It’s not often that you find yourself getting your hair cut surrounded by art
Coming from a background of both hairdressing and art, one day Daniel Kelly decided to bring together his two passions, creating gallery-salon hybrid DKUK. “It’s about creating conversations around art via haircutting,” he says, “We do this by supporting artists, training them as hairdressers, and commissioning exhibitions in the salon space.” While being surrounded by a revolving exhibition of artworks certainly elevates the experience of having your hair done, it was the ability of the salon aspect to create a more accessible and less intimidating environment for people who aren’t comfortable in traditional galleries that Kelly found most intriguing. “People were coming in, asking for haircuts and sitting in front of some weird art which they would never have seen before. People who were in the charity shop across the road would come hang out at the openings. It made the gallery much more democratic, which was the big realisation for me that something very interesting was happening there,” he says. “The public would walk past and see the format of a hair salon, and think I am more open to go ask questions and look at something.” Videos, paintings, sculpture, even dancing hair, you name it, Kelly has shown it. Their last installation was by artist Richard Woods who creates environments by wrapping surfaces in woodblock printed graphic/comic design. For DKUK he created a forest of neon green birch trees by remixing the DKUK logo, plastered all over the salon walls.
Here A Quick One founder Milo Astaire catches up with Kelly to find out more about the space, his exhibitions and the story behind it all.
How did you get started in hairdressing?
Daniel Kelly: I failed my A levels when I was seventeen, so I couldn't go to university because I had been out clubbing too much. I had a few friends who were hairdressers and thought I’d give it a go as a job because you didn’t get dirty, could stand around wearing nice clothes, and sit around chatting to people. It seemed like a nice enough option. So I went to get a job at Toni and Guy in Stockport, which was the biggest city near Buxton where I grew up. I moved from Sheffield and Leeds and trained as a hairdresser. Through an interest in fashion photography came the idea of studying art. I got bored of working in the hairdressers and the other kind of hairdressing salons.
When you were looking at fashion photography were you drawn to the hairstyles?
Daniel Kelly: Yes, that is where the interest came from but then I came to think about the art direction and everything else that went into making those photographs. I kind of always knew I had a creative urge but I didn’t do art in school and never really thought about art with a capital A. So, through fashion photography, I decided to give up hairdressing and do a foundation course in Manchester before eventually moving to London.
What art were you making when you went to art school?
Daniel Kelly: By the time I had finished, I was doing paintings of imagined interiors made of collages of architectural bits and pieces, almost like stage sets. Through my foundation I had started off with photography and ended up at painting, so it was very much image making. When I started at art college, someone said, “never forget how you got here because you have come a very strange route.” Because it is quite a bold move to give up a career in hairdressing to go to university again. Now I have come an even stranger route to opening up my own hairdressing salon. 15 years later, I have come full circle via the art world.
So after art college how many years was it in the art world wilderness?
Daniel Kelly: I did quite well as an artist, I did some good shows; Saatchi Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and other places. But I finished art college in 2007, wrote a couple of plays. They were very interesting, good, about the Tunisian revolution, told through Twitter tweets which made the script. That was the artwork I was most proud of. Then it was 2011/2012, I had been out of college five/six years, sold one painting at that time, scraping by working as an apprentice, as an artist assistant.
How did DKUK evolve?
Daniel Kelly: I suppose the genesis for DKUK came from me never leaving hairdressing behind, because I used to invite people to my studio to get their hair cut. Like curators, to try and get them to sit them in front of my painting, but I would find that we would talk about anything except my painting.
What was the eureka moment where you thought put art and hairdressing together in a formal sense?
Daniel Kelly: It came kind of from desperation, I just thought about wanting a job. I actually started applying to other hairdressing salons, I didn’t hear anything back and I just thought there could be something interesting happen between the two things. And a friend of mine who is also a hairdressing client of mine owned a one month to do a pop up. So, I did a pop up there and had a different artist everyday doing performance, time-based work and it was there that I had the eureka moment. In that space! People were coming in, asking for haircuts and sitting in front of some weird art which they would never have seen before. People who were in the charity shop across the road would come hang out at the openings. It made the gallery much more democratic, which was the big realisation for me. That something very interesting was happening there. The public would walk past and see the format of a hair salon, and think I am more open to go ask questions and look at something.
How did the space in Peckham come about?
Daniel Kelly: So, it was a real success in White Cross Street and I thought I definitely want to do that in a more permanent way. I didn’t want to leave White Cross Street but I was invited to do an art project with Art Licks Weekend 2014. They needed more projects in Peckham at that time as most were still up in Hackney, so they invited me and the theme was artists hosting other artists. I met the landlord of the space and was planning to do it for a day, he was like £150 for the weekend or if you sign a three months contract, you can have it for £200 a month. So I just thought I’d give it a go. I only had half the space we have currently got, so it was so cheap, like £50 a week. So, all I needed to do was one haircut a week to pay the rent.
Was it art gallery first / hair salon second at the start or vice versa?
