Sarah J. Edwards reconnects with artist Dalek for a follow-up interview, after his initial BLAG feature in 2007. By discussing subjects including childhood fears, frequent house moves, being accident prone and key things Takashi Murakami taught him, we discovered his profoundly wise approach to life and work.
Interview: Sarah J. Edwards
Dalek Compares Notes With Sarah J. Edwards And You'll Love The Results
Dalek is undoubtably an iconic figure in contemporary art. If you’re yet to be familiar with his work, then please take a moment to absorb the gallery associated with this piece and know that every image you see here is meticulously hand painted, it’s a huge testament to Dalek’s patience and skill. “I’m just trying my best to focus on making some work that is meaningful to me,” he explains. “The space monkey is a good representational tool, I don’t approach it too lightly and I certainly don’t want to just fill a space without it being something that I feel solid about.”
Please make yourself comfy and enjoy in this article, I think we could all learn a thing or two from Dalek’s wise spirit and approach to human kind. In the interview, we compare notes on childhood fears, frequent house moves as children and being accident prone, Dalek shares some sage advice for anyone, old, young, pursuing art or not. Let’s say, the world would be an even greater place if more people allowed themselves the modus operandi Dalek stays firm to.
COMPARING NOTES NØ 1: CHILDHOOD FEARS
First of all, let's talk about your name, purely because one of my earliest memories of actually feeling fearful were seeing the Dalek's going berserk on Dr Who on TV. I remember Sally and I literally hiding behind the sofa thinking they'd come and get us. So this means a two-pronged question, a. can you remember your earliest fear and b. what elements of the Daleks did you think you'd apply to your work?
“As for early fears, I’m sure ghost and aliens were probably high on the list. Boogeyman type stuff, nothing too out of the ordinary. I used to watch a lot of Dr Who as a kid and when I started writing graffiti it was an easy connection to make when finding an identity in that world. There are lots of typical misanthropic and nihilistic aspects that run through the Daleks, as well as the eternal struggles to find a path through the chaos. So it was directly connected to the creatures that are the Daleks, but also the larger philosophical approach of Dr Who itself. The Space Monkeys are probably pretty aligned with a lot of those concepts and ideas, more of a general fascination with the dysfunctional nature of humanity in the environment that they created for themselves.”
COMPARING NOTES NØ 2: DISRUPTIVE CHILDHOODS
I'm really interested to find out how you feel moving around a lot as a youngster helped develop your skill set. We moved so much that we went to over nine different schools and you don't realise how different you are to people each time you arrive. Different accent, appearance and approach. Knowing I wanted to get really creative from as young as I can remember, I definitely lent into my dreams about how I thought my life should actually be. The contrast to all the finger pointing of being a twin.
“Yeah, moving around has so many components, negative and positive I imagine. I think during the time it was going on, I was more bummed out about constantly being uprooted and having to adjust to new situations, but in time I think it gave me a stronger overview and approach in dealing with people and situations. Certainly made it clear that I was best following and finding what suited me and not worrying about much else. I don’t waste much time in life with people, places or things that don’t fit the way I want or need them to.”
Being from a military family, did you find lots of other kids in the same position?
“Growing up around other military families I’ve met plenty of kids like that. There is no shortage of non military kids that grow up like that too. I guess like anything, life hands you whatever situation and that's the situation you know and develop through.”
FROM SKETCH BOOKS TO SERIOUS
I know you were always sketching, can you remember the moment you thought, right this is what I'm all about now? Was there a defining moment?
“I don’t know if there was one particular moment, but there was definitely a current of events that carried me towards what I was and am doing. There were people that encouraged me to explore some of those ideas and talents, people that created opportunities for me that got me involved and gave me purpose and direction with the idea of making art. Doodling and fucking around with art were always natural to me, but I never intended on pursuing it in any way more than that, so funny that I’m still rolling along 20 some years later with it.”
You started in graffiti, can you tell us about when things got serious and into galleries? In hindsight do you think the slack you got from not tagging and lettering — as most other writers were doing, pushed you more in the direction of creating characters and more rounded out pictures?
