Is it possible for a young artist to survive in Zurich? It’s hard, says Dario De Siena. The 34-year-old artist talks to us about financial pressures, tiny studios and his greatest hero – Pablo Picasso.
Graffiti artist, DJ, graphic designer, father, painter and event organiser. The artist Dario De Siena explains why Picasso and Salvador Dalí are his greatest heroes, why he is sceptical about the art market, and why Zurich is a tough city for young artists.
Dario, you started out as a graffiti artist in 2003. Where can we find your graffiti?
I started with smaller things, like tagging by the river at Letten. I gradually began getting paid to do graffiti. My biggest work to date is in front of the Amboss Rampe at Zollstrasse 80. In 2014 I painted a 60-metre wall in about eight days.
‘I’m excited by the contrast in my art.’
Many people think graffiti is vandalism not art.
I have mixed feelings about the discussion. Of course, some graffiti is not particularly attractive or inspiring. I can understand why people get upset, but calling it vandalism is going too far. Fortunately, it’s now legal to do graffiti in Letten and the Rote Fabrik.
Today you mainly paint women’s faces. Why’s that?
I find the contrast between aesthetic portraits of women and the destructive character of my art incredibly exciting. Female faces usually have very soft lines. My art is often chaotic and brutal.
Do you ever suffer from artist’s block?
Yes. I regularly have to put a painting to one side for a few weeks. And if I can’t get it to work, I just paint over it.
Isn’t that painful?
Yes, it can be. Particularly when two days later someone on Instagram asks if the picture is for sale. Of course that’s annoying. But it’s just how it is.
Why don’t you just keep the picture?
It’s partly a question of space and money. My studio is tiny, so I have to organise myself accordingly. And sometimes that means painting over things.
Can you make a living with your art?
That would be nice, but it’s not possible at the moment. I have kids so I have other responsibilities. That’s why I work part-time as a graphic designer.
‘Financial security gives you a certain freedom.’
Does this affect your art?
The problem with art is that you can work really hard but still find you go a long time without making any money. That’s why I advise artists, and particularly young artists, to get a part-time job. This gives you financial security. Because if you’re desperate to sell your art, it can inhibit your creativity.
It’s probably harder to live off your art in an expensive city?
Definitely. Just renting a studio is really expensive. Such financial worries can be very stressful, particularly for young artists. But they also motivate you to find solutions. You have to be creative and look for other sources of income.
That’s what you’ve done. Apart from your work as a graphic designer, you’re also a DJ.
Yes. My girlfriend and I work around Zurich as a DJ duo called Bonnie & Clyde. I also co-founded Wundertüte, an events label that organises a party once a month at the Hive Club. The extra money helps me to keep my painting going. It also clears your head for a while.
So you would never consider giving up painting?
Never! Painting is my true passion. Of course my aim is to live off my art. But if it doesn’t happen it’s no big deal. I’m lucky and privileged to be able to do other things that I enjoy – and that make money.
How do you sell your art and how much does a painting cost?
I mainly work with social media. It’s easy and cheap to show people my art on Facebook and Instagram. At the moment, one of my paintings costs between 1,000 and 7,000 francs.
What’s your experience of the Swiss art market?
That’s a difficult subject. You soon realise how important it is to have references and contacts. These days, networking is often more important than the art itself. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As you become more successful, the value of your work increases.
‘You stand a better chance if you’re good at selling yourself.’
So, as an artist, you have to know how to sell yourself?
Absolutely. But that’s always been the case. Picasso and Salvador Dali are my heroes. Not just because they produced incredible work, but because they knew how to present themselves. They fascinated people because they were so eccentric.
What is your dream?
In the past, I would have said to be a famous artist. But my priorities have changed. I now have a two-year-old son, so my main goal is to have a happy family. If I can paint at the same time, that’s a bonus.
Name: Dario De Siena
Born: 14 April 1986 in Zurich
Lives in: Zurich
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