Daniel Kelly: In White Cross Street, it was very clear – it was an art gallery that changed into a hair salon. People found it more comfortable to come in. In Peckham, it took years to rectify its position because it wasn’t an art gallery, it was its own thing. The art world would come because that was my network, they would come for a haircut. Some of them didn’t even know I was a hairdresser, and that was enough to keep it going. We got support from the Art Council and did some very interesting shows. So, it was definitely more of a gallery at the start – it was an art project really, more than a gallery perhaps. But as time went on it wasn’t quite doing what I wanted it to do. What I was initially excited about was getting new people in, because there wasn’t a massive footfall there, and you just walked past and it would be a plain white space with a painting a chair and a hairdryer. People would say, “that's weird! what’s that?” I’d hear people saying that so part of putting the shampoo in the window of the current space is to make people go “oh, that's a hair salon with art in it! Oh, cool!” In my head it's equal, 50/50. Both things have equal importance to me. At the beginning, the art had more importance.
Do you think there is a performative aspect to what you do?
Daniel Kelly: I mean as a hairdresser, it's a very performative role and I’ve noticed that when I was doing it as a pop up even, there is a certain way you act. If you came in to get your haircut, there’s a certain way you expect me to act. A certain dynamic that I am aware of as I have been cutting hair in a gallery. And you are aware of the situation but you still can’t help playing the role of hairdresser and client plays role of client.
Is it an extension of your art praise?
Daniel Kelly: Yeah but I don’t spend too much time thinking about those things in a way but I do run it like an art project, and it satisfies a lot of what I am interested in as an artist, and that is what keeps me getting up everyday to do it. Showing art to new people. At the end of the day it's all work right? Whether it's artwork, running a business, or running a business is my art.
So do you see yourself as a curator? How do you go about choosing the artists?
Daniel Kelly: I experimented with a curator last year, it was fine. She did a good show, but doesn’t quite fit with the model. I see it as a collaboration between DKUK, and the artist. I think over the years, DKUK stopped being me and it’s now everybody who works there, so it’s how I’d like to do it. What makes the most sense for me, to develop the shows in the future, would be the artist coming in and having a chat with everyone and talking about the ins and outs of what it’s like to exhibit at DKUK – how the staff and clients interact with the shows. Almost like a critic, not so much criticising but producing the show in collaboration with staff and the space, that's the way I’d like to take it. I have no desire to be main curator.
Have you found a situation where the artist has changed the environment so much that it’s directly influenced the style of your hairdressing?
Daniel Kelly: Uh - that’s interesting. Normally, you have to tell the artists to be a bit more intrusive. Most of the time they have been more respectful of the hairdressing, and it’s been me who really pushes them and coaxes them out a little bit. But there is definitely somethings I wouldn’t do. Like music is part of the hairdressing salon, the artist could suggest a few things, but if they would say I want to put a drone track on which is just a tone which repeats 24 hours a day, I’d say no. That's not possible, that's going to drive all the hairdressers mad. And actually in the end, they’re there to do a job. It’s about the coexistence of both these things.
Is there a therapeutic aspect to what you do?
Daniel Kelly: Definitely, yeah! We try to measure that and the effect it has on people. We report on that. About 70% of our audience don’t normally go to galleries.
Interesting, so do those people who don’t go to galleries are the there primarily for a haircut?
Daniel Kelly: Yeah it is, and we are quite good value for the quality of hair cuts we do, and a lot of people come because they don’t want a mirror they just want nice people. It’s not your typical hairdresser salon, and that’s enough for people. It’s not that they come to see the art, but the general feedback is they find it very relaxing not having the mirror – sort of having a bit of space and time. So how I’d measure that I'm not quite sure.
Do you feel the conversations remain the same?
Daniel Kelly: The conversations are as different as the people: some clients really want to go in detail, almost interviewing me about the show whilst I'm cutting their hair and then other people don’t even mention it.
I always feel very awkward when I'm getting my hair cut I'm never sure whether they want me to make small talk or not.
Daniel Kelly: Yeah, but it's nice because with the apprentices who are there to wash the hair they are art students who are training to be hairdressers, so they can give an intro to the exhibition. So by the time they come to me, if they want to chat more, then that’s cool but if they don’t, then that's also totally fine. It gets a bit repetitive if you have to say the same schtick each day. That's the really nice thing about it, people can just say what they think about the art and I think that’s to do with the dynamic about it being a hair salon – so you're paying for your service, and you’re not afraid to ask questions.
Who are the artists who you felt pushed the boundaries in the space?
Daniel Kelly: It’s happened quite a lot that I’ve done a show and I'm thinking “God, am I actually asking people to come sit on a tombstone and get their haircut?”. There was a show where a chair was made out of a tombstone, the look of a tombstone, and you’re sitting there thinking it's a great idea. Then when it actually lands in the space you’re like, “Fucking hell, it's winter and it's a bit cold to be sitting on a stone” but people love it. It happens a lot. Jack Strange was really good, he did a dancing hair. There's been so many now. Jeremy Piece, the Youtube make-up tutorials.
You’re moving into a new space - what do you foresee happening? Any more exciting projects?
Daniel Kelly: Well training up artists to be hairdressers is the thing I'm most excited about, and growing the business to stand alone and work by itself. We’ve also created a podcast as a way to document the shows.
Are the works for sale?
Daniel Kelly: They are but we don’t put any resources into that, as it is so hard to exist in that art world so we just focus on the haircuts. We have sold some pieces. Perhaps in the future, we might do a recent graduate show, once a year, a bit of affordable work that clients might want to buy but in terms of chasing sales, that’s not really me.