Dale Grimshaw looks back at his upbringing in new exhibition

The street artist and oil painter talks to The Independent Online about his violent father, man-eating animals and why woodcuts are better than stencils

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

I was brought up in Lancashire by my mum. My dad was very violent. He was an alcoholic. We had to flee the family home because he was so violent. He almost kicked my mother to death when she was carrying me. My work references that kind of physical and psychological bullying, that inner frustration. It gives a psychological narrative as opposed to an obvious one.

My new show is called Semi-Detached. It’s pretty obvious but the title is a play on psycho analysis terminology and also a reference to semi detached houses. It’s based on my upbringing and childhood. The strongest work I do tends to be quite personal. Being a figurative painter I use my own image a lot. Not because I’m a supermodel, but because a lot of portrait painters do that. I’m here in my studio so it’s easy to document myself.

A lot of painters use anthropomorphism to humanise animals. Instead I’ve used animals that have been known to eat human beings. Carnivores. Most animals wouldn’t eat people given the choice. But there is a human fascination with bears, lions and sharks. I don’t eat animals myself – my vegetarianism stems from dad’s cruelty to animals. But I’ve put animal heads in my paintings, not to demonise animals, but because they are animals which would be interested in eviscerating people given the chance.

Click here or on the image for a picture preview

One of the paintings is of a big shark man. It’s a huge painting with floral wallpaper background. He’s clutching his head in frustration and he’s actually got a dog’s mouth. I always dread showing people pictures like this one, fearful that they’ll squeal, you know. Some of my work might be a bit theatrical, but it’s not intended to frighten peoples’ children.

There’s one image of a wolf drinking on the settee (above). It’s a reference to my father “winding down” after a drink. The wallpaper behind him is made up of deer, which is one of wolves’ main food sources. So it combines the domestic and the animalistic in the same setting. Ironically we could afford wallpaper when I was a kid. We had magnolia wood chip.

I don’t see my father any more. I saw him when my mum died in about 1990 but I haven’t really seen him since and prior to that I hadn’t seen him for ten years. I don’t know if he’s aware of what I do. I’m in touch with my grandma and from what I hear he’s still misbehaving. I don’t think he’ll ever really change.

I work outside on the street as well as in the studio. I produce woodcuts and paste them onto walls. I was known a few years ago for being more of an oil on canvas kind of artist so I keep the two things quite separate. The Japanese were doing woodcutting hundreds of years ago, but in London there are very few, if any, doing street art with woodcut prints. Everyone’s kind of obsessed with Banksy and every 17-year-old wants to do stencils. But I didn’t want to go down that route and I like the physical aspect of cutting into the wood. I’m going to try and get a woodcut piece in the show so fingers crossed I’ll have time.

Watch a video of Grimshaw at work, above

Semi Detached by Dale Grimshaw is at the Signal Gallery, London from 7-29 October, www.signalgallery.com