My Dog Sighs’ has turned his attention to installation art; the show will be an incredible look at his artistic growth over the last 18 months. The multi-story complex that houses the installations is the perfect setting for the artist’s own creatures, dubbed his ‘Quiet Little Voices’, as his playful to melancholic painted murals and sculptures fill the unsettling abandoned space. We catch up with the man himself and chat about his new venture INSIDE…

GraffitiStreet

When did the idea come about to create an immersive art installation? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

My Dog Sighs

It’s been ticking around my brain for a good few years now. Street art is about creating work that embeds itself and responds to a place and it seemed natural for me to want to begin to control the space around my work. Although I show in galleries I always feel my work lacks a little something when in the white box. I wanted to bring a street art show inside but still feel street.

GraffitiStreet

The environment and space is an essential part of the installation experience; how did you come across the building in Portsmouth?

My Dog Sighs

I’d been scoping out a number of the abandoned buildings across the city. Getting the owners to let me in was a different matter. They just didn’t get what I wanted. With this building, everything just clicked. The building owner has been incredible, basically giving me the building for the last 15months to do with as I pleased. I had to first make it watertight. Then evict 300 pigeons, get specialist companies to clear the aftermath of pigeons and an infestation of fleas, as well as keep the aesthetics of an abandoned building but keeping the health and safety officers happy. It’s been a challenge.

But worth it. The building itself is incredible. Jaw-droppingly so.

GraffitiStreet

You have extended your boundaries from uncovering forgotten objects to now uncovering abandoned, derelict buildings! Did the building ignite an emotional response to you to breathe new life into it?

My Dog Sighs

Oh my god yes. All the yes. I initially had an old cinema in mind but when this building came to fruition and I walked in I knew I had to up my game and do the building justice. For me, it’s about blurring the lines between what I’m doing and what I found when I first walked in.

The whole building is massive. 3000m2 over four floors. When I first went into the pitch-black boarded up building with just a tiny torch I completely freaked out. There were staircases leading in all different directions and pigeons flying out at me from every angle. It was thrilling but petrifying.

I’m using only part of two floors but it’s still a vast space. It was important to me to capture the mystery I felt when I first walked in and keep the urban decay that had taken over the building.

GraffitiStreet

You successfully raised £54,737 with 734 supporters in 28 days! You smashed your crowdfunding goal for this project. How did it feel to have the backing and support from your loyal fan base, especially when it was all a big secret!!?

My Dog Sighs

I’m so lucky to have a brilliant fan base who trusted me. I gave no clue as to what I was doing and for them to back me like that was incredible.

Pre covid we’d had agreements from a number of sources to help fund the project but when covid hit, all the money was pulled. The crowdfund helped me get started. The rest I’ve had to self-fund. I’d initially thought I could pull it together for £20k. It’s already over ten times that.

GraffitiStreet

The art installation has taken 18 months to complete, please tell us more about ‘INSIDE’ and what to expect.

My Dog Sighs

When you think of My Dog Sighs you think of me. The bloke with the scruffy hair and a spray can in his hand. With this show, I want to shift that narrative. I want to return to the time where street artists were invisible ghosts. I’ve removed paul from the story and created a world where My Dog Sighs is a community of my quiet little voices. Each sharing elements of the human condition and creating everything that is mydogsighs. I’m them and they’re me.

GraffitiStreet

‘INSIDE’ was created through a worldwide pandemic! Did the project help you through lockdown to give you something to concentrate on? Or did it make everything more difficult?

My Dog Sighs

I’d already planned to work on the project before the pandemic hit so luckily hadn’t planned many paint festivals.

In the beginning, I was feeling smug because of this, knowing I could carry on working in the space uninterrupted. But when it hit and I lost all the funding and then realised I might not be able to let people into the building, there were a few dark times.

I’d originally planned to open last October. I’ve moved the date three times now and at one point I was going to create the installation and never let anyone in. A ghost show only accessible via a film. Luckily I’ve survived and it is going to open (albeit with very restricted numbers).

GraffitiStreet

Did the pressures of lockdown influence you in any way? Your art pieces? Your message? The story?

My Dog Sighs

The work is definitely darker and more raw than the usual My Dog Sighs stuff. Is that covid related? I’m not sure. There’s no way it couldn’t have influenced any of us in some way or other I suppose.

GraffitiStreet

I’m sure a project of this magnitude and time scale has presented many challenges and many successes! How did you find curating such an ambitious project?

My Dog Sighs

I think I was a bit blasé to start with. But working on a scale like this with a whole new skill set has been a massive challenge and learning curve. Learning to sculpt on a small and large scale, working with sound and lighting experts and just dealing with the scale of things has been hard. I can flip a can around in my hand. A sculpture too big to lift and move (over four floors) is a different matter altogether.

It has helped that I’ve pulled together a small but fantastic team behind me. None of us has done anything like it before but we’ve helped each other through the minefield.

GraffitiStreet

Has the installation evolved over time? Has it altered/deviated from the original plans/ drawings?

My Dog Sighs

The forced extension has given me time and opportunity to upscale the project so yes. It’s got bigger and more audacious. Only a few months ago I decided to build a huge interactive maze in part of the building (a physical manifestation of my brain). That definitely wasn’t on the initial sketches. Lol

GraffitiStreet

It is the first time you have created sculptures; what did you learn from their fabrication?

My Dog Sighs

Thinking in 3d is a whole new skill set that is much harder to learn than you think. At first, it was like learning to draw with the wrong hand.

