Graffiti “wasn’t the smartest thing” Rob Dugan, 25, ever did. As a middle-school and high-school skateboarder, he’d frequently get in trouble with his parents, as well as the cops, when graffitiing walls around Philadelphia under the tag (a spray-painted signature) “Seek One.”
But it was all part of a big learning experience.
“It wasn’t necessarily rebellion. It was more part of the culture. Growing up skateboarding, I had a lot of urban influences. And I was always interested in art, so it blended well with the graffiti,” Dugan says. “(But) I really had no clue what I was doing. It was kind of nonsense. I just … did it for the sheer enjoyment.
“But it was enough. It gave me a chance to reevaluate what I wanted.”
Dugan began studying fine art, as well as photography and videography, a few years ago. From there he “got good with Photoshop” and began making stencils in a similar vein to Banksy.
“It became a different type of graffiti for me,” he says.
Now working on canvas instead of walls, Dugan — still under the tag Seek One — presently has a solo exhibit at Beacon Shortwave Art Gallery running till Sept. 3.
The show consists of Dugan’s self-described “fine pop art” of many iconic American faces: Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Jay-Z and more.
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“It’s all the people that run through my life — whether in music, movies or reading about popular culture,” he says. “They are interesting and amazing people to me. And there are so many great images of them. For example, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn are no longer with us, but they (through their pictures) tell a great story on ... how to enjoy life.”
In strong opposition to his capricious graffiti-art teenage years, Dugan has matured into a more serious and more prudent artist. For a piece on Nas, Dugan actually visited Queensbridge, Queens, where the rapper grew up, and collected soil from the housing project where he was raised, eventually adding it to the painting. In a mixed media on Frank Sinatra, Dugan found a vintage Wall Street Journal from the same era to incorporate into the background.
“I like tying history with popular culture and street art and blending it all together.”
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Dugan, who plans to attend Art Basel in Miami in December, is in the process of taking another grown-up step — getting a studio to set up “a home base,” where his focus will be on quality, not quantity, so he can “make the best product possible.”
“I take my time. I want it to be substantial so people can enjoy it for their whole life — it’s an investment.”