white walls instead of brick walls for instance so the surface can be painted over and the temporary aesthetics can start over again, as responsible contributions to the changing guerrilla-style performance of public art, almost reminiscent of a ‘Temporary Autonomous Art’ (TAA) that emanates from more anarchist understandings of creating and exhibiting.
FRD also mentioned potential future plans for thematic art trails in Brighton inspired by the open house idea, as opposed to geographical ones, perhaps hinting at the saturation of the open houses with too much choice, and a case of underground pop art being watered down by trails “suffering from ceramics”. I found that last comment highly amusing, and summed up the political and slightly wry understanding of aesthetics I picked up from FRD – genuine, cheeky, raw, uncompromising, uncommercial, and above all, not taking any prisoners.
Haley and I finished our drinks and headed back into the rain soaked early evening, and I felt a certain elation to know there are artists such as him out there putting the public and community back in to the heart of art.
FRD’s iconic ‘dogheads’ have found their way onto streets and walls around the world – from California to Clapton, Brazil to Bethnal Green. His work is sold in galleries across London and has been exhibited worldwide alongside street artists such as Shepard Fairy, Mr Brainwash, T.Wat and Pure Evil. He regularly donates work to urban free art projects around the world.
His next show is at ‘The New Steine Hotel’ from the 4th April until 13th July as part of the ‘Brighton Festival Fringe’, and he will also be showing at The Warehouse Gallery as part of this year’s Artists Open House trail in May. For more info and artwork visit www.FunkyRedDog.com, http://funkyreddog.blogspot.com, http://www.flickr.com/photos/funkyreddog.