A Frank Sit Down with Miami-Based, Italian Artist Dodo: The Come Up and What Drives His Creative Process

Finding myself as I find new styles.

– Dodo

A Concrete Jungle presented by WHAAM!

Coming from 59th Street, I hopped on the 6, which took me to the Lower East Side. I was headed to an unfamiliar space, an unsuspecting front that only brought further confusion as I wandered through a Chinatown shopping center with a desolate aura. I triple checked the address I was given to make sure I was in the right building – where the fuck was this exhibition? I peered into the stores that were still open for clues. I was met with blank Hello Kitty plushie eyes that served as a surveillance host, alerting engaged store owners and customers of my loose and approaching presence. Tucked away in a corner, this unsuspecting physical space opened in 2019 in order to foster the next generation of artists. Hosted by WHAAM!, a cultural club meant to promote New York City’s sub-cultures through creative lenses, artist Dodo had his solo exhibition A Concrete Jungle from August 11th – September 4th, 2022. It featured a group of airbrush and spray paintings on canvas dedicated to The Golden Age of New York City graffiti. There was also a rack of airbrush tees available for sale.

A Concrete Jungle presented by WHAAM!

I sat down with Dodo and his manager, Farconnected, and I mean we literally sat down on the floor of the gallery. We talked about Dodo’s approach to his art career, influence and journey, and his aspirations. We kicked it, shared conversation, I sipped on some hot egg drop soup, and it got real frank.

Sketch of me, Dodo, and Farconnected at the gallery. Drawing by Dodo.

T: When did you get into graffiti?

D: I started at like 14.

T: At what point did you consciously go like, this is what I want to do?

D: I mean, I’ve been drawing since I was really young. Me and my cousin used to draw all these cartoon characters from Dragon Ball Z. We would just copy them and color them in. I made a book. At first I liked comics, then I found out about graffiti when I was like 12 or 13. Then, I didn’t even draw for a minute. Then, I started doing graffiti and graffiti-like characters. The one that I like is the one I use in my throw ups, the one you see the most. The little guy.

T: Is that you?

D: Yeah, it’s supposed to be me. So I did that, then I started writing logos, like my action name. Before that, I used to write graffiti tags, other names. Then, when I moved to America, I was like, I’m just gonna write Dodo. From that, I thought about doing a whole world with a bunch of characters.

T: Where does Dodo come from?

D: It’s from a common name in Italy. It’s like a nickname. At first, I didn’t like it.

T: I think it’s fitting because Dodo is fun, it sounds animated.

F: I remember before I even met him, I was driving around in Miami and just thinking “Damn, I’ve been seeing Dodo everywhere.” The letters were just so different from American shit so I was like, this dude is not from here, he’s killing it, who is this dude.

T: Can you guys talk more on what differentiates Italian style of graffiti from American?

F: I feel like the American style is the evolved version of technical shit…European is more fun, more bubbly.

D: So, when they started graffiti, it was sloppy and ugly and geometric. It wasn’t clean. They were just experimenting. At first, they did the tag, then the outlines, but with time they got really clean and started putting the arrows and connecting. Then, they got to the point where they became the best. People now, they try to do it as good as some of the people from back in the day. But, they don’t do as good as them. So, a lot of people, instead of trying to get good at it, just find another way. For example, if I’m gonna use the spray paint hella far, I’m gonna make it sloppy on purpose. So, that started creating graffiti that looked different from what everything else was looking like.

T: Just finding ways to differentiate yourself. Because honestly, if you don’t have a trained eye or aren’t familiar with different styles, a lot of it just blends together.

D: It’s different all over the world. There’s thousands of styles. And you know, people try to do different things after a few years where they really get to be different. They create new styles.

T: How has your style evolved over time?

D: Usually people do the same thing then they evolve from there. Me, I just did a bunch of different things, to be honest. When I started writing Dodo, it was a long process of doing it in different ways. Also, because I like to try, you know. Now I just try to stick to this because I think it’s the one. I’ll come up with a new thing now once in awhile, but I don’t try to change it much.

T: I like that because this style is distinctly yours. Like if I saw this, I would immediately recognize it.

F: It’s super unique because nowadays not a lot of people are that different, you know.

T: It has a comic book-y aspect to it.

D: [laughs] Thank you. But, yeah, Far fucked with me and so we started painting together.

