Pop Art Meets Op Art in Dalek’s Mesmerizing World
James Marshall, also known as Dalek, is an American artist and designer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Marshall adopted the name of “Dalek” for the creation of his art, inspired by the British science fiction show, “Dr. Who,” which featured a fictional extraterrestrial race of mutants by the same name. As Marshall explains, “The Daleks are robots hell bent on wiping out mankind.”
Born in New London, Connecticut, Marshall grew up in a military family and his childhood was punctuated by drastic moves every couple years. He lived up and down the East Coast and ended his high school years in Japan. Over the years, he turned to the subcultures of punk rock, skateboarding, and graffiti for inclusion and identity. Of his formative years, Marshall recalls, “I think my earliest experiences were copying stuff out of comic books when I was a kid and that morphed into looking at and being inspired by skateboard graphics and punk record covers In high school. I never intended for art to be such a part of my life. It was always something I did for fun….and it seemed to keep finding me!”
Marshall received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1995. From 2001-2, he served as assistant to the influential Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, which proved to be a major turning point in his career. He remembers, “I didn’t have a real set direction for how I wanted to paint. I have seen one of his (Murakami’s) shows that August at the Boston Museum, and when I saw those painting close up, I realized that was the end product I wanted to see my ideas come out in. It was the style I wanted to achieve. I wanted to learn how to paint that was flat and graphic. I was familiar anime and that style of art and it was very appealing to me. I learned a lot about studio practice from him, just about organization and attention to detail as well as work ethic. It was and still is pure inspiration. I realized I needed that sort of apprenticeship.”
As Dalek, Marshall first established himself in the art work with his iconic Space Monkey character, which resembles a grinning and malevolent cartoon mouse. Rendered in a minimalist, flat style, Marshall used the Space Monkey like an alter ego, a visual manifestation of his feelings, as well as his love for the absurdity of human interactions.
He explains, “The Space Monday is my concept of human being. It’s a tool for relating and exploring ideas. The Space Monkey developed out of other characters. A lot of it was looking at humanity and reflecting through the character, or better I say my experiences with humanity created the character, including looking at myself and my own struggles. Aesthetically I think I tried to build and then refine something distinguishable and visually interesting, and use it as a medium for relaying ideas. Psychologically it reflected where I was at in my own life and those experiences and as I grew and changed it evolved. And eventfully went dormant as a lot of those influences in my life faded. As much as I try and pull him out from time to time, the energy has to be right!”
His new body of work revels in a profusion and hyper-abundance of color and planes of space, offering a mediation of the push and pull of forces he sees in contemporary life. “It’s an ever-expanding, contradicting barely breathing universe, contemplating suffocation while simultaneously hovering over the consequences of not exploring further the options that no longer lay waiting in the back of the coat room.”
A former graffiti artist, Marshall observes, “I think what I learned most from graffiti was color and composition. I have always been self taught or with the help from friends giving me pointers, but I didn’t know much about how to use color effectively. Graffiti was a huge piece of understanding that better. Graphic sensibility was a big piece, as was making things logo-esque in a way. It was about making the work pop. Making it bold. Popping. Getting it to stand out. I think I took all those things when I went into the studio.”
The transition from Dalek to James Marshall has been, “A back and forth, dipping in and dipping out. I just trust where my instincts are taking me. The geometric work was in there waiting to come out. The Space Monkey was pretty geometric, so the language has always been a part of me. I’m a math brain more than anything else. Analytical. Everything is about dialing in ideas as I need to work through them. Everything is part of a longer process. I think some people find their spot and stick there. My mind wants me to keep digging regardless of if I’m in a good spot. I’ll take myself from a good spot to a bad spot just pushing on instead of chilling, but ultimately it’s what needs to happen for me to grow and get better. The drive is internal for me, not external, meaning I hope people respond positively to what I do, but I gotta do what’s going on inside of me driving me.”
All artwork: ©James Marshall/Dalek
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.