Remixing the American flag
Artist DL Warfield's latest series shows different levels of patriotism
It's an interesting time in America — unique even. Political and social unrest are fueling a frenzy for all things pop culture. Social media has undeniably shaped a culture of activism while also cultivating an environment for bullying. The country is as culturally diverse as it's ever been but nevertheless finds itself struggling very publicly with embracing change. It's an environment ripe for great art, and veteran Atlanta-based artist and designer DL Warfield is up for the task.
In fact, Warfield's latest project, The American Flag Remixed, is a projection of ever-evolving American cultural identity, expertly capturing the nuances that make up the current condition of the United States.
"The process initially came from a conversation with one of my mentors," the St. Louis native recalls. "We were talking about people's infatuation with becoming famous and everybody's thirst to be a celebrity. I was telling him we don't live in the United States of America; we live in the United States of Entertainment. I was like, damn, I should make a flag about that."
So he did. The first remixed flag he created was "The United States of Rock and Roll" — he made it out of Levi denim, leather, and studs, and it reads, "rock or die." Warfield posted the art on social media, and a former Levi Strauss executive wanted it immediately. "I thought, I might be on to something," says Warfield, who has called Atlanta home since 1995.
That may be an understatement. In fact, his latest project appears to be his magnum opus, and the most defining project to date in a long career that's been full of highlights. Since graduating with a BFA in painting from Washington University in St. Louis, Warfield has found success in both the art and corporate worlds as an artist with bold design inclinations, and as a creative curator with an innovative eye for branding.
Warfield's work, which he calls "Hop Art" because his love of hip-hop and urban culture operate in tandem with his fine art background, has been displayed all over the country, including at Miami's Art Basel and the Time-Life Building in New York. Through his boutique creative agency, Goldfinger c.s., he's also curated design projects for Ford, Nike, and Hennessy, and he's overseen branding and creative concepts for record companies including LaFace (he has art in L.A. Reid and Usher's homes), Def Jam, Universal Music Group, and Motown. To date, Warfield's work is tied to more than $700 million in record sales. In fact, it was Warfield who was responsible for the creative branding of OutKast's quadruple-platinum album, Stankonia, which, ironically, pictured the duo in front of a black-and-white American flag, though Warfield says, in that case, the flag was Andre 3000's idea.
Much like his career, the diversity of Warfield's flags appeals to corporate and hip-hop culture, to people who openly criticize America and its contradictions, and to people who embrace those inconsistencies with rose-tinged glasses. Using mixed media because it not only allows him to create faster, but also because it frees him creatively, Warfield embraces the varied interpretations of his flags. In fact, he thrives on it, because that diversity, much like the America that inspires him, is what makes it work.
"I guess what I've learned is people have different levels of patriotism," he says. "There are some people who, although they like living in America, may not be that comfortable waving an American flag. But when I remix it, based on what people have said, I add a level of coolness to it."
Grammy-winning rapper T.I. has purchased two of Warfield's flags, "The United States of Mi' Familia," which is based on Warfield's own culturally diverse family since he's African-American and his wife is Italian-American, and "The United States of Boom," which features the flag superimposed over a boom box, a work that practically pops off the canvas.
"When T.I. saw it, and I'm not stereotyping him, but I wouldn't have thought he'd feel the way he felt about it," Warfield admits, adding that the flags seem to resonate with a variety of people for very different reasons.
Now T.I. wants a third. Showcasing the flag's diversity, Warfield was recently commissioned to create a flag for Ford, "The United States of Innovation." Atlanta area restaurants such as Gio Di Palma's Little Italy complex on Hemphill Avenue and 10 Degrees South have commissioned custom-designed flags as well. Warfield says his goal is to have one of his flags in every professional sports team's corporate office and every university center.
"America has always been a country where people want freedom and creative self-expression, and that resonates with everyone," says Warfield, who will be exhibiting his remixed flags in Houston, Baltimore, and New Orleans. He has an upcoming Atlanta show at which he'll be exhibiting the remixed flags along with other art in May.
Ultimately, his remixed flags represent a new America, which speaks across societal barriers.
"No matter the color, fabric or design," he writes, "[my flags] all scream, 'I AM AMERICA.'"