NEST HQ was created with the intention of being a platform aimed at promoting and encouraging the growth of artists of all genres and mediums. While we’ve worked mostly within music up to this point, we are expanding on a new content series that will showcase multimedia artists of various backgrounds including painters, graphic designers, architects, and others of the sort; this is installation. Every two weeks, we’ll post hand-selected pieces from our featured artists via our Instagram @nesthq, along with excerpts from the full interviews.
This week on installation, we present painter Dalek.
Can you give me a bit of history on how your story as an artist began?
Kind of randomly, right? I mean, I always drew when I was a kid, then I went to college in Richmond, Virginia and was hanging around skaters who were all into art. I started to get into graffiti in the early 90s and then slowly developed my character The Space Monkey. That turned into painting Space Monkeys for friends, and that turned into doing a couple shows. It’s just kind of gone from there. There was a bit of random happenstance that got me to doing art full time.
Several of my recent interviews have involved artists who got into the scene because of skateboarding.
Yeah, that was a really big influence. I mean I was growing up in the 80s skate and punk rock scene, which was heavily graphic. Pushead was a super early influence for me because he was doing a lot of skateboarding graphics and punk album covers. I mean obviously with dudes like Mark Gonzales, Ed Templeton, and Neil Blender, there was a lot of art that came from that era of skateboarding.
Yeah we actually just had an interview two weeks ago with Don Pendleton, which was crazy for me. I grew up skating all his boards haha
So you started with drawing, moved into graffiti and eventually landed on acrylics, what is it about this medium that you work in that allows you to express yourself the best? Did you fall into the medium, or did you try several and decide that one let you express yourself in ways that others didn’t?
When I started doing graffiti, the guys that were teaching me were doing art that was really flat and graphic – stuff that was really easily recognizable. I was trying to make flat and bold graphic art that was easy to read and that would help me make a name for myself. When I started painting on canvas, I would sketch something out, fill it in with acrylic, and then outline with paint markers. I always knew that I wanted things to be in that super flat graphic word. I also like materials that dry quickly, I didn’t want to have to wait for things to dry to add new layers. Acrylics were the easiest solution for me early on.
I think that acrylics also provide a pretty intense color palette too.
Yeah, they can be pretty bold, ‘specially now that I’m mixing my own colors. I’ve learned how to shade using flat color sequences, how to push and pull. That was all from me using flat colors rather than blending colors to create depth. I’m still working on a lot of that stuff. My new geometric work is really still about color and depth exploration without using any color blending. Still trying to make stuff that’s bold and graphic and easy to recognize.
The new pieces are extremely creative when it comes to how you’re using color. They also, at least to me, feel like a study on movement – the broken down form of everything, the depth, it feels like there is so much movement in these pieces. Is there any symbolism that you specifically imbue into your work, or is it more interpretive?
I try to tell people that I’m still learning how to paint. Learning how to use color has been a super long journey. Even recently, I was commissioned to paint a couple of Space Monkey pieces, and the color palettes have been so different because I’ve learned how to use color some much better over the years. Learning scale, spacing, depth, this is stuff that I’m still trying to dial in, but I like things that are completely abstract. I don’t like art that’s too easily read. I enjoy looking at figurative art, for example, but I like making stuff that can be interpreted by others in any way, shape, or form that they can connect to it. You may see this, or see that, but that’s more a matter of your own life experience rather than what I’m putting into it. I find that there is a better relationship and dialogue when people interpret my work. That’s also why I don’t title anything, I think it’s best to leave things as open ended as possible.
Definitely. Kind of going back to your earlier work, was there any story behind the Space Monkey? Or, was that also more of a circumstantial thing?
I was always doodling characters and it was just kind of the one that stuck out. When I started painting graffiti I knew that I didn’t want to do letters. It was all anybody did. I couldn’t really contribute to the culture in that way. I felt like there weren’t a lot of character dudes, and I liked the fact that graffiti writers didn’t even really consider characters to be graffiti at the time. I thought it was interesting that, somehow, there were rules to it. On the other hand though, you saw a lot of graffiti characters on subway graffiti, it was just bizarre. I started painting characters on walls and the earliest phases of Space Monkey were getting some love from my friends. I kind of messed with it more and have been doing it ever since. Mostly, it was meant to be a representation of humanity. The holes were always meant to represent an empty vessel, and the goofiness of it was meant to portray a sense of humor in life. This kind of lost, goofy character aimlessly trying to figure everything out. I was always really amused by people that were really serious, or that pretended to be all put together. I thought no man, we’re all fucked up and we’re all trying to figure this out. You have to embrace the randomness of life. The character represented all of that: comical but mischievous and lost. It was meant to kind of embody as much emotion as possible without being easily distinguished as one type of art.
I’d never heard the story behind the character but you can really feel everything that you’ve described in the pieces he’s in. He’s always stood out to me, even from early on when I first started messing around with graffiti in high school. I used to Google “graffiti characters” for inspiration and he would always pop up.
It’s funny because I put him away for a long time because I felt like I no longer had anything good to add to the story. I felt like I took it as far as I could, and I feel like there’s nothing worse than those artists that keep doing the same shit for 30 or 40 years. They don’t try to challenge themselves, and for some people I feel like if I’ve seen one of their shows I’ve seen all of their shows. So, I don’t even bother. Getting into the geometric work was about breaking out of that, but now it’s come to a point where it’s really fun to mess around with the character again. I enjoy reintroducing him to people. It’s been well received. It’s cool to see him come back in.
Are there any particular moments that stand out to you in your career, I’m sure there are many, where you said to yourself “I’ll be doing art for the rest of my life”?
I probably will do art for the rest of my life, but there’s always the idea of making a living making art vs. just making it. I got caught up in raising kids, I’m still out raising kids, and so I’m not out hustling all the time. But as far as the moment I knew, I had an art teacher who said to me, “If you want to be a professional artist, you need to commit to doing it.” That was it for me, because I was trying to do art in between working day jobs and all the other shit. I was just trying to make a living and get by. But as soon as he said that I realized that’s what I needed to do. I bit the bullet and jumped in, hustled and scrapped from the ground up. Once I made that commitment there was a difference sense of urgency and you start hustling in a different manner. When my first son came along, let’s just say that I went to work real hard after that. That’s what you have to do no matter what you do in life. You need to commit to it and trust yourself and just [dive] in and see what happens.
The other thing I’ll say is when I moved to New York in 2000. I’ve been floating around and doing things here and there, but moving to New York really put me on a different map. So many people came out and had my back, connected me with so and so, it was such a place to network. The community that I had there in NY is what really put me on the map. I knew that I was never going to make it unless I planted myself in one of the art centers and really hustled.
Even now, if you’re going to do art (in the US at least) it’s gotta be LA or New York.
Pretty much man, I mean not only is it where are the creative people are at, it’s also where everyone goes. There’s more galleries, museums, more people that visit. I would get more business just based on the fact that people would be like “Hey, I’m going to be in NY for a couple of days, can I come by your studio?” I’d get more press, more everything, because everyone goes to these cities. I moved to North Carolina for my family. I wanted to raise my kids somewhere where they had space and would be close to my own family, there were a number of factors and it was definitely the right decision. But, it does make a huge difference. People still want to drop by my studio but I’m not in NY anymore.
Do you have any goals for 2017?
No, I’m just still trying to learn how to paint and do a better job at it. I’m just trying to challenge myself and have fun.