If walls could see

By Beverley Knight

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Picture the scene. It’s Golden Hour in Italy. Pasted on crumbling walls are sun-bleached, tattered posters. This is where mixed-media artist Dan Cimmermann imagines his work- a meld of aristocratic portraits defaced and distorted by street art and anime techniques.

The Middlesbrough lad’s done good, very good. When his Polish grandfather found asylum after WW2, the family name Zimmermann, meaning German carpenter, was labelled ‘too German’ by the English government. The Z changed to C to make it ‘more British’. Dan says, “I found this immensely interesting.”

From his industrial, North East England roots, he’s exhibited work across the globe, from sketches in Tokyo to murals in Beirut to paintings in San Francisco. He has a keen interest in Japanese culture, but it’s the culture and social behaviour of Great Britain that fascinate Cimmermann. 

He uses the notion ‘if walls could see’ and has used the setting of a humble pub and Hans Holbein drawings as stimulus. Hens and stags, English gents, hooligans; class divide plays a big part. The idea is simple, he states. “I imagine and recreate layers of history built up over time the walls of pubs bear witness to.” 

Dan’s style nestles comfortably between classic and fresh, a layered combination of fine and street art. If you’re out and about in Vesterbro, Copenhagen, you can catch his outdoor mural: a tangled mass of bodies named Scrap. Inspiration for the piece came from paintings like the 1610 work Massacre of the Innocents by Rubens and street artist ARYZ’s Pugana.

At the back of The Biscuit Factory Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, aggression continues, influenced by LA-based artist Cleon Peterson, in the mural Bank Holiday Dance. It shows the pantomime of masculinity, especially when a crowd is intoxicated. 

For his works on canvas, a figure, often noble, is mono-printed onto the surface. Layers rise as oil paint, spray paint, posca pens, and oil pastels make marks. It’s not messy or haphazard; it works together like a delicious cocktail for the eyes, marrying bang-up-to-date techniques with historical subjects. 

Dan looked at the notion of Brits abroad in his art and how some folk take this Britishness to foreign places like a peacock, expecting other countries to meet their needs. “Hand-picking elements of different cultures and immersing themselves to appear more culturally aware and brag to peers intrigues me,” he says.  

A statement piece in this vein, Crash Bang Wallop, depicts a colonial past. The stimulus was old maritime portraits, but there’s no globe. There’s a skull instead; this figure isn’t afraid to play with fire to get what they want. To compare to our times, Cimmermann likens this work to a lairy lads’ holiday. “Head to a bar. Cash bang wallop, then leave.”

To Dan, there are still echoes of the grand tours of the Victorian age. He elaborates, “Being opinionated, gathering trophies and returning to bed for a steaming mug of Yorkshire tea.” The saying goes, times change. Sure. But Dan questions just how much through his art. 

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