Mysterious street artist “Dang Coffee” tells big stories in tiny spaces
By Eddie Rivera, News Editor
It’s likely you’ve only seen the work of anonymous Sunland-Tujunga artist “Dang Coffee” on Facebook. That would be understandable because few of his art installations are taller than about six inches high, and they are most likely located near your shoes.
The dozen or so installations done in and around Foothill Boulevard in the last year appear near fences, in the cracks of pavement, or wedged along light poles or similar discreet locations. You have to know where to look. Or not. More than likely, Mr. Dang Coffee (we’ve determined the artist is a “he”) would prefer you just discovered his art by accident—a bit of whimsy in the everyday.
Though he prefers to remain anonymous, Dang Coffee did agree to speak exclusively with The Foothill Record about his work and the inspiration behind it.
The Foothill Record: First, where does the name come from? Is coffee to blame? As in “That dang coffee”?
Dang: Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for an art piece. If it’s sufficiently interesting, I’m captured by it and sleep is shoved aside, just as if I’d had too much dang coffee. “Dang” is such a great retro word.
Is coffee your muse? Your inspiration? The bane of your existence?
Coffee is morning starter fluid. And if my muse is knocking on my cranium, coffee helps me notice her.
Is there a reason for the anonymity? Is your anonymity an art piece?
There are many reasons for the anonymity, and a full explanation would be lengthy. Briefly, it’s more fun for everyone. It focuses attention on the work and not on me. I’m sure there are some who would like to “out” Dang Coffee’s secret identity. Those kinds of people are also the ones who tell 4-year-olds that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
Anonymity has always been a part of street art. The street art movement is evolving, and better quality pieces are being made that the vast majority of the public are embracing. The DOT [Department of Transportation] utility boxes now being painted on Foothill are an example of that.
The responses I’ve been getting on Facebook have been overwhelmingly positive, and I’m happy to be playing a small part in adding art to Sunland-Tujunga.
Why work in such a tiny format? Has that always been your medium?
I’ve always liked everyday objects that are out-of-scale, both miniatures and enlargements. The Dang Coffee pieces are my most extensive use of miniatures to date. These installations can give the viewer a sense of their own scale. A person might be walking along Foothill, perhaps lost in thought or their smartphone, and then they look down and suddenly, there is this whole world right there in miniature.
There is a certain politeness in using miniatures that is unusual in street art, in that your art is not bludgeoning people who might not be receptive to it. They can drive right by it. It’s not in their face. But for those that want to experience it, well, I’ve heard from a lot of people who are having a fun time hunting down these little installations.
Social media provides a way for people to be introduced to these pieces and for me to get their feedback. There’s a certain irony here—social media too often draws people away from the real world. My Facebook posts are enticing many people back out there—they’re looking and paying attention and enjoying the real world instead of cyberspace.
How many of these installations have you done? Where was the first?
I’ve done about a dozen or so, all on or near Foothill, in S-T. The first was a tiny window installed in a lighting pole in the middle of the parking lot where the Backdoor Bakery recently reopened. That one is still there. I was delighted when somebody later added a tiny pot of poinsettias on the window sill around Christmas, but the little pot of flowers has since disappeared.
Speaking of medium, what would you consider yours? Do you construct or assemble? Do you paint? Draw?
Drawing and painting are foundational skills any artist should develop, and I use them to the extent that they serve me in doing whatever project is at hand. My current series is mostly tiny construction and fabrication. Some is assembly, using objects like The Hulk figure and the tiny skeletons—parts that I modified to use in my installations. Briefly, my medium is anything I find or make that I can use to say something.
Was there a moment of inspiration for your first “installation”?
It wasn’t a moment exactly but more of a coalescence of many things. I like to experience humor, cleverness, good workmanship, and delightful surprises. So I’m trying to create those things for others to experience too. I’m also attracted to openings in the fabric of urban surfaces. A long blank wall is just that, but when that wall has a crack, a niche, or a break in it, well, that’s where a story can happen.
After I began noticing all these little openings, the idea came to me one night to fill these openings with miniature installations—delightful surprises.
Do you have a school of art that you follow or admire?
Not one particular school.
Is there a theme, or a story being told here?
I have a point of view. Some of the pieces are commentary about things going on in town, but most are just for fun.
Every one of us is embedded, to a great degree, in this city where we live and work, and together we make up a generalized whole called Los Angeles. But each person, while only a tiny part of the whole, is individually an entire story, a whole world unto themselves. So I guess my tiny installations are a metaphor for that.
These installations have a lifespan, and often, the more exposed they are, the shorter their time. I suppose that’s a commentary on life as well.
Did you study art? If so, where?
While I’ve had no formal art education, I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to develop a skill set over the years that enables me to create just about anything I can imagine.
Do you have a favorite installation? One that still makes you laugh?
I still like “The Shower.” A video of that on the Dang Coffee Facebook page has been viewed over two thousand times.
But I’d have to say, my overall favorite was “Crime Scene”—an alley with the legs of a long-ago murder victim sticking out and the area taped off with police tape, all in miniature. But the reason it’s my favorite is not because of what I did but because after I installed it, somebody else came along and contributed to it, using in-scale flowers, candles, and tiny memorial notes to the victim. That was an exquisite acknowledgment!
Both the shower and crime scene are now gone, but photos of them can be seen on Dang Coffee’s Facebook page.
What would you like people to know about what you’re doing?
Anyone living here knows that Foothill Boulevard has seen better days. Any contribution by artists goes a long way towards inspiring people and instilling hopefulness, and I’m seeing that happen. I love that the DOT traffic signal-box painting project is getting done. I’m just trying to do my small part, pun intended.
One last bit. I am soon going to China or thereabouts for an extended project, so I won’t be doing anymore installations for quite some time. But I will be back!
And just like that, we were out of Dang Coffee. China, you’re on your own.