When most people hear the word ‘graffiti’, they imagine scuffy neighbourhoods, vandalised walls and dodgy characters . . . well think again! Durban North artist Shaun Oakley has taken the grunge factor out of street art and turned it into a desirable must-have for swanky homes, luxury cars and hip hangouts.
Tall, dark and handsome, we caught up with Shaun at a home in Izinga Ridge, Umhlanga where he recently completed a stunning, indoor mural stretching over three storeys.
“I grew up drawing with my dad who was an artist. My mom was also into creative interior stuff, so I was always keen on art vibes,” says Shaun, who started experimenting with graffiti in 2004 during his high school skateboarding years.
“I admire comics and intricate cartoons and I really got into vector art while completing my degree in visual communication at Vega. I explored these different styles and started to blend the two while trying to keep the look as clean as possible working with both spray cans and acrylic paint.”
He became more involved in the ego-driven graffiti scene and says he played ‘the game’ for the thrill of making your mark and claiming territory while always being on the lookout, as you can get into serious trouble if you are painting the wrong wall at the wrong time. “You can go to jail for a year and a half for malicious damage to property if the police catch you in the act.”
Shaun left the illegal side of things and created his brand name ‘Damn Vandal’ while working as a senior graphic designer at Mr Price. His courage to tackle just about any ‘canvas’ saw Shaun painting on anything from surfboards and walls to shoes, hockey helmets and cars, which became his trademark.
“I started painting cars for a company called Wicked Dips five years ago. The first couple of cars were really scary because it is so easy to get drips and weird textures on the metal. The most terrifying job was painting a Lamborghini for a car show in just three and a half days!”
But Shaun says his most nerve-wracking work so far was doing a mural on a wall stretching over a six-storey building which had to be completed in only three days. “I put my big boy panties on for that one! Seeing the end result and getting it done on time gave me a lot of confidence. Once you’ve done one big wall you just want to do more.”
His name spread like wildfire and since then he has worked with brands like Corona, is sponsored by Reebok and Posca Markers and was recently sent to Paris by Hyundai SA to gather inspiration at the Afropunk Festival.
While all the exposure was amazing, working 46 out of 52 weekends a year eventually started taking a toll on his personal life. After nine years with Mr Price, Shaun quit his day job just last month and now paints full time – a move he is extremely grateful to have been able to make.
“I push for success and work day in and day out to make something of myself and of the talent I have been given. I want to be someone who influences and climbs into the minds of people all around the world. Having the opportunity to do what I love, while having more time for my wife, Sam, and our two children, Ava-Love (4) and Maddox (1) is the best life I could wish for.”
Text: Elana Wagner | Photographer: Luca Barausse Photography