James Marshall: From Street Art to Fine Art and Back Again.

Ello CEO & Co-founder Paul Budnitz (@budnitz) asked James Marshall, a.k.a. Dalek (@dalek) about his vision, inspiration, and his evolution as an artist.


Paul Budnitz: In your early days you worked for Takashi Murakami. What was that apprenticeship like?

James Marshall: I did, although that was years ago at this point - the end of 2000 into mid-2001. It was a great experience. To this day I always say it helped me define a studio practice and a little more of an understanding on how to paint the way I wanted to.

Paul: Is there one thing you learned from Murakami that you continue to apply today?

James: Mixing colors is the one thing from that experience I still apply to some extent. Everything else I’ve sort of modified or abandoned over the years. I am not a fan of a bunch of assistants making work. I totally understand and respect it. I just have a personal thing with wanting to have my hands on the work. It makes me crazy if I don’t.


Paul: Were there other mentors or sources of inspiration — art world or otherwise?

James: For me it goes back through so many phases, starting with the guys who brought me up in the graffiti scene. Tdee, Sub, Kaws, Virus, Giant. Those guys were huge in teaching me and encouraging me to keep pushing. Then the next phase, that transition from street into gallery, was really Shepard Fairey, Rich Jacobs and Maresa from New Image Art in LA. Shepard really went out of his way to help me out, got me printing stickers and my first prints ever. Rich put me into some group shows at New Image, and Marsea really gave me opportunities to show that I am thankful for to this day.

I moved back to Richmond, VA for a while, where I really forged my friendship with Roger Gastman and Rich Colman, two of my favorite people ever !!! When I moved to NY in 2000. the ALIFE crew - Ryan McGinness, KAWS, those guys - really made every attempt to help me get established there. SMITH,PINK and CYCLE always invited me out to paint walls. As I got established, I always got so much inspiration from all those people.

Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, the Clayton Brothers, Seonna Hong, Pose, Cody Hudson, ESPO, Barry McGee. It’s a long ass list, one that is always growing which shows the beauty of life.
As far as other influences, sources of inspiration and so on, if you’ve got room for a novel, I’ll write one. But it’s pretty endless and from all sources and backgrounds.

Paul: I’d love to read that book, there were so many remarkable artists coming up at the same time. When you got to New York City, you painted walls as Dalek and your Space Monkeys and other work became very well know in the street art scene. How did that come about?

James: I didn’t start out doing street art in NY. It was really more when I lived in Chicago and then moved out west to the San Diego area. I painted a lot in Kansas City and Cincinnati with my ATT brothers. Went up to SF a lot and painted with Giant, would go hang with TDEE and paint in Jersey or CT.

I was all over the place just doing whatever. By the time I moved to NY, my focus was more on studio work. Any recognition I got was simply a matter of the list of people above believing in what I was doing, creating and inviting me into opportunities.


Paul: Getting support from your peers is such an amazing thing. I remember when I was hunting around for artists to work with at Kidrobot, and everyone said, “you gotta meet Dalek”. Was there a moment when you “broke” as an artist and you realized your career was taking off — one epiphany moment where you claimed the moniker artist?

James: I’m still waiting for things to break !!

As with anything, my life and career are a process. I am all over the map. I am certainly aware of my successes, but I still feel I’m a long way off from being where I want to be. But i’m also in no rush. I’ve got a long life to figure shit out and grow. I have a certain amount of time and energy to dedicate to my craft at this stage of life. Once my kids don’t need as much of my time and attention, then I am sure the ratio will change. I feel pretty solid in my abilities and where the future will take me.

Paul: To me, one of the most exciting things about your work is the way it’s evolved. You’ve moved radically from street art to fine art, and from character-based work to much more abstract designs, then back to public art again. Was that a steady process, or did you make that change all at once?

James: Yeah, it’s all a steady evolution. I don’t think much about things until I need to. The desire to evolve or move in a direction tends to come in waves. I’ll kind of explore some ideas and they go as far as they can or need to, and they die or evolve into the next incarnation. I just trust the journey.

Paul: Was it hard to leave the “Space Monkey” behind?

James: No, it’s still floating around. There is just no desire to do much with it right now. I don’t believe in going through the motions with things regardless of what they can bring , so… it’s there. It’ll come and go as it pleases.


Paul: I love your public pieces. How do they relate to your canvasses?

James: I would imagine they are an extension of the studio work, just a different scale. They require a different approach which I like. I have to address factors that I don’t in a studio setting: surface, weather, timelines, budgets, scale, supply availability. So by nature it’s more interesting because there is more problem solving which is my favorite thing. I’m a process person. I have no interest in the finished product other than if it fulfilled the needs of the process successfully.

Paul: I’m struck that that your vision is so clear. What working artists inspire you today?

James: Well.. most of the people listed above. I always enjoy watching other people evolve their work. That’s inspiring to me.

Rich Colman - always pushing it forward. Pose is the man. biskup and baseman. The Cayton Bros. Mike Giant is still the master of the sharpie! I guess I look more to the people I’ve known forever because it’s their evolution, their story. There are people that always evolve and push what they do and then there are people that kind of find their groove and just hit repeat.

I appreciate technical ability to some extent, but I like originality and heart, the desire to pursue and challenge. I don’t need to see the same shit over and over again. Let’s just say there are more than a handful of artists that I haven’t seen any level of real change out of in years, and although at one point they might have inspired me, now it’s just laughable - regardless of any level of commercial success they’ve achieved. And not that I have a problem with that, everyone has their own path.I just don’t personally find anything interesting about gimmicks or lack of personal growth.

Paul: Tell me about the show in NYC you have going right now?

James: I recently opened my first solo show in a long time, probably since end of 2009. I think even that work was leftover from earlier in that year. It feels like it’s time to get back to showing. I didn’t want to paint in the studio for a long while. I went to work for Hurley at the end of 2009 until the end of 2014, and it was a great experience, took me into a whole other world and around a whole other group of people. I learned a lot from it and was consumed by understanding art in a apparel and retail sense. Then I felt like it was time to get back to the studio for 2015.

The work at the current show at the Jonathan LeVine gallery is pretty much the journey through 2015. I think that’s about all the work I made last year. It was a good year for working out ideas, feeling where I wanted to go. I probably got another year of figuring things out before I get it to where I want it, so we will see what 2016 brings.

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Paul: I was so grateful when I saw you join Ello early on. Your presence and support have been super encouraging to me personally. What’s special about this network, our Ello community, that keeps you using it?

James: I think what makes Ello special is that it’s more a pure creative source. I tend to go there to seek inspirational sources that I wouldn’t normally get. It feels a little more intimate I guess. I don’t feel like it’s bogged down in selfies and food and pet photos, not that I mind those things in their place, but it can be disruptive.

Paul: Many younger artists are deeply interested in your work habits. Do you work at a certain time every day, or are there other habits you’ve developed that keep you so productive?

James: My work habits ebb and flow. Sometimes i’m in the studio 10 hours a day. Other days I do things like answer these questions or other little odds and ends things. It just depends. I work well on deadlines. When I don’t have deadlines, I tend to float. I’ll get a bunch of ideas on the back of one and other, and then I’ll go weeks or months where nothing is striking me or feels interesting enough to investigate.

I get a little preoccupied with basketball — that tends to take up a lot of time.


James Marshall’s one-man show “The Redistribution Of Destruction” is currently at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery Gallery in NYC until February 6th.

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