F: I was driving around and seeing this shit everywhere and I was like, “Damn.” At the time, I just started doing graffiti and just started taking it serious. I wanted to meet him. Then, I went to this gallery opening and he was outside doing a throwie right there, I was like, “Oh, that’s him.”

T: This sounds like a movie moment.

F: [laughs] Yeah I walked up to him and I was like “Yo, bro.” And ever since that day-

D: Yeah ever since that day we’ve just been on some bullshit every single day.

F: I linked up with him the next day and was like, “Yo man, we could really make some money off of your shit.”

D: That’s the main thing, Far brought me around a bunch of rappers like Fat Nick and other people who are known. He connected me. So, I was around a lot of people that did different things, from clothing brands to rapping. It’s Miami. We could make money, make shows and stuff. So, at first I just kept working because he told me to take this shit serious.

F: Also, I just finished coming from California and I was hanging around this art collective. I was seeing how they were making money and all that. So, I learned that through them. 

D: When he first told me all this I didn’t really care, just focused on graffiti and other things.

F: Then, he just started killing it.

D: I got me an airbrush. I started making t-shirts and quit my job. I was a busboy for like a year. Then, I started taking it serious. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have a license. So, he was always bringing stuff to the space and taking me places.

F: And we’d do pop-ups like at raves.

D: We started selling T-shirts for $40 then $50, $60, $80, then $100. Now they go for $200.

F: There are artists selling a bunch of paint splatters and it’s like, those go for 100 racks. I’m like, “Who the fuck will buy this?” I know muralists for doing that type of thing.

D: For me to charge like 5K for this shit, it took me years.

F: Yeah like he sold hella canvases, all for like $200, $300.

D: In the beginning, I would just set up in the street with my friends and just talk to people. They’d buy it for $50-$60 bucks a canvas, like a small one. With just one character. It wasn’t as good like it looks now. But, these ones, you know, I got a little technique with it. Airbrush and shit. I use tape. I started from $50 to $80 to $150.

F: Yeah, like he gradually built his way up to now. Most of the people that bought art in the beginning were your friends.

D: Now I have to charge them [laughs]. But, you know I really worked on that. It’s not just fun all the time.

T: It just boils down to things being valued at whatever you say it is. 

F: I feel like it’s also the value of the person.

T: I’m wondering if Far was like a prayer that got answered.

D: I can draw, right. So I always knew I would do something drawing.

F: Yeah, he already had a lot of ideas when I met him.

A page out of Dodo’s sketchbook of ideas.

D: Yeah I wasn’t trying to make money through this. And this is not graffiti, this is art, and making money through art is different. I’m also an artist, which I don’t want to be either. I like graffiti writers and the stupid shit. Sometimes, I gotta be on point and just talk to people so I can sell.

And this is not graffiti, this is art, and making money through art is different. I’m also an artist, which I don’t want to be either. I like graffiti writers and the stupid shit.

F: I used to just see him everywhere. So, he was kinda killing it before I met him.

D: When I moved here I was by myself. I’d meet people but I wouldn’t be getting numbers or texting people because I wasn’t even able to speak English.

F: Yeah, when I met him he wasn’t really able to speak English so I’d talk to him in Spanish.

D: I also come from a small town where people won’t talk to you if they don’t know you. So, when I moved, I felt really weird about that too because everybody was so nice.

T: Doesn’t graffiti originate from an Italian word? Graffito?

D: Yeah, like the scratching on the walls. But, yeah, Italy and America are two different worlds. They’re both sick. The people I grew up with in Italy were fresh. I grew up with some sick stuff. This crew I came up with used to have a whole style they created, like spiderwebs and cracks. Nowadays, 9/10 people don’t do nothing crazy with it.

F: When Dodo came to Miami and we started doing shit together, I was influenced by him and his style. Our style evolved together, you know, because he brought some different flavor. I feel like we all mixed each other’s shit.

D: Yeah, we kind of created this shit at the same time all together.

F: We started being more colorful, bringing it back. Because we know people, especially nowadays, just do super simple shit, like black and white, and chromes. Style is important when it comes to graffiti.

T: I’ll go to art museums out here and they’re cool, but me and my friend were talking about it and she was like, “It just feels like I’m in art school again where everybody is trying too hard to be deep, to be different.”

F: It’s all kind of generic, I feel like.

