Arts & Entertainment

Dee Dee Ramone's artwork now on display at Shepard Fairey's gallery

John Cafiero and Shepard Fairey in an office above the Subliminal Projects art gallery shortly before the opening of an exhibition of Dee Ramone's artwork.
John Cafiero and Shepard Fairey in an office above the Subliminal Projects art gallery shortly before the opening of an exhibition of Dee Ramone's artwork.
Grant Slater/KPCC

An exhibit featuring the art work of late punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone opened Friday at Shepard Fairey's Elysian Park gallery, Subliminal Projects. The debut of this collection of paintings coincides with the 10th anniversary of the musician's death.

“Dee Dee's artwork is reflective of his personality. It's really complicated in that it’s childlike, but it's almost demonic at the same time," said John Cafiero, who manages the estates of Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone and The Ramones. "That really was Dee Dee's personality. There were two sides to him and he used to describe it as the Good Dee Dee and the Bad Dee Dee.”

Dee Dee (his birth name was Douglas Colvin) was a bassist and a songwriter for the New York-based band The Ramones. The band turned out memorable punk anthems including "Teenage Lobotomy," "Sheena Was A Punk Rocker" and "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." Shepard Fairey's favorite Ramones song is "Rockaway Beach" – one of the many jams written by Dee Dee himself.

“I've been a Ramones fan since 1984 when I first got into punk," said Fairey. "One of the things I’ve always loved about the Ramones was that the music was aggressive but there was a great sense of humor and melody; it wasn’t one dimensional.”

Fairey is a well-known street artist and graphic designer whose Obey clothing and product line includes collaborations with work by artists such as Keith Haring. Fairey rocketed to national recognition with his creation of the red and blue Obama "Hope" picture that became emblematic of the 2008 election.

“Four years ago when I was creating that image, Obama was yet to demonstrate how he would perform as president and I hoped, as someone that always says come from an outsider perspective, that he would be that subversive outsider who infiltrated the system,” Fairey said.

But for the upcoming election a poster like that wouldn't work, said Fairey, because the reality is "it’s a lot more difficult to transform Washington than people maybe hoped it would be."

"In some ways, the flaws of the system means it's rather pointless to cheerlead for an incumbent and hope that the system will change,” Fairey added.

But the artist did create a new work to sell at "Dee Dee Ramone: A Memorial Exhibition." Fairey said he appreciated the opportunity to make pieces that celebrate his heroes, and so he created a black and gold painting of the late punk rocker based on photographs of Dee Dee on stage.

Cafiero said he chose to debut this exhibit in Los Angeles for a variety of reasons – including the fact that Dee Dee is buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery – but most of all it was because of Fairey.

"Part of the tragedy of the Ramones is that during their lifetimes they were never really fully appreciated for the brilliance that they were," said Cafiero. "Shepard is one of the breed of people that had always recognized that brilliance."

Dee Dee's paintings include a mix of self-portraits, odes to Andy Warhol with Campbell's soup cans and flowers, and a mix of dark and childlike imagery. This is the longest running art installation that Dee Dee has ever had, and this is the first time these pieces have been on display in America. 

"It's exciting to see how someone applies their creativity to something that people don't know them for," said Fairey, adding that he was "super excited" to showcase Dee Dee's visual art at his space.

“I've worked with John and the Ramones estate in the past….any chance to insinuate myself in the Ramones legacy in some minor way, I try to seize that opportunity in any way,” said Fairey with a laugh.

The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday and the Dee Dee exhibit will be up until November 17.

Fairey said its a perfect chance to merge the Ramones audience with the Obey audience and turn a few new people on to one of the most significant American punk rock bands of all time.

“I assume that everyone knows and loves the Ramones but there's always somebody who just turned 14 this year who needs an introduction,” said Fairey.

Cafiero plans to take the exhibit to New York because it is the "birthplace of the Ramones." A few galleries have already expressed interest, but he says he hopes to keep Fairey involved and create a type of pop-up exhibit.