Dan Mumford: The So What! Interview
Dan Mumford has delivered a deep perspective on “The Unforgiven” with his piece of celebratory art. Steffan Chirazi chats with the impossibly nice artist and ponders whether it’s interpretation or reflection, among other things.
Speaking with Dan Mumford is a curiously soothing and entertaining endeavor for this English editor. He is the sort of man I’d like to have tea with, and undoubtably the sort of man who will generously apologize simply because that is what we British do. Yet there is this quiet flicker of quirkiness, of a man who has a lot more brewing under the hood than his reserved, and properly polite persona, suggests. As we chatted on our Zoom call, I started to wonder whether the closet door behind him would creak open to reveal a cavalcade of skeletons dancing macabre (it didn’t). All in all, I suspect Dan is what it says on the tin – cheerful, extremely creative, content, and a bloody good bloke – but there’s that small side of me which won’t let go of the fact that the Mumford mind is a curious and sometimes weird place. Which, by the way, is high praise. I’m sure he’s reading this scratching his head and chuckling awkwardly at such a portrayal…or is he?
Steffan Chirazi: Let’s just get into this immediately before we go anywhere. Your interpretation of “The Unforgiven” is an incredibly colorful, yet incredibly bleak piece at the same time. How did you arrive at this image?
Dan Mumford: I did one piece before for Metallica, the Twickenham Stadium show poster, which was a gigantic demon sort of thing reaching out over the stadium. I really liked how that turned out, and at the time when I did it, it was a little bit different. I wouldn’t have normally done something like that, but it utilized my love of doing landscapes with a large character within it. And I don’t think there’s necessarily always a certain iconic piece of imagery that you want to draw on for Metallica. So I was trying to just do my own thing with that, and the demon thing was what I did. So when it came to this new one, I wanted to do something that continued that theme a bit. But at the same time, it’s interpreting the lyrics too. When it comes to the lyrics with Metallica as a whole, people interpret those lyrics on a very deep level a lot of the time, don’t they? And there’s so many people looking into Metallica and the meaning behind stuff, far more so than I would say some other bands maybe. So this is someone dealing with the sins, well, not the sins, their “issues,” and in a way that’s kind of what I’m doing within the image, if you will. You have the central character, the tiny silhouette, with his demons coming for him. And then, of course, you’ve got it set in a church as well, which is always symbolic in a way. But at the same time, I’d quite like people to interpret it in their own way, so I don’t want to put too much meaning on it. But for me, it’s about this character and his overarching personal demons, I suppose.
SC: Your color choices are very interesting too, because essentially, that shade of purple, or even magenta, is a very versatile color. It can be a positive, it can be a negative. It can be bright, it can be dark. I mean in this context it’s still fairly bright, and even the fire itself is still fairly bright. So it walks this extremely unique line between being a very dark image that’s also very colorful, bright and pops at you.
DM: That’s something that I always try and do in a lot of my work, so even though the content might be quite grim or dark, I always try and make the imagery in itself beautiful. And also within this image you’ve got that bright light, the white within this glass window, and that is to an extent the glimmer of hope of getting through whatever demons you’re dealing with, you know? Again, I don’t like to put too much meaning on a piece like this where the song is gonna have a lot of meaning to a lot of people, but for me that’s what I’m doing within the image.
SC: Well, I mean of course now I have to ask… if that was you walking towards that light, what would those demons above you be representing?
DM: [Chuckles] Oh I don’t have any major demons that I care to disclose, let’s put it that way.
SC: Right. Fair enough.
DM: We all have our own personal issues for sure. And that’s what I’d say… actually, do you know what? I’ll say that the pandemic over the course of last year has brought up some things in my mind and the way I am with the world. I’ve dealt with anxiety quite a bit this year, as I’m sure quite a lot of people have. And you know… that all results in lots of other things, and a few things from my past.
SC: So not to drag you down psych corner with Dr. Chirazi on the couch grilling you, but we can safely say this piece does also include some of your own personal mental grit and grime.
DM: Yes. I think you could certainly say that. I think most people could relate to that if you want to go down that route. Everyone has those things going on in their life sometimes, whether they realize it or not.
SC: Right. And it’s worth noting that this song is one of the more popular songs they’ve ever written, and there’s probably a good 25 million people who identify in the same way, so you’re not alone.
DM: Yeah, for sure. And actually, I think another thing within the image, like I just said, sometimes people have things that they’re dealing with that they don’t necessarily know are controlling them, if you will, and that’s another thing I wanted to do with this image which I kind of forgot to say. It’s a church that’s been broken open, so for me, the idea is that before you just couldn’t see them, and now it’s broken open, the reality of what’s maybe been going on or controlling you to an extent is revealed. So it’s unknown demons being revealed. That’s another way of looking at it as well.
At this point, having found that Dan and I had leapt into the poster discussion feet first, I almost inexplicably found myself wanting to lighten the mood. Thus I decided to throw in a few of the pop-quiz style questions which have formed some recent editorials here in So What!