“The gallery thing was slow and organic, [it] just was happening here and there and there was plenty of other graf writers doing art shows. I never felt like I was in line or out of line with graffiti and I don’t think I was too concerned about it anyhow. I just felt like doing whatever I was doing and people can label it or define it however they needed to so that they felt better about themselves. I got nothing but a ton of support from great people in all avenues of life and I gravitate towards that, so it took me where it needed to take me.”
SIX GOLDEN NUGGETS FROM TAKASHI MURAKAMI
Can you tell us six valuable things you learnt from the six months you spent as an assistant for Takashi Murakami?
“Six things in six months? Alright. One, how to mix colour. Two, how to wet sand gesso to a glass like texture. Three, how to get organized and disciplined. Four, how to choose colours. Five, patience and six, how to take what I learned and apply it to how I wanted to paint. Murakami was always super nice and made himself available to answer questions, offer advice, whatever. I just always want to give that guy his due for being stand up or at least while I was there, who knows since.”
TAKING THE CALM ROAD
I was happy to read that you're a firm believer in the right things falling into place and trusting your instincts. Do you feel you need to be quite still, calm and uninterrupted to have that energy and inner voice flowing to you?
“I think when things are calm I can make sense of all the information this coming in. A lot of times things just happen while in motion, some good, bad or indifferent in the moment, but it always seems to make sense to where I want to be and I’m all about taking the slow chill route, the world will reveal itself if you pay attention and not worrying about a lot of those things makes it easy to just do what you need to do.”
COMPARING NOTES NØ 3: HAPPY ACCIDENTS
Another thing we have in common is being accident prone, although I'd like to think I'm more careful these days. We could list accidents, which for me most of the time are incredibly unrock n roll. It may be better in terms of universal law to talk about happy accidents, can you name any?
“I was accident prone as a kid, but I was running a million miles an hour. Things have mellowed as I’ve gotten older, but things still tend to happen here and there as I don’t pay much mind to how I do things. Happy accidents happen all the time, I’m going to be horrible in answering this question as I can’t recall too many things in the moment. I’ve probably hit my head one too many times.”
FIVE SURF LESSONS FOR AN AVID SKATE & SNOWBOARDER
You spent time as a brand artist for Hurley, as a skate and snowboarder, can you tell us five things that you never expected to learn about surfing?
“Alright! Well, I don’t know if there are things in surfing that I never expected to learn. I will say that I was never any good at surfing, I learned that water is super powerful and can mess you up pretty good if you aren’t paying attention. I learned that I need a giant ass surfboard to keep me afloat. I learned that the Pacific Ocean is way colder in California than it is in Hawaii. I know I need a custom wet suit to suit my height and I learned that I prefer being on land than in the ocean, unless I’m in Hawaii. I have a great deal of respect for surfers, but I had that all along, it’s such a beautiful sport.”
You studied political science with a view to going into politics or the C.I.A, switched to psychology, you were fascinated by human behaviour and shifted to sociology and anthropology. What a story! Can you tell us more, please?
“Yes, human culture and behaviour are fascinating to me. I know I’m part of it, but I can also view it real clearly as an outsider. There is nothing more interesting than human behaviour, it’s so complex, layered and the band width of its capabilities are unlike anything else I can fathom. It splits, evolves and collapses on itself, fragments, fractures and heals, all at the same time. Completely contradictory at every stretch, in every word and action. Now we are being reduced to data measures for those that wish to control and manipulate the others, just endlessly fascinating!”
I'm really interested to learn more about how on earth you switched so many subjects, what influences you took from your studies and earlier ambitions that one may not obviously associate with art and which ones you disregarded?
“Like everything else, I just kind of rolled where things took me, they were all very interrelated. CIA, psychology, sociology, art. I always feel like whatever I’ve been interested in just connects back to the larger picture of who I am and what drives me. I don’t bother with the base stuff, just more interested in the deeper complexities of all the mechanisms.”
How has your iconic Space Monkey changed over the years?
“It’s just kind of evolved as I have. As I’ve learned to do things better, or as things feel like they need a change. Visually some things feel right or wrong, I just know what my own aesthetic eye allows me to do or not do, so I just try and listen to all of that and it’ll kind of go where it needs.”