James Marshall—commonly known as the artist Dalek—made his mark in the art world with his iconic Space Monkey character, which looks like a catatonic, twisted mouse. “The Space Monkey is my concept of a human being,” he says. “It’s a tool for relaying and exploring ideas.”
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. He turned to the subcultures of punk rock, skateboarding and graffiti for inclusion and identity.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1992, and received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 1995. That same year, he developed his well-known Space Monkey character. Taking up the name “Dalek,” Marshall merged street art, cartoons, Japanese pop and the energy of the urban punk scene.
A major turning point in Dalek’s studio practice was working as Takashi Murakami’s assistant in 2001. “I didn’t have a real set direction for how I wanted to paint,” he says. “I had seen a show of [Murakami’s] that August at the Boston Museum, and when I saw those paintings up close, I realized that was the end product that I wanted to see my ideas come out in. I realized I needed that sort of apprenticeship.”
Rendered in a minimalist, flat style, Dalek 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.
But his 2007 show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery was a drastic departure from this: the paintings were complex and layered; the Dalek moniker was replaced by the artist’s real name; and the Space Monkeys were either missing altogether or fragmented. “[The show] was really cathartic to me, and I think it really helped open a lot of things for me visually,” he says. “By not having that iconic centerpiece to build a painting around, all the elements started springing up and happening a little more naturally, and things started growing in a different way, which was liberating.”
His new body of work revels in a profusion and hyper-abundance of color and planes of space: the familiar lines and iconic Space Monkey that defined his earlier work are only a starting point for a new series of meditations on the push and pull of forces he sees in contemporary life. “It’s an ever-expanding, contracting 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.”
Dalek has been featured in many books and magazine articles, including Dalek: Nickel Plated Angels (2003), Dalek: Sonic Order of Happiness(2005), and Street World: Urban Culture and Art from Five Continents (2007). His work has been reviewed and featured in a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Tokion, Juxtapoz, Art Papers, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone andNYArts. His design work has appeared in almost every medium&emdash;skateboard decks, magazines, sneakers, sculptures and a Scion car.
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