Graffiti by Gilpin
“Graffiti is about applying yourself to a wall while being consciously aware that whatever you’re painting won’t be there in a year or two,” says Dusty Gilpin, graffiti artist and third-generation designer and commercial artist.
“Either the sun’s going to fade it, the city’s going to buff it, or someone else is going to paint over it. It’s an art form that is always evolving because it never lasts but in pictures,” he says.
His screen-printing company, Tree & Leaf Clothing Inc., is the source of many interesting, clever and, at times, hilarious T-shirts you’ve probably seen around town. Perhaps it’s that type of acceptance of fleeting art — something that can be fervently loved today but evolved beyond tomorrow or the next day — that allows him and co-owner John Milner to keep their thumbs on the pulse of Oklahoma’s progressive culture.
Gilpin studied art at OSU and UCO, and cites his grandfather, Richard Gilpin, a longtime partner of Graphic Art Center, as his hero. “His artistic talent and humorous attitude have become legendary as I meet people that have been inspired by him, my father [Greg Gilpin] and Graphic Art Center,” Gilpin says.
Now 25, Gilpin began his screen-printing career five years ago, but his interest in graffiti came when he was 14. “It’s a beautiful, expressive, anonymous art form that is gifted to its viewers by the artist for free. Oklahoma has a great graffiti scene because it’s very small, and it’s very close-knit,” he says.
He painted his first graffiti piece in a ditch behind his house when he was a sophomore in high school. “It was absolutely terrible!” Gilpin admits. “I didn’t get well-connected to the graffiti scene until about five years ago.”
That was when Gilpin started Tree & Leaf with Milner and the help of a couple of friends. “None of us knew anything about printing, so we taught ourselves the process in the back of our friend’s garage,” he says.
After they began printing small orders for friends, the orders became consistent enough for them to move into a commercial space. Since then, it’s just been constantly upward and constantly busier. “We respect those who came before us, and humbled by our amazing customers,” he says.
Graffiti and design tie together because both of them have primary focus on letters. “A designer and a graffiti artist look at letter shapes as individual pieces of artwork,” he explains. “I constantly use things I’ve learned from design in my graffiti and vice versa. I think that screen printing has a connection with graffiti because it begins with the same ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) mentality.”
“I am still very inspired by traditional design, sign-painting and graffiti. Our business is definitely inspired by the DIY spirit, and our surrounding communities,” he says.
One of Tree & Leaf’s most popular lines is unofficial Thunder apparel they’ve been printing with sports blog DailyThunder.com since 2009. “We’ve had an overwhelming response to our Thunder-inspired shirts. There is a demographic that wants to wear something different, and we provided them an avenue to root for our team in a style they’re comfortable in,” Gilpin says.
T-shirt designs include Kevin Durant as “Durantula,” featuring the NBA star as half-spider dunking a basketball, and “Beard,” a shout to James Harden. Gilpin says the initial four designs sold very quickly. “We knew we were on to something,” he says.
Occasionally, a Thunder player will come into the store, and Gilpin has received some great feedback from the players via Twitter. “When we first released the images for the shirts, the players were using them as their Twitter backgrounds. That was a great boost of confidence,” he says.
“We’ve always been a company that wants to collaborate with other progressive local entities,” Gilpin says. “Blogs like DailyThunder.com, TheLostOgle.com and TheSpyFM.com are all groups that sincerely love and support Oklahoma. We approach them about managing their inventory and shirt designs and in return we get a new customer base and a bunch of cool shirts that directly support local business.”
Tree & Leaf recently moved into new quarters, graduating from a 1,500 square-foot space to a 3,500 square-foot space, and added another large automatic printing press to its arsenal. “The addition of the press will allow us to run jobs more efficiently while allowing us to expand our brand of apparel at the same time,” he says.
As the design business grows, Gilpin’s graffiti art is also developing. “I am just in a real state of wanting to progress right now. Most artists know they are their hardest critic and I am really critical of my own work,” he says. “I just have to get better, bottom line.” Visit www.treeandleafclothing.com to see more of his work.