For his new exhibition at the University of Alabama, the artist Dalek (born James Marshall) works with only the color blue, manipulating various shades in a precise geometry to create dimension. The new work is a departure from what he is known for -- painting with a bright and varied palette, most recently in abstract patterns that were simultaneously chaotic and ordered.
“That show was a definite departure, but it was fun to play with an entirely new direction,” he said of the exhibition in Alabama. “I think these sorts of things feel like a natural transition for me, or an expansion really. I don't think it replaces anything, just sort of adds to the foundation.”
Soon, Dalek heads off to Oklahoma City to undertake another installation and, no doubt, reveal more surprises. Recently, I spoke with him to find out more about the new show and his no-fear attitude.
Inside the Mind of Dalek
First of all, it sounds like you're as laid back as ever. How is that possible with all you have going on?
It’s not always possible, I know that much. I am certainly prone to the occasional meltdown, but I've found over the years that it never seems to help accomplish or solve anything when you're throwing things across a room.
So, I try to stay calm and work through things. Seems to help. I've learned quite a bit of patience from Sarah and the kids.
OK, artsy stuff, could you tell me a little about the project at the University of Alabama (UAB)?
The UAB project was great. Everyone down there was great and really helped facilitate the show. Part of what I'm interested in are these types of projects that completely rely on the set up. There is no planning going on.
We work with local artist and students to help build the show, so the outcome of the show depends on all of these unknown factors: the amount of people that show up, how many hours a day they can work, how into it they are.
The energy level in the space dictates a lot. I love the reality that the show would technically be impossible for me to execute on my own. And I have to relinquish control on some level and trust the people that are coming in to help. It turns into a production. It’s a construction site, so full of life and activity. And that influences how the drawings get completed from piece to piece and how the color goes in, and how many paintings get made.
The traditional gallery scene is uninspired and cliché.
It’s hard to explain properly in writing, but it’s liberating and enlightening, as opposed to a situation where I come into a space with pre-made paintings, hang them on a wall, have an opening and go home. That whole experience seems so archaic now. The traditional gallery scene is uninspired and cliché, I don't believe it truly embodies what art is about or what it should convey.
The work at UAB seems like kind of an extension of what you had been exploring with “Psych Optic Black Light Fuzz” at Hurley. What led you from the super colorful grids to the new more monochromatic symmetry?
The key is its exploration. I've gone through periods in the past of working monochromatically and then back to full color and so on. For me it’s just more about understanding and learning how color can work and what effects I can achieve with it. The decision to work with that range of blues was based on looking at the mural I had done for [the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina] last October and realizing I didn't want to try to recreate that piece in any way, shape or form, that I wanted to use this opportunity to explore something entirely different -- and that was to try to build something that truly looked dimensional without being dimensional.
The ultimate goal for me with learning to use color is to create environments that can completely alter someone’s mind state. To get away from a recognizable visual connection where you are processing what you see and trying to interpret it to fit. And moving more into a complete internal reaction where it physically affects your body and becomes an experience. That reaches past the surface tension into the depths of someone.
I've always admired how you're not afraid to go somewhere new and fresh with your work. Where does this "no fear" trait come from?
If there is fear in making art then I think you're not really making art. It doesn't mean that there aren’t moments of failing or contemplation but just simply understanding that it’s all part of a larger process. I've learned over the years from my experience that constantly staying inspired means pushing beyond what I know.
The world is such a massive place with unlimited sources of inspiration. I may be aware of .00005 percent of it. So the more I learn, and the more people I meet and am exposed to, the more I understand little bits and pieces that help me put together my puzzle. It all is a natural evolution. Ideally, as I grow and move through life the art reflects that growth, but by letting it be what it is, as opposed to trying to make it something. It lives on its own.
I love process and the act of building. The end result is almost a byproduct of the experience. And it serves as a reminder of a moment in time. So in that sense I think there is no fear because there is nothing to be afraid of. I'd rather look back on my life and see that I grew as much as possible as opposed to going through the motions to appease others on some level.
For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter: @r_s_c