We Spoke to the Artist Carving Massive Ecstasy Pills Out of Limestone

We Spoke to the Artist Carving Massive Ecstasy Pills Out of Limestone

Daniel Davis has been sculpting stone pingers since British rave's golden era.
May 2, 2017, 3:04pm

This article appeared originally on THUMP UK.

There's a dealer in Norwich right now, right this second, peddling the most gorgeous pills you've ever laid your weary eyes on. Only catch is, they weigh 30KG, and they're made of stone. You see, they're sculptures of the real thing, available for purchase through a local gallery.

Daniel David has been sculpting stone odes to pingers since Es first came onto the scene, carving the iconic logos of the 90s into giant slabs of limestone. The tabloids have recently picked-up on the story, and asked Daniel loaded questions about whether his practice promotes drug use, which makes about as much sense as suggesting that Damien Hirst's work made people want to hunt tiger sharks, or assuming that Duchamp's urinal inspired all who saw it to run down to their local pub and carry out some DIY plumbing.

There is, it must be said, something pretty powerful about seeing the usually clandestine in broad daylight. After all, these designs are consciously chosen by pill-makers in underground factories, and as any conceptual artist will tell you, there's always intent behind a physical form. It's interesting to see how Daniel's pills change—he's even got a Spongebob Squarepants one on display. What that says about the relationship between ecstasy, memory, and nostalgia, I'll leave to you.

THUMP: How long have you been making pills out of stone?
Daniel David: I first made a stone pill when I was training to be a stone carver back in the early 90s. Rave was at its height, everyone was loved up, so I made a love heart!

Why do you choose to make them specifically out of Portland stone?
Firstly, it's the bright off-white color of Portland stone that lends itself perfectly to convey most recognizable tablets. I've used Portland stone for over 20 years, it's one of my favorite lime stones to use for relief carvings and sculptures, as it's so soft to carve. Secondly, it has a distinctive chalky texture. This is formed by small particles of sand or shell fragments, which became coated with layers of calcite as they were rolled around in shallow waters for millions of years. I met a stone carver in India called Varun who described the formation of stone as "frozen music." I like the concept of both time and environment being encapsulated. The home of the stone is the south coast where many raves were held in quarries, so I think there is a link there.

Most of your designs are based on "aspirational" pills of the 90s—emblazoned with the Apple logo, for example. Around my way I've noticed that pills are more likely to be branded with "quirky", childish designs—the Just Eat logo or a Minion for example. What's your take on that?
I make a whole range of 90s pill sculptures, but the Doves and Mitsubishis are the most popular and iconic. I'm not familiar with the modern day pills, I was commissioned to carve a Spongebob, and in all honesty I felt a little uncomfortable about doing it. It seems wrong to have children's toys or sweets as ecstasy pills. The images I use, particularly the dove, create a bridge from the present to the past. They are not about branding but more about identity. It is through the lens of nostalgia that these images signify a sense of the shared memories.

I've discovered in the early 90s there was a pill called a speckled Dove, a white pill with dark speckles in it. This will be my next range. I've sourced Hoptonwood stone, a limestone that's white with dark brown shells in it that is ideal. Incidentally, the early 20th century stone carver and sculptor Eric Gill mainly used this material. Though that was obviously for quite a different type of tablet!

The tabloids seem to have recently picked up on your art and sensationalized it as promoting drugs—do you think this kind of shows how drug-based art is still taboo?
Promoting the use of drugs really is not my intention at all. Anyone thinking this is really missing the point. My work is about memorializing 90s dance culture in stone. For me the 90s was a pivotal time. I often reminisce about the new age traveller parties in fields, people I met, and squats I used to live in. I was influenced by the art of YBA's and deeply affected the political atmosphere of the time. My work seeks to harness that atmosphere as a monument to the creativity and the celebration of the best music ever made.

How the hell do you ship a 30-kilo statue of a pill?
I have sold quite a few large pill sculptures to clients living overseas, mainly to the US. I was recently commissioned to make three 40cm Portland stone Pills, a Mitsi, a love Dove and a personalized one, for which I had to carve the clients face onto the front of the pill! These large sculptures are very heavy, weighing in excess of 30kg, so shipping costs as much as the pills themselves. Thank goodness there wasn't a problem in customs.

My favorite is the Cheeky Half. What's the story behind that one?
For fun. That's my favorite too; you can buy one and then get another one later!

Thanks, Daniel!