Grimy Singularity :: Dirtyrobot Illustrates a Streetwear-Influenced Cyberpunk Dystopia

Grimy Singularity :: Dirtyrobot Illustrates a Streetwear-Influenced Cyberpunk Dystopia

By Mike Steyels

May 11, 2018

Art and life constantly imitate each other, and both are anything but predictable. Life plans can be meaningless, desires are frequently rewired, and roadblocks often turn into opportunities. All it takes is a good hashtag to change the face of art; think #inktober, #artvsartist, or whatever challenge is trending right now. Dirtyrobot, the illustrator otherwise known in his daily life as Daniel Isles, is both a product of this upheaval but is also a straight line drawn through his past experiences.

An abrupt end to the streetwear brand he owned in the mid-2000s led to him drilling down on visual art as a creative outlet. Although he’d been drawing comics since a super young age, most of Isles’s work at a point revolved around that ill-fated brand, illustrating only for T-shirts and the like. His love for style translated into the newer drawings in its aftermath and his work has grown more expressive since being divorced from commercial projects.

The name brings this all together. “I came up with Dirtyrobot when I was going through a mad time,” he says over Skype, pencil in hand. “My clothing line was finished and I felt like I really hated humans, including myself. I’m a dirty robot, an easily programmed, biological robot.” It’s also an appropriate description of his newfound visual style. His work is populated with cyborgs dripping with gear, all coated with distressed textures.

At first, he drew in relative obscurity. But with the rise of the Gram, Isles found himself participating in the #365project, a challenge for artists to draw one picture a day for a year. The combination of constant output and increased skill that comes with unrelenting practice combined to cultivate a new audience and new outlook.

“It forced me to draw everyday and I’d never have drawn some of those characters,” Isles reflects. “I started it to experiment and get consistent with drawing. Even when it’s a single image, I always try to create some kind of story, and they make you wonder about what’s going on with the characters.” Beforehand, he had around 300 followers. And now that’s he’s finally wrapped up the challenge? He’s hitting over 130k. “Towards the end, it was really tough, I wanted it to end. But when it was finished I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Those characters became the basis for entire stories, and he’s working on three full ength comic books in various stages of development. One is based on a character he orginally drew for the challenge, about a woman traveling with a sick child who gets caught up in a violent pizza shop rivalry. The characters don’t live on blank backgrounds, either. They inhabit densely populated environments. “A comic without a background would just look weird,” he laughs.

Oftentimes, his life in Japan is a clear inspiration in the environments he draws, but it’s tempered by an effort to blend the scenery with Western architecture and archetypes. The Caribbean-British artist moved to Asia with his wife a few years back, where he teaches English, and the scenes there have seeped into his work. The clothes, while detailed intricately, are usually a product of his imagination. But there are some exceptions, like the Air Max 1’s and Doc Martins that have popped up, or the Timbs he drew for a collab with the brand.

The freedom to create on his own without commercial obligations has allowed him to develop his own style, which he’s just now starting to capitalize on with print sales and brand collaborations. “When you come to me now, it’s because you want that juice I’ve got. You want the apple juice, not some other juice,” he says while playing with his 3-year-old daughter.


Mike Steyels