A bunch of weed-smoking dogs have taken over Liberty Avenue.
Some have been drawn in simple black outlines, others are painted so brightly, their noses are reflected in the overhead lights. Many are sporting Pittsburgh Pirates hats. And every single one of them is sucking on a big, fat blunt.
It was that cartoonish graffiti of a wide-eyed, floppy-eared, grinning pup that the late Pittsburgh artist Danny Devine was best known for, and it’s also what best summed up his own personality, according to one of his closest friends, fellow Pittsburgh artist Smoking Joe Perry: “Goofy, lovable, loyal.”
When Danny unexpectedly passed away at the age of 37 in June 2021, the large number of social media posts expressing grief made it feel as if the entire street art community in Pittsburgh went into mourning. Now, along with an incredible array of Danny’s own work, over 35 artists have created tribute pieces in Danny’s style for Simply Devine, a Retrospective of Danny Devine, on display from March 2-June 13 at 820 Gallery in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Well-known Pittsburgh street artist Max “Gems” Gonzales is one of the many folks who have created a tribute using Danny’s dog character. His memorial piece, a large spray-painted wooden cut-out, incorporates his own wizard character along with Danny’s. It complements others, like local artist Brian Gonnella’s mixed-media tribute to the dog, with a swapped-out keystone instead of a Pirates’ logo and some personal embellishments. All the artists have given a piece of themselves, in addition to honoring their friend.
And Danny had a lot of them. His mother, Debbie Devine, remembers walking down the street with her son when someone shouted to him as they passed. “I know a lot of people,” she recalls Danny telling her. For Simply Devine, friends of Danny’s from as far away as Japan are mailing in tributes.
But while he was known and widely loved across the world, Pittsburgh was Danny’s canvas. Even if you didn’t know him personally, chances are you’ve seen his work.
His graffiti was tagged on walls and trains, but he was also a classically trained artist. Along with a fine arts degree from Indiana University, he was a former student of “excellent art teachers” at Peabody High School, and Thaddeus Mossley at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, according to Debbie, an art teacher herself. He created countless zines through indie publisher City Slicker Press and was the brains behind branding pieces for various businesses, including his brother Sean’s popular streetwear shop Daily Bread and sneaker store Refresh, all of which are visible in the exhibit.
Walking into Simply Devine is like a time capsule of those worlds.
In one of the most intimate and emotional gallery experiences I’ve encountered, Danny’s desk has been installed to recreate his old workspace. Milk crates have been set on the floor, an old sweater thrown over the back of the chair, and an array of his artifacts and artwork has been hung on the walls, all staged to look as though Danny could return at any moment.
There are objects like a gas mask, spray paint cans, and photographs. Drawing after drawing of dogs smoking weed, of course, but so much more. Beautiful hand-letterings. Paintings, cartoons, mixed-media pieces, intricate black-and-white illustrations.
It took Debbie and Sean months to go through all of his artwork.
“You might have one box where you have, you know, 500 prints, and in the next boxes, 50 small hand-painted canvases, and the next might be, you know, scenes that he had 20 copies of each,” says Sean, who says Danny was always interested in learning new things, reinventing his own style every few years.
Just inside the entrance of the gallery is a tribute to one of Danny’s most impressive styles, a memorial piece spelling out the name of the show in a gorgeous 3D cursive script with a mix of linear edges and extended curls. Gonzales and Perry say they used to tease Danny by calling it “ribbon candy” or “lazer spaghetti.” Examples of Danny’s own work in the style can also be found elsewhere in the exhibit.
Perry, who met Danny when he was only 15, considered him a mentor. His slick mixed-media tribute piece, “THEE S,” is what some refer to as a “Stussy S” design, and serves as a memory of their friendship. Both Danny and Perry got “S” tattoos together. Perry got a gray one, and Danny’s, Perry says, was filled with a pizza design.
Debbie and Danny’s sister, Erin, also have pieces in the show. Debbie’s is a large quilt filled with old clothing of her son’s, including T-shirts and paint-splattered pants.
Art was “his life,” she says.
Tribute pieces for the show will be for sale and donated to the Danny Devine Foundation, a nonprofit Sean created in his brother’s memory. He has plans to create a community art space to permanently house Danny’s art, and where folks can not only learn to make art but learn to turn making art into a business, something he says was important to both him and his brother. He wants to use the space, he says, “to keep his spirit alive.”
Soon after Danny died, world-renown Pittsburgh artist vanessa german wrote a poem about him and included the lines, “Danny Devine and the Dancing Hands of Light and Letters Scripting, Scribing writing up the days in luminous, adventurous swirls. You gave our eyes adventure. Set our hearts free in the sight of it all, didn’t you? What a gift. What a grand gift to have been there with you, even in the few days, months, of these years.”
While Danny was a gift to those who knew him, Simply Devine feels like a gift to the city. A chance to know the vast assortment of extraordinary work of an artist taken way too soon.