SC: I’m going to go and start asking you what I would call a few of these pop-quiz questions. We’ll see how you feel, and we’ll see if they bring a chuckle or a grimace…The first place you heard Metallica was?
DM: Oh, I would say it was…hmmm, do you know what? Maybe it was my friend Mitch playing Ride the Lightning to me on the train home from school? Another time was on a school trip to New York, which seems insane to me now, but I was 16 or 17, so this was around the year 2000. And a friend and I spent the whole time listening to Kill ’Em All on a tape.
SC: The first place you heard The Black Album was?
DM: These are hard questions because my memory’s awful. I’ll just say at The Dome in Tufnell Park – a club night. It was probably there. Something like that.
SC: The last time you were drunk at a gig was?
DM: Well, last time I was at a gig was when, nearly two years ago now? I would say it might’ve been… I saw Bane at the… no, that can’t be the last time. That was two and a half or three years ago? Do you know what? I don’t have an answer to that. I don’t remember. February 2020?
SC: The last time you were really scared.
DM: I don’t get scared by a lot of stuff necessarily, but I will, and I bet you a lot of people’s answers would be fairly similar to this, I will say there was a moment in March 2020 when it felt like the world was ending. My studio is in London, as is where I live, but at the time me and my partner were actually living with her mum because we were in the process of purchasing a flat and it wasn’t ready. So we were commuting in and out [of London] and it’s an hour commute or something. All this stuff was happening around coronavirus, and no one really knew what the hell was happening until we finally got Boris talking nonsense on TV and telling us what was happening. And I remember being really freaked out because you had some people being, “Oh well, they’re gonna bring in the Army and they’re gonna put up a quarantine zone around London” and all this sorta stuff. No one really knew what was happening, so me and my partner came into London, got our computers from our various places of work, and got out. It literally felt like, “We gotta do this today before the weekend because then they’re gonna put the quarantine hammer down,” you know?! And it was panic more than fear, but that panic felt like something I’d never experienced in my life so far.
SC: Yeah. That’s crazy, and I identify with that. Was this the pandemic that you expected – having watched, like all of us, post-apocalyptic films, ranging from Beneath the Planet of the Apes to 28 Days Later to Soylent Green? Is this what you thought a pandemic would live out like?
DM: Of course not, no. I’m someone that loves a post-apocalyptic film. I like to watch them. I don’t think I’d actually like to live in one. But the actual pandemic, after that initial first week or so? I found myself with my partner, her mum, and the cat, and what followed was actually just quite a nice three months where we lived a very simple life, working from home and having nice meals all the time. It was fine. It actually turned into a very nice experience. I think the frustrating part came around July when things settled down but then went bad again, and then the last six months in the UK have been a fucking nightmare where it’s just been nothing. Just nothing, for months. And again, as of last night, another month of restrictions and stuff. And you know what, I’m fine with it, I don’t really care either way, but like most people I’m just fed up with it.
SC: What is the, in your opinion, the greatest post-apocalyptic film of all time?
DM: It’s Mad Max: Fury Road:. That’s the best one. And before that I probably would’ve said Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. When Fury Road came out in 2015, that was the first time in a long time I saw a film in cinema. I was breathless. That’s a film that does not stop. I also think it’s just a beautiful piece of art, that film. It looks amazing. It’s well made. It did something that I don’t think you’d seen in cinema for a long time, and the music’s perfect as well. It’s just this whole culmination of stuff that is really emotionally powerful. It’s probably my number one film as well.
SC: When have you felt the most unforgiven in your life?
DM: I have no idea how to answer that question. Because it’s such a weird word anyway... I don’t have an answer for that.
SC: Have you ever felt unforgiven for something that you did that you’d atoned for?
DM: Not really. That makes my life sound, seem really boring. But I don’t.
SC: The first time you saw a piece of art that made you emotional.
DM: I’m not gonna say it was the first time, but there’s a collection of works we went to see by John Martin at the Tate Britain. Huge, huge landscapes of visions of hell, essentially. Ten by ten foot, that sort of thing.
SC: Is there an artistic medium that you want to get your hands dirty with?
DM: Yeah, painting. Because I do everything digitally at the moment. I know how to paint, and I used to paint when I was younger. I just haven’t for a good ten years or so now, but let’s say I do a show where there’s prints and stuff, I think I would also create some original one-off works.
SC: Oils or acrylics in that case?
DM: Well, it would be acrylics normally, but maybe I’ll try oils as well. I never liked oils really. Just too wet and messy, and I like things to dry quickly, I want to get on with it.
SC: Who has been in your current playlist rotation?
DM: I really like a band called Animals as Leaders. They’re an instrumental, progressive rock metal band. And there’s something about them that I always come back to. I really, really like them a lot. They’ve only got a few albums out but there’s something about their music that I find quite fascinating.
Check out Dan’s electric artwork at Dan-Mumford.com.