Matthew Seamus Callinan
Campus Exhibitions Coordinator
When I was eleven and meeting the Dufala brothers one day after school, the first thing that impressed me about Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala was their brothers—John, Chris, and Dan. John, the eldest, was the first person I saw ride a BMX bike on a vert ramp. And he was good. Chris, the next oldest, was a solid street skateboarder in the late 80s, well before the practice was considered mainstream or even “extreme”. He was also the earliest Dufala artist I can recall, meticulously rendering every heavy metal graphic known to Williamstown, New Jersey—Metallica skulls, Danzig skulls, Misfits skulls—all over the walls of the Dufala family compound. Dan, who falls between Steven and Billy, was the first kid I knew to have his picture in the paper, taking second place in a Lego building competition at FAO Schwartz in New York. Surrounded by such superstars of South Jersey, my youthful self deemed Steven and Billy’s greatest achievement to be their kinship to these three other guys, seemingly the true creative talents of the Dufala family.
While I still admire these “other brothers” more than 20 years later, I’ve since reconsidered my hasty assessment of my friends Steven and Billy. Although no strangers to bikes or boards, they both began to paint, draw, build, and break things with their own brand of creative destruction. They started small, content to draw watches on their wrists in permanent marker and play with road kill—normal kid stuff.
Now, working as a collaborative team, Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala have orchestrated massive toilet-tricycle races, brought justice and bewilderment to the streets of Philadelphia in their mobile cardboard tank, launched a paper airplane attack from atop a building, created countless trinkets and tools of little or no use, unzipped the racier sides of their brains for all to see with their take-away “Free Walls,” and turned your childhood ice cream truck into a weapon of mass destruction. War, wealth, waste, sex, consumption, the environment—these topics both rise up and fall down in their work, inflated and defused by the brothers’ sometimes-dark, comedic edge.
It is this signature sometimes-dark, comedic edge that I first noticed in the wake of a youthful skateboard accident that left Steven unconscious after a fall. The sharp edge of a ramp that had just hurled him in to the air, smacked him on the head. Once home from the hospital and back to walking (skating would come later) he took a can of blue spray paint and without speaking emblazoned the launch ramp with the images of a sword with a sabre blade and a sad face. It was this creative transmission, this sword and sad face that marked what was to come. Steven and later Billy would show me that art lies not in acceptance of the environment but in confrontation and playful mayhem. A ramp hurts you, take your revenge. Inundated by the objects of your everyday life? Blow them up, and by doing so you may rise above them. Since the time of Steven’s ramp tag, I have laid eyes on and been awe-struck by the ever-evolving creative output of Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala, and as a recent shower of awards and accolades can attest—I am not alone.
However, in 2010 while working on curating their exhibition Problemy at Haverford College I realize that they remain true to themselves unspoiled by all the acclaim—and I find myself impressed once again, this time by just how steadily they navigate all the attention they have garnered.
Thus, let me assure you: as someone who knew Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala when they were still blowing up G.I. Joes (well, they still sort of do that), I can affirm that they have not changed—at least not in any way for the worse. Beyond the increasingly amazing accolades and increasingly absurd creations, the Dufala Brothers are still fascinated with the humble yet hugely important artifacts of daily life, translating and transmitting through their objects the simple joys and hidden dangers inherent therein. Hailing from an eclectic collection of talented individuals brought together by way of DNA, they continue to work as hard as I remember: their sense of humor has remained, and their creative output (as well as that of their brothers John, Chris, and Dan) is as high as ever.
Published June 2011