I’ve loved it though and am keen to take it much further.

GraffitiStreet

Was it essential for you to bring life to the ‘Quiet Little Voices’ characters and give them centre stage?

My Dog Sighs

I’ve always loved them. They’re a manifestation of elements of me and up until now, I don’t think I’ve given them enough of the stage. This show definitely shifts that.

GraffitiStreet

You upcycle everyday objects within your artworks, often found and abandoned pieces, giving them a new lease of life, a new value. What makes something special enough to be used in an artwork/ sculpture? And where did you source all the materials for such a massive project from!?

My Dog Sighs

My wife would have something to say about this. She often tries to tidy the studio and after some initial disasters now knows to hold up every used tea bag, bottle top and torn book page and ask ‘is this precious?’ For me, there’s such a beauty in decay. The orange dust of rust, peeling paint, a discarded shopping list.

My quiet little voices are like me. Wombles. Pretty much everything in the show, they’ve sourced from the precious things we as humans discard.

GraffitiStreet

What is the most important significant piece of art within the installation for you personally?

My Dog Sighs

That’s like asking me which is my favourite organ. Brain, Heart, lungs or liver?

It’s the show in its entirety that is significant for me. It’s the experience of being in there, finding the rabbit holes and secret pieces. It’s stepping out of one reality and into another. One that holds a mirror up to our own reality.

I do quite like the little birds though lol.

GraffitiStreet

Your installation occupies the multi-storey building and invites the spectator to walk through and fully engage within the art and surroundings. You have brought in light and sound experts to enhance the sensory experience; are you inviting us to view your world differently? Tell us more! …

My Dog Sighs

I think all artists are a little bit ‘control freaks’. We ponder over every colour, line and shape. Obsessively.

By controlling the space, light and sound, I have the opportunity to tap into all the senses of the viewer. To feed my vision to them from every possible angle. The tiniest detail has been pored over. I’ve created voices and scripts for every creature. I know how they breathe and write and laugh and feel.

Of course, as predominantly a painter, these are all new aspects of the creative approach for me, so working with the sound guys at Portsmouth university and the lighting crew meant I was able to tap into their expertise, try and convert what was in my head and make it real. It’s been an incredible learning experience.

This show was about pushing my boundaries in lots of new areas. I even created a new written alphabet and language. Much of it is decodable. You just need the MDS Rosetta Stone.

Little rabbit holes like this have been a great source of exploration to me. Will you spot it all in your visit? I don’t know, but I know it’s there and I know that every tiny aspect has been considered, planned and made a reality.

GraffitiStreet

We will be greeted by stewards who will walk us through the art installation and provide a narrative for the alternative world we will be immersed in. What do you hope the public takes away from ‘INSIDE’?

My Dog Sighs

A print or two? Maybe a t-shirt and a sticker pack!

I’m also planning on being in the building for the entirety of the show, gleaming others’ reactions to it and maybe explaining some of the hidden elements. I always find art comes alive when you hear the artist talk about it.

Alongside the main opening times, I’ll be showing selected school kids around and offering guided tours for other artists who want to understand the nitty-gritty of putting an event like this together.

GraffitiStreet

You are releasing a documentary and a book about the project. When can we expect that?

My Dog Sighs

Paul the filmmaker has been following me through the entire project. Close to 18 months now; poor thing. He’s witnessed the highs lows, the full shebang. We’re hoping to have it ready for a screening in the autumn.

The book is coming together nicely and that’ll hopefully be ready to add to your Christmas list.

GraffitiStreet

You have designed an educational pack to be used by teaches and students worldwide, offering creative tools to find hope in difficult situations. Teaching coping mechanisms to improve mental health is so important, especially during these difficult and isolating times. Why was this important for you to include?

My Dog Sighs

I was a teacher before becoming an artist and it’s still important to me to engage young people in the arts.

Over lockdown, I did a series of educational materials for teachers to use when providing online learning and it went down a storm. There is definitely a hunger for contemporary art inspiration for use in schools. By providing training and educational materials to teachers I hope INSIDE may ignite a creative spark in some young people.

I’ve also allocated a thousand free tickets for people in areas of the city with low cultural engagement.

GraffitiStreet

You are inviting everyone to experience your home city of Portsmouth. What else would you recommend visitors to do on their visit to the port city?

My Dog Sighs

Outside the well known historic dockyard, (which is pretty cool if you’ve not been) Portsmouth is a hive of creativity. There are some great street art spots with local legends like Fark, m-one, samo, Roo Abrook, pogo as well plenty of great work from visiting artists around (there are some stunning pieces by Brighton based Gary stranger in the city). The corner collective in Albert road is a new art studio and gallery showing some great work too. You might even want to visit a mini street art tour in the local model village. I’ve painted a few micro murals on the buildings in there alongside other local artists.

Outside of street art, the seafront is a great place for a wander. There’s plenty of great places to eat and plenty of places to grab a decent pint too.

GraffitiStreet

When can we expect the secret location to be disclosed?!!!

My Dog Sighs

I’m getting the tickets released Wednesday 9th June at 7pm and will be notifying ticket holders of the location in early July.

I love to keep the suspense going for a little bit longer …

DATE: Friday 16 July – Sunday 1 August 2021
LOCATION: An undisclosed location in Portsmouth.
ADMISSION: £10 adults / £5 concession / Children are free

Tickets will be announced through My Dog Sighs’ mailing list which can be subscribed to on his website www.mydogsighs.co.uk or follow him on Facebook or Instagram for more updates.

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