Your Space Or Mine
Super Freak and the importance of dreaming
Whether it’s the weather or feeling gaslit by the Gregorian calendar, the idea of idly laying in a park or field and watching the clouds drift by seems as foreign as it ever has, despite Spring only being around the corner. Just as well, then, that BUILDHOLLYWOOD are once again teaming up with Birmingham illustrator Super Freak, aka Dan Whitehouse, to remind us what that feels like. His piece Day Dreaming kicks off a new series of Your Space or Mine collaborations around the theme of dreams, and will be displayed in his native second city and around the rest of the UK.
Spanky the hand is front and centre, as he often has been throughout a rise that’s seen Super Freak turn a passion into a career, featuring on the pages of the New York and LA Times as well as working with brands like Vans, Levi’s and Dr Martens. Whitehouse’s signature character has been a key part of his ‘Superverse’ since his inception – in his own words, Spanky ‘is generally the happiest hand around but pretty clumsy so often finds himself in odd predicaments’. The pure cartoonish fun of a happy hand simply having a good time has its own effect, but Super Freak’s work isn’t pure fantasy. In fact there’s something oddly satisfying about the juxtaposition between Spanky’s chirpy demeanour and some of the more downbeat accompanying messaging when reality does occasionally seep in.
Here, though, our brilliantly malleable hero has definitely been caught on one of his good days and is a picture of carefree contentment. To find out a bit more about his influences, process and message behind the work, we caught up with the man himself…
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you got into doing what you do?
I’m an artist and the father of Spanky, a cartoon hand, I studied graphic design at university but I basically illustrated my way through the course. When I graduated I began as a freelance illustrator straight away but work was slow so I got a job in advertising, which I stuck out for around three years until I had the momentum to leave and pursue drawing silly cartoons full-time.
What do you consider to be key influences on your work?
At the very heart of it all is pop culture and old cartoons. Now I’ve established a style I use it to visualise things that inspire me in everyday life. The world is constantly evolving, so there’s an endless supply of ideas coming in waiting to be turned into cartoons!
How did the idea for the Your Space Or Mine artwork come about?
Last year really sucked and I was completely drained by December, so on the first day of the New Year I made it my goal to make new art every day to keep me sane and busy!
I started to make time to sketch out new ideas and naturally, daydreaming plays a part in this process. Then I literally just drew Spanky as a cloud and Bob’s yer uncle, you’ve got yourself a billboard.
Tell us a bit about Spanky, the character at the centre of a lot of your work…
Spanky was born in 2017 but he’s come along way over the years. Because I’ve always loved cartoons, one of the main goals I set myself in the early days was to create a character everyone would recognise and love.
This past year I’ve had a blast challenging myself with new ways to imagine Spanky and throw him into all kinds of scenarios.
He’s often got a slightly manic smile on his face but also has moments of self-doubt. What do you reckon he dreams about?
Although he’s a cartoon hand, he’s very human – relatable and realistic, crazy but grounded. He’s been through it all, but still manages to slap a brave smile on his face even when he knows things might be going south. I guess I’ve developed Spanky into a kind of tool to send out positive reassurance, also using pessimism in an ironic way to spread optimism and humour!
He also told me he has reoccurring dreams of eggs?
What about your use of colour? Where does that love of the bold and bright come from?
Colour has always been an important part of my work. I used to exclusively make art that was pink and blue, I think I thought that was a clever way to get recognised quickly early in my career – I wanted to be known as ‘the pink & blue guy’.
Generally, I just have a weird obsession with colour combinations. Sometimes it actually takes me longer to colour my artwork than it does to make it…
Your home town of Birmingham, maybe unfairly, has a reputation as being a bit of a grey city in a grey country – does it have more colour than people give it credit for?
It ABSOLUTELY does!! It still has a way to go but over the last five years I’ve seen Birmingham grow into something really special.
There’s a real creative boom with so many incredible artists and designers doing big things at the moment and all the indie businesses popping up. I’ve got high hopes for Birmingham and I’m proud to be a part of this half grey-half technicolour mad house!!!
Is there a message you want to get across with the work? What reaction do you hope it’ll get off people seeing it on the streets?
I hope it encourages people to pause for a second and take a break during all the bonkers stuff life is throwing at us right now. Daydreaming has the power to take us anywhere and if we take time to connect with our imaginations it opens the door to endless possibilities!
Would you say your work has an escapist element to it? Visually it’s seems that way, but a lot of the messaging is rooted in realities of the every day…
I’d label myself as an escapist so it’s naturally something that trickles down into my art. On the surface, my work and characters are pretty out there but when you look closer it’s all true to life. People like being able to connect with art, so when they see a floating cartoon hand dishing out the truth, I’d like to think they can relate…
What would be your dream project?
My dream project would be to have a full blown Spanky exhibition in somewhere like the MoMA.
What’s next for you and can you share any exciting plans for 2021?
I’m currently working on the production of Spanky plushies which is exciting! People will soon be able to hold and love him for the first time, he’s gonna LOVE the attention.
Besides that, I’m planning to paint my ass off this year and continue developing my painting skills. MoMa I’m coming for you.