A gang of weed-smoking dogs has taken over Liberty Avenue.
Some have been drawn with simple black outlines, others are painted so brightly that their noses are reflected in the overhead lights. Many wear Pittsburgh Pirates hats. And each of them sucks a big fat joint.
It was that cartoonish graffiti of a wide-eyed, floppy-eared, grinning puppy that the late Pittsburgh artist Danny Devine was best known for, and it’s also what best summed up his own personality, according to the one of his closest friends, his compatriot from Pittsburgh. Tuxedo artist Joe Perry: “Goofy, adorable, loyal.”
When Danny suddenly passed away at the age of 37 in June 2021, the large number of social media posts expressing his grief left the impression that the entire street arts community in Pittsburgh was in mourning. Today, in addition to an incredible array of Danny’s work, over 35 artists have created Danny-style tribute pieces for Simply Devine, a retrospective of Danny Devineon view March 2 through June 13 at the 820 Gallery in downtown Pittsburgh.
Max “Gems” Gonzales, a well-known Pittsburgh street artist, is one of the many people who created a tribute using Danny’s dog persona. His commemorative piece, a large spray-painted wooden cutout, incorporates his own wizard persona with that of Danny. It complements others, like local artist Brian Gonnella’s multimedia tribute to the dog, complete with a swapped keystone instead of the pirates’ logo and some personal embellishments. All the artists gave a part of themselves, in addition to honoring their friend.
And Danny had a lot. His mother, Debbie Devine, remembers walking down the street with her son when someone yelled at him as they passed. “I know a lot of people,” she recalled, Danny telling her. For Just GuessDanny’s friends from as far away as Japan send in tributes.
But while he was known and widely loved around the world, Pittsburgh was Danny’s canvas. Even if you don’t know him personally, chances are you’ve seen his work.
His graffiti was daubed on walls and trains, but he was also a classically trained artist. In addition to a fine arts degree from Indiana University, he was an alumnus of “excellent art teachers” at Peabody High School and of Thaddeus Mossley at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, according to Debbie, she -even an art teacher. He’s created countless zines through independent publisher City Slicker Press and been the mastermind behind branded pieces for various companies, including his brother Sean’s popular streetwear boutique, Daily Bread, and the Refresh sneaker store, all of which can be seen in the exhibit.
To walk in Just Guess is like a time capsule of those worlds.
In one of the most intimate and emotional gallery experiences I have come across, Danny’s office was set up to recreate his former workspace. Crates of milk were laid on the floor, an old sweater tossed across the back of the chair, and an array of his artifacts and artwork hung on the walls, all staged to make it look like Danny could come back at any time.
There are items like a gas mask, spray paint cans, and photographs. Drawing after drawing of dogs smoking weed, sure, but so much more. Beautiful hand lettering. Paintings, cartoons, multimedia pieces, intricate black and white illustrations.
It took Debbie and Sean months to go through all of his works.
“You could have a box where you have, you know, 500 prints, and in the next boxes, 50 small hand-painted canvases, and the next one could be, you know, scenes of which he had 20 copies each,” explains Sean, who says Danny was always interested in learning new things, reinventing his own style every few years.
Right at the entrance to the gallery is a tribute to one of Danny’s most impressive styles, a commemorative coin spelling out the show’s name in beautiful 3D cursive script with a mix of linear edges and extended curls. Gonzales and Perry say they used to tease Danny by calling him “ribbon candy” or “laser 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 just 15, considered him a mentor. His mixed media tribute piece, “THEE S”, is what some call a “Stussy S” design, and serves as a memento of their friendship. Danny and Perry both have “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 has parts in the show. Debbie is a large quilt filled with her son’s old clothes, including paint-splattered T-shirts and pants.
Art was “her life”, she says.
Tribute pieces to the show will be on sale and donated to the Danny Devine Foundation, a non-profit organization created by Sean in memory of his brother. He intends to create a community art space to permanently house Danny’s art, and where people can not only learn how to make art, but learn how to turn art into a business. which he said was important to him and his brother. He wants to use the space, he says, “to keep his spirit alive”.
Shortly after Danny’s death, world-renowned Pittsburgh artist vanessa german wrote a poem about him and included the lines, “Danny Devine and the dancing hands of scripting light and letters, writing the days in bright, adventurous swirls. You have given us adventure. Free our hearts at the sight of it all, won’t you? Which gift. What a great gift to have been there with you, even for the few days, months of these years.
While Danny was a gift to those who knew him, Just Guess feels like a gift to the city. A chance to experience the vast assortment of extraordinary works by an artist taken far too soon.