Dirk Hays has been a force to reckon with since his arrival on the Atlanta Art scene in the early ‘80s. His style is a Dirty South Cocktail: a nostalgia-laced, moonshine Mai Tai served up in a flaming, coconut zombie-monkey cup garnished with a Fez. Dirk’s alter ego, Uncle Daddy, is behind the bar this time shaking up his own country concoctions. So, grab a bar stool, a Psychedelic Sarsaparilla, and sit a spell with us. Let Uncle Daddy spin a yarn.
ATLRetro: Tell me a little about yourself.
Dirk Hays: I grew up in a small town in Alabama and my dad was a sign painter, so I used to spend a lot of time hanging out at the sign shop and watching him work. I spent a lot of my childhood drawing and listening to music for hours on end. I loved comic books and would draw my favorite characters from them. When I was 15 or 16, I discovered underground comics and that clearly shaped my drawing style, along with other artists of the time, such as Big Daddy Roth and Basil Wolverton, and the crew at MAD magazine.
I have a degree in Visual Communications from Auburn University and worked in advertising for a few years after moving to Atlanta in 1982. During those years, I worked off and on at the Center for Puppetry Arts and developed a love for sculpture. I started making and selling my art about this time and enjoyed doing that solely for about 13 years, until I had the opportunity to learn to tattoo. I’ve owned and operated East Atlanta Tattoo for the past 10 years and I also play washtub bass in Uncle Daddy and the Kissin’ Cousins. I enjoy camping, working in my vegetable garden and hanging out with my wife [Editor’s Note: That’s Kool Kat Barbilicious Hays of Blast-Off Burlesque] and dogs. Oh, and bacon.
What led to the creation of Uncle Daddy’s Woodland Critters series?
I’ve always preferred painting on wood for some reason; maybe that goes back to watching my dad paint signs on wood, I don’t know. Sometimes the confines of a canvas with straight edges seems to restrict me and I tend to prefer cut out irregular shapes. The pieces started taking more of a sculptural bent, with the addition of various layers, a few years ago, with another series of work that I was doing. The idea for the critters has been with me for a while now, but only gelled recently. I made an owl one day and put the picture up on Facebook and had 60 some responses within no time. People were asking about prices and if I was doing any other animals, so it seemed like there was a good deal of interest right off the bat. I decided to work on this series under my band persona of Uncle Daddy, and I make them in my workshop on Woodland Avenue, so the name kind of came from that.
I’ve always been a big trash scavenger for art materials. I like the mix of something old and weathered with the freshly painted, bright colors, in some instances. Mainly, the critters are made of birch plywood that I cut out on the bandsaw, paint with a combination of spray and acrylic, and then glue together.
One of my favorite Critters is the O KISSUM. Tell me a little bit about what influences your work.
Well, obviously music and pop culture are big influences, as well as the comic artists that I spoke of earlier. I like to inject a little humor into the work when I can and that was just a silly idea that occurred to me as I was making the possum. Sometimes the different pieces laying around on my work table unassembled, seem to gravitate toward each other in unexpected ways. Mixing the elements up a little allows for more variety in the series and something outside the box. Is that an udder on that rabbit? Horns on a beaver? Why not? Anything can happen in this forest, and the weirder the better for my tastes.
I’ve only been doing this series since the beginning of December, and most of the sales have been through Facebook, or in my driveway, up to this point. I recently placed a few at HodgePodge Coffeehouse and Gallery, 720 Moreland Avenue, in East Atlanta. I’m also speaking with the nice folks at Pine Street Market in Avondale Estates about showing some there, as well. I don’t have the space at the tattoo shop any longer to display art, since we gave up the gallery there, so I’m looking for a few locations around town to place them. People can still contact me through Facebook, and if you like the page, you can keep up with any updates there. I usually post any new critters as soon as they’re done, too, so you can get first dibs on new creations. I also do commissions, so if you have an idea for a critter, other than a portrait of your dog, hit me up and I’ll see if I can make it happen.
Just working on new critters, getting ready for spring. I’d like to show the work at some local art/craft festivals, if the stars align just right and I can make it work between band gigs and running the tattoo shop.
About the Author: ATLRetro Contributing Editor Jennifer Belgard is Co-Conspirator at Libertine, Curator of Curios at Diamond*Star*Halo, Barkeep at Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, and Co-Coordinator of Chaos for the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade & Festival. In her spare time she enjoys Turnin’ TriXXX and playing Queen of Your Distraction.