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Interview: Dilk of Montana Shop

5 April 12 interview: Al Needham
photos: Debbie Davies

Stephen Dilks - Dilk, to his friends, the global graffiti community, and huge chunks of wall around the city - celebrates ten years of running specialist shops in town and basically running our local street art scene.

Can you remember the first time you came into contact with graffiti?
It would have been 1986. At senior school – Greenwood – there were a lot of older lads who were really into that sort of thing. In my first year they had a school disco, and I really wanted to go so I could see the sixth-formers breakdancing. No-one from my year wanted to go with me; in the end my mum took me, so I could battle the sixth-formers. They took me under their wing – especially a guy called Dibz. It was a proper rite of passage.

Were your mates asking you to spray this and tag that?
Totally. I was doing t-shirts, making medallions... I used to design a lot of stuff for people. I was always trying to get more paint; I’d go round asking girls for 10p for an ice pole, add it to the dinner money I hadn’t spent, and buy more cans of car paint.

How long did it take you to settle on the name ‘Dilk’?
I was known as ‘Dilko’ at school – which I really didn’t like and still get called today by kids from back in the day. People often pick their name because of the shape and sound of the letters; something short, with impact. And I wanted to promote the family name.

Were you painting anywhere that you shouldn’t back then?
Actually, we’d get our paint together, then walk around for hours and hours asking shop owners if we could paint on their walls. Amazingly, we were really encouraged by the teachers – they gave us walls in the stairwell to paint on. My parents even let me spray on my bedroom walls as well, and sleep with the windows wide open in winter. I didn’t want to hit up somewhere and run off; I wanted to spend hours on one wall with no stress.

For those of us not au fait with graf, what techniques make a typical Dilk piece?
Because it’s such a fast-moving art form, I’m always aware of not being stuck in a groove, so I like to switch and change things as often as I can. I have a lot of respect for the old school and will always draw influences from it, but I want to be modern in my approach. My style is a combination of loose parts and blended colours with ultra-sharp lines. Really bright colours, usually. 

How hard is it to see a piece you’ve taken ages to do get destroyed or defaced?
I know it’s going to happen, so I always make sure I get a good photo. Anything that stays around for a while is a bonus. There was one in Holland that I did in ’96 that’s only recently gone, and one I did on a wall in Barcelona in ‘95 that remained completely untouched – it just faded away from years of sunlight before it was painted over.

What’s the first thing you have to master to be any good at graf?
You have to be able to draw, first and foremost. You also need a weird sense of mental arithmetic as well; being able to look at a blank wall and figure out how to work in a few letters in that space. I’m constantly thinking about graffiti all day long; shapes, colours, textures.

We’re always bigging up the new art scene in Nottingham. Do you feel part of it?
Yeah. We get a lot of them in the shops, and I’ve got friends who are part of studios that I check out. I really like how they work together at Backlit Studios, and people like Small Kid and Shrunken Heads collaborating. How great is that? One thing I will say is that everything has been off my own bat. I decided not to go to university to continue my arts studies; I got out there and did it myself. I can’t get my head around people who say;
“Well, I’m planning to do this, but I’m waiting for my funding to come through.” If you’re that passionate about something, you’ve got to do it.

You’ve parlayed your expertise into running Montana in Hockley… 
I started with a shop called Coverage in West End Arcade ten years ago, but I’d taken it as far as I could and wanted more space and some natural light. I had my eye on Hockley for ages and I’d always had a great relationship with Montana, who are a spray paint company from Barcelona. They invited me down to their head office, had a meeting, and talked about opening a branch here - it’s the only one in the UK; so it goes Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Nottingham.

Describe the average Montana customer…
They range from fashion designers to art students to established graffiti writers to kids looking to start. Some come in for the paint and markers, some for the clothes and artwork, some want the books and magazines, and some come from all over the world to document and photograph the store.

What graf cliché gets on your wick the most? 
Graffiti fonts for computers. They kill me. 

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into graf?
Don’t get too influenced by the internet before you create your own style. It’s so easy to flick through images without absorbing what’s there and being intimidated by it. Express yourself.

Where would you love to throw up a piece the most in town?
Those black walls around Wilkos opposite Victoria Centre. They’re bang in the middle of town and they’re so grotty and dull. That would be an amazing spot to paint.

What’s your favourite colour?
Turquoise. It’s such an elegant colour. It used to be pink.

Montana Nottingham, 6 Goose Gate, Hockley, NG1 1FF

Montana Shop Nottingham

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