@Interview by T.K. Mills - Images by: @walkinggirlnyc and @johndomine1 (Interviews have been edited for concision and clarity)
Perhaps you’ve seen the ephemeral images – a meditative gearhead leaned back in contemplative bliss or a white elephant staring with inquiring eyes – marked with the mysterious hashtag, #WhoIsDirk?
The question is a reflection of the artist himself, an inquisitive creative whose artistic journey has grown from an insatiable curiosity of life’s big questions. Dirk’s work is defined by interrogating reality, utilizing a variety of mediums including murals and wheatpastes, to prompt the viewer into thinking beyond the realm of what is known. The story of the artist himself is one guided by psychedelics, love, and exploration.
So, who is Dirk? For starters, Dirk is his real name; though at times it’s confused for just an artistic tag. Like his father and grandfather before him, the name is a family tradition passed down to each son. His ethnic heritage is that of an American mutt, part Armenian, Dutch, Russian, with a bit of Italian.
A blue-collar boy born and raised in Queens, New York, Dirk began doodling during school, his mind wandering past the confides of the classroom. He dropped out of high school, earned his GED, and worked a series of dead-end jobs in construction, retail, and the like. Dirk preferred to focus his energy toward his interests, particularly music.
“Music helped me hone my energy, and totally changed my life,” Dirk said.
“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third-story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.” – Terence McKenna, Psychedelic Guru
Beyond the power of melody, his most life changing experiences came in the form of psychedelics. Dirk tried acid for the first time at 12 years old. “People told me it would make me go crazy, but I was drawn to it immediately. I wanted to know… The questioning is what drew me to the substance.”
At 25, Dirk decided to experiment and take a trip like non he had before. Lying in bed with the lights off, Dirk blindfolded himself and put headphones on, meditating and diving inward. Whether it was simply higher-grade acid, or the circumstances surrounding it, Dirk is unsure. But this particularly trip triggered something within him. “I saw a glimpse of what we truly are, it was almost too much to take. It opened a floodgate… I picked up a pen and it started pouring out of me. Since then, I feel different.”
“The insight I want people to have about me, is that with my art, it’s not necessarily my opinion. It’s things that I’ve been shown or felt in the psychedelic realm. I’m just the medium through which the message moves.”
While acid allowed Dirk to step up his creativity, he wasn’t able to properly channel it until he met Anita.
About 3 years ago, Dirk got in a serious car wreck. His ride was totaled, and he took a beating. “My whole shit was fucked… but for some reason, I just knew that was some sort of turning point,” Dirk said. The accident prompted a series of life re-evaluations. He broke up with his girlfriend at the time and then quit his dead-end job. “Everything changed, and I knew to embrace it… The old me was dead.” At physical therapy, he fell for the receptionist, his future wife Anita.
“With Anita, everything fell into place.”
Anita was the one who pushed Dirk to pursue street art. On one of their early dates, the two lovers were at a restaurant that offered crayons with the menu. As Dirk doodled, Anita wrote down “#WhoIsDirk?” Initially the artist was reluctant to use the hashtag. “Who’s Dirk? More like who cares?” He said dismissively. But with Anita’s insistence, he incorporated the hashtag as he began wheatpasting.
Dirk would go out at night, pasting 3 to 4 images in each outing. He started with small pieces, but realized that the message he wanted to convey needed something bigger. This led to him posting giant wheatpastes, nearly 6 feet tall. Pushing himself further, he also started to incorporate stencils and refine his techniques.
Soon, Dirk’s work began to attract attention. Keith Aronowitz, a street art documentarian, reached out to him to film his work. More opportunities starting come his way before long. While out at a show, he met Rena Gray?, aka WalkingGirl, a street art photographer. Dirk knew her for the photos she took of his work. Later, when Rena became one of the organizers for the first Akumal Arts Festival, she put in a good word for Dirk.
Dirk has Anita to thank for much of his creations. As their vows said, the two are working to grow in new ways. Currently, they are in the process of finishing a collaborative children’s book, featuring Anita’s poems and Dirk’s artwork. “We really motivate each other together, creatively,” Dirk remarked. “She’s a muse, to anybody who asks her ‘what do you think?’”
The project, tentatively titled ‘Paper Dreams,’ began much like Dirk’s street art ambitions – on a napkin. While on a date, the two wrote down a series of ideas, and soon began working to bring it to life. They would trade off – sometimes, Anita writing a poem first and Dirk illustrating, or Dirk sketching up images that would inspire Anita’s words.
“The whole path with street art… Anita predicted it.”
The first annual Akumal Arts Festival took place in 2018, featuring over 70+ artists, Dirk among them. He painted a 15-foot psychonaut, one of his signature images, dripping with color along the bridge that connects the playa and pueblo sides of Akumal. He tagged Anita’s name under the image, a shout out to the woman who helped make it possible.
Dirk’s experience in Akumal helped cement the realization that his street art had power.
“It was beautiful. It was an overwhelming loving atmosphere. All those artists, the support from the town. People in Mexico appreciate art on a different level. There are artists on their money. You’d never see in America.”
Children and locals would come up and admire his art while he painted, some of them asking for autographs. Akumal’s magic felt surreal. His art’s warm reception, alongside the success of the festival, continued during the event’s second hosting. In the 2019 iteration, Dirk wanted to expand upon his repertoire.
Along a wall next to the town’s bell tower, he painted perhaps his most innovative mural yet. Initially, he planned to paint a sequel to last year’s psychonaut, but in bigger scale. As he contemplated the logistics of it, however, Dirk knew he would need to go bigger to cover all the details. Working freehand, the piece came together creating a ‘zoomed’ in profile, depicting the internal gears spinning inside its head. Beyond the creative advancement of his work, the work demonstrated his incredible technical skill as well.
Akumal’s second edition brought with it other evolutions in Dirk’s life. There, he wed Anita in a small intimate gathering on the beach, surrounding by friends and family.
“I’m so riddled with questions about thought and our existence. I am plagued with questions. That’s what the psychonauts represents.”
Dirk’s art continues to grow with each new piece, developing his style with every shake of his spray can. By exploring consciousness through psychedelics, Dirk also presents new insights to the eternal and existential questions of life. His work is intended to reach beyond aesthetic or decoration.
“When I paint, it’s not necessarily about exposure or building a brand, it’s influencing people’s thoughts. I just want to throw it out there and stir the pot of the public consciousness.” Dirk continued, “I try to do simple, organic truths. Using open-ended questions, where people can apply their own meaning.”
So, who is Dirk? There is no answer – only a question.
Interview copyright @thirdarailart