The local illustrator, painter, muralist and animator opens up about why he’s not a rule follower, what being an independent artist means to him and where you might see his work next.
Eric “E$” Dolgas doesn’t like being told what to do. The Fairfax, Virginia-based artist is a self-described mischief-maker who says he was the class clown as a kid. He’d do almost anything for a laugh and didn’t care about getting in trouble. His mischief icon?
“My grandma told me this story about how she and her best friend used to go to high school football games, and they would sit on the other side where the opposing team was and just talk shit. I thought that was so funny.”
Dolgas says being surrounded by OG mischief-makers like his grandmother and uncle reminds him not to take things so seriously, and sometimes pushing boundaries and breaking the rules can be fun. This carries over into his art, which always has elements of playfulness and occasionally includes inside jokes only he and some friends will get.
“A lot of the time, I create content that’s not mainstream but is hilarious. I know 16 people are going to laugh at it and that’s all I really need. I don’t care about the rules so much and I don’t do well with figures of authority. When there’s a natural clash like that, you’re more apt to get into a little bit of mischief. That’s where my sweet spot is.”
A True Believer
The illustrator, painter, muralist and animator didn’t become immersed in the D.C. area art scene until 2017, when he participated in Artomatic, a massive art show in Crystal City, Virginia. With the sale of some pieces came a serious confidence boost, and later that year, he cold-called and successfully pitched a commercial to Spike Jonze on Viceland’s Vice TV. The artist was filmed while working on one of his signature black-and-white pieces featuring Sharpie lines on canvas, aptly named “Sharpie Masterpieces.”
While Dolgas is not interested in having his artistic style labeled or put into any kind of box, he says the black-and-white works are his classic E$ style at this point in his career. They’re often packed tight with a rotating cast of characters featured regularly in his work, giving them a bit of a “Where’s Waldo?” vibe, if Waldo were into non sequitur humor and niche cultural references.
“I sometimes tell people, ‘It’s like a puzzle I don’t know the ending to.’ It’s fun to see how other people describe them. It’s all about crisp linework and eye movement. The goal is to give viewers a lot to look at, and over time, they should find things they missed before so it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’s definitely my original style, which means a lot to me.”
The Viceland opportunity opened some important doors for Dolgas, including visibility among other D.C. artists. But when prolific muralist Tom Pipkin invited him to participate in a Petworth art show featuring other stalwarts of the city’s creative scene in 2018, he knew he had hit his stride. The more shows he participated in, the bigger his community became.
“I think the benefit of living somewhere your whole life is the connections you already have. By good fortune, [the art shows] ended up being these door-opening experiences. It’s hard to make friends when it’s not authentic. I was naturally becoming friends with artists who I have respect for.”
He is always paying it forward, connecting like-minded locals in the creative community when he sees a potential collaboration or genuine benefit to the introduction. He recalls No Kings Collective Co-Founder Peter Chang saying to him, “You’re a true believer,” to which he replied, “Yeah, I want everybody to be successful in art.”
Dolgas is constantly plugging his artist friends, gushing about how talented they are and what they do with their chosen medium that’s so unique.
“I became friends with Sarah Jamison because I saw her art and it floored me. I had such an emotional reaction to it. I was like, ‘Can we please be friends?’ That’s the beauty of art. Everybody has different styles. You can get into this community but also get into a subgenre of this community, and then those are your people. It’s beautiful.”
E$ Was Here
Dolgas was laser-focused on two major artistic goals for a long time: painting a mural in the DC Walls Festival and participating in live paint battle Secret Walls. And last year, he checked both opportunities off his bucket list. His “E$ Was Here” mural, also the cover backdrop of our August issue, is a temporary fixture along the Metropolitan Branch Trail near Alethia Tanner Park. In some ways, it’s the current pièce de résistance of his black-and-white works, and he couldn’t be prouder of it — or his Secret Walls win. So what’s next?
“I felt more productive when I was chasing DC Walls and Secret Walls. [Now, I’m focused on] how I can explore and evolve my style and figure out new interests in art that will bring me the next opportunity. I want bigger mural opportunities because I think murals are my happy spot.”
With so many muralists vying for the same real estate in the city, Dolgas is expanding his reach and putting out feelers in Northern Virginia, specifically Fairfax, where there are no established muralists — yet. In the meantime, he’s spending more time animating and toying with the idea of writing a coffee table-style book inspired by the funny thoughts that pop into his head that would be even funnier if accompanied by his illustrations. He also includes his work in thoughtfully curated art shows, occasionally participates in live painting activations and always shows up to support his friends in creative spaces.
For Dolgas, the bottom line is to only make time and hold space for authentic opportunities and people, which means being selective about the road he wants to travel.
“I’d love to make mainstream income, but I don’t want the mainstream lifestyle. It’s more fun from this perspective. You can pick your flavors.”
He is extremely intentional about each connection he makes, whether it leads to a community collaboration, upcoming show or new addition to his chosen artist family.
“If you’re coming to me from a blazer-and-tie perspective, you’re probably not going to laugh at the jokes I put in my art, so it doesn’t make sense for us to have a relationship. I’d rather carve this out as an independent artist, work with the people I want to work with and create my own destiny.”
Visit emoneyoriginals.com to buy an E$ original, follow Dolgas on Instagram @theedollarsign and keep your eyes peeled for five District Fray Magazine boxes out in the wild, custom painted by our favorite mischief-maker.
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