Rewind: Dalek

By Randy Gladman

Dalek’s first solo exhibition in Canada introduced Toronto audiences to a Brooklyn-based member of a large underground urban art movement that is attracting attention in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo. While the group is still effectively unnamed, the members of this loose affiliation—Shepard Fairey, KAWS, Twist (Barry McGee), Phil Frost, Evan Hecox, Ryan McGinness and others—have exhibited together on many occasions, including in the recent “Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture” exhibition at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center.

Dalek, whose real name is James Marshall, is a prominent member. His work, even spray-painted on the sides of buildings, is reminiscent of both historical and contemporary Japanese art. The artist once worked in the studio of Takashi Murakami, and the Pop master’s “Superflat” aesthetic is clearly evident in Dalek’s pieces. Like ancient Japanese scroll paintings, his works always move from right to left, and their humour and quirky violence are comparable to that found in Japanime.

Every piece Dalek paints tells a tale about a character he calls a Space Monkey. Often there is more than one of these creatures in the picture plane, each one focused on carrying out some demented, obscure mission. They execute their destructive tasks with glee as they fly through two-dimensional, Super Mario Bros.-like spaces.

The glory of Dalek is in the attention he pays to the details. Every punk-rock song sounds the same to someone who dislikes punk, but to a true punk fan the small differences are the sites of the purest creativity. Like a snowflake, every Dalek piece is one of a kind, its essence contained in the minor variations on the theme. Each work seems machine-made in its plastic perfection; only upon very close inspection do traces of the artist’s hand in the brush strokes betray the fact that these are all handmade objects.

The works reflect the prominence of the cartoon in the contemporary pop aesthetic. Our culture, like Japan’s, is permeated with animated programs for adults. The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park are supported by leagues of dedicated fans who cherish these programs for their humorous attempts to make sense of a crazy world. Dalek’s images of skinny-armed, fat-fingered Space Monkeys do the same by highlighting the underlying insanity of our highly competitive, violent, goal-oriented, button-pushing wired culture.

{{Postscript by the author:
The article above was originally published in Canadian Art Magazine a number of years ago.  I have not written about Dalek (James Marshall) in a long time but I am so excited by the incredible work he has been doing recently that I wanted to get this article onto Akrylic.  Please see below for some of his recent paintings, circa 2009/2010.  For more info on this amazing artist, you can check out his website:  www.dalekart.com. }}

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Dalek, aka James Marshall, at home in his studio
Dalek, aka James Marshall, at home in his studio

By Randy Gladman. Originally published in Canadian Art Magazine, Winter 2005.  Republished on Akrylic.com April 30, 2010.