D: I know people that were locked up and when they got free, they had the sickest sketch. So much time, nothing to do, just a paper and pen. That’s why I don’t even like to draw too much because you need to think if you’re trying to do a sick ass draw. Like if you’re trying to doodle, everybody can doodle. I can doodle for like two days in a row. 

T: Being able to tap in is super powerful.

D: Like, how?

T: Just the infinite that’s within you. We all have it. I mean it’s also hard, with phones and social media. It’s really hard to be disciplined. We’re always trying to fill in the gaps. But, if you’re able to just sit-

D: Some days I wake up and I’m like, “Oh shit, I been here 35 minutes.” Instead you can wake up, eat something, go look at the sun. I try to avoid trap music sometimes – it can also make you feel not good.

F: We mainly listen to instrumentals.

D: Yeah, exactly. But, also, hip hop really changed. Trap music is not even hip hop anymore. Maybe the beats are. Back in the day, rappers would open up your mind. They would say shit you’d be like wait a minute, rewind that. Now it’s just like stupid and brainless.

T: We’re all just ADD at this point [laughs].

D: Just try to catch a vibe instead of doing those brainless activities that are so simple to find.

T: Yeah because it also goes down to being present. If you’re truly present, you can do “nothing” all day and be entertained.

D: I would throw my phone away, but I just need it.

F: For me, I love filming, so I need my phone. I need to document everything.

T: I’ve met a lot of cool people through Instagram. That’s how me and Far met randomly a year ago or something, actually. You also mentioned that’s how Kerwin found your work and that’s how you got to work with him for ComplexCon in 2021.

Kerwin at ComplexCon ’21.

D: It was cool. I didn’t even know about him you know, being from Italy. He just DMed me and wanted to work. I noticed how many followers he had, so I called Far and he told me he was big in the street fashion world, so I was excited to work with him. It meant a lot getting flown out to LA for the first time and for ComplexCon. He gave me total freedom. He had a huge cardboard castle and told me to fuck it up [laughs]. It was a crazy time, I got real cool with some of them, like Tommy Wright and Franz from Turnstile.

T: Now that I’m looking at each piece a little closer, you’re really good at conveying expression. An attitude.

Like, with him, he’s just on some sneaky shit. He’s tense.

Out the Subway Window, 2022
Out the Subway Window 2, 2022

With the kids, it’s like you know the pre digital age where it was just wild and free, present.

Different Ways, 2022

D: These two are supposed to be the same guy. One is if like he had a regular job, offering a cigarette to that one. He’s kinda stressed because he has a job, but he’s offering him one because he wants to start a talk even if he doesn’t even really want one. They’re opposites, but also the same person.

F: Yeah it’s the same person, different perspectives.

T: Different timelines, maybe.

F: I’m impressed too because he be doing this with spray paint. The paint that we use is really drippy, but he just be doing all these expressions and details and I’m like, “How?”

T: Even these two right here, their apparent energy exchange, and they’re not even doing much.

Bench Love, 2022.
Bench Love 2, 2022. Inspired by Zoro and Rose Lady Bug in Wildstyle.

F: People say that can almost hear this one. Like, the train. They’re like, “Yo, I can almost hear this painting. Like the train passing by.”

D: What? Who said that? More than one person said that shit? [laughs]

T: Then, this kid looks super pensive. I love it.

City View Smoking, 2022

F: And there’s a couple up there.

D: At first, they’re looking at the train passing by and then at each other like, “Oh.” [laughs]

T: I like how you have them in motion too. Like you know drunk couples after the club just be like all over each other, holding each other, stumbling too.

D: [laughs] Yeah that’s exactly what I was trying to draw.

F: My favorite one is this one.

Fire Hydrant, 2020

D: That one is special to me. It was a late night and I was alone. I was painting because I was bored, I just had a bucket and a few cans. Then it became the sickest character I ever did.

F: When we get rich we’re gonna get big chains of fire hydrants. [laughs]

D: One day I’m gonna sell like 20 of those canvases for like $5K each.

F: Hell yeah, that’s the goal.

D: That one is spray painting then he popped a xan right there then it got super crazy like they wildin then he flips around and shit then he fucks it up then he flies again.

Day Tripping, 2021

T: [laughs] It reminds me of old Cartoon Network where they’ll bump into a wall and the birds and stars are flying over their head.

Keep up with them on Instagram at @dodo_downtown @farconnected


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