He's best known around these parts as the man who made the colorful geometric designs that infuse the SMoCA Lounge gallery and performance space at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. But James "Dalek" Marshall was making brownies with his 8- and 10-year-old sons the day we chatted, and looking ahead to his next Valley visit.
He'll arrive in the afternoon on Friday, November 7, then do a quick refresh at The Saguaro, which seems a fitting spot for Marshall given its big blocks of color. Next he'll bounce over to SMoCA, where his 2014 mural Shift spans an outdoor courtyard and retail space that visitors encounter right after entering the museum.
Marshall's three-day visit starts with an informal meet-and-greet-style event Friday night in the SMoCA Lounge, the site of his 2014 mural Radiate. The museum suggested a more formal presentation at first, he says. But waxing poetic on the ways of making art isn't really Marshall's thing. He's keen on genuine conversations that foster "meaningful questions and answers."
Still, he fields plenty of comments on the lighter side -- including two that reference his tall stature: "Watch your head" and "Do you play basketball?" Marshall assures people he's got the watching his head thing covered and plays basketball purely outside the professional realm.
Often, the folks who ask about his process assume the work is digital or design-based. "They don't understand that it's hand-painted," he says. It's understandable given the precision of his lines and flawless application of color.
Marshall says he hates the way art has been "intellectualized over the years," lamenting the fact that it's become "an elitist thing."
"I try to reduce the process to something anyone can do," says Marshall. We'll all get the chance to test his theory come Saturday, November 8, when members of the community are invited to join Marshall in making a new work of public art for The Bell Tower at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall.
Everyone who attends will get to paint a tile or two, he says, then choose where their tiles get placed within a larger panel. Once multiple panels are completed, they'll be installed as a giant mosaic inside the tower, which is located just a few steps from Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Folks who take part will get to choose which color to paint their tile, using exterior latex paints left over after Marshall painted his Radiate and Shift murals. The museum opens early on Saturday, giving people who missed the Friday night shindig a chance to check out his work.
On Monday, November 10, he'll work with high school students on painting skateboard decks through SMoCA's Visions Teen program. It's familiar territory for Marshall, who prior work using the moniker "Dalek" was steeped in street culture. During pre-abstract geometrical art days, his claim to fame was a character called "Space Monkey."
But Marshall is clearly looking forward rather than behind.
Between driving kids around and baking brownies on Wednesday, Marshall managed to squeeze in buying a miter saw. "I want to start cutting stuff from wood," he said, "and making stuff." Marshall describes it as "just jumping in," adding that he likes tackling new learning curves and finding ways to do "tighter, cleaner" work. "Maybe in 10 years I'll be a master craftsman."
When not making art on the road, Marshall's work space consist of just half of the garage at his North Carolina home. The other half belongs to his turquoise '66 Pontiac, which sports an engine Marshall rebuilt with a neighbor. "I've always worked in small spaces," he says.
He's never once spilled paint on the car, and admits he typically stops to wash out the paint if even a single drop lands on his clothing. "I don't do well in chaos," says Marshall. "But I can make order out of chaos."
"I like having a lot of structure but I'm flexible, too," he says. "Having a framework makes it easier to adapt." It's an approach best understood when you know a little something of the Marshall's background, which included frequent moves while growing up in a military family.
Some people tell Marshall they don't have a creative bone in their bodies, but he figures that's just the fear talking. It's the fear of being judged, he says, that keeps most people from being creative. If drawing stick figures makes you happy, do it. It's the process part of art that matters most.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
"When people get invested in the process, they have a deeper connection to it," reflects Marshall. He's hoping those who join Saturday's community painting shindig will have a sense of ownership about the work, and feel proud each time they see it. "It's art by the people, for the people," he explains.
We'd have pushed for more pearls, but there were brownies fresh from the oven waiting to be eaten. "They like them gooey," Marshall said of his sons. And then they rolled with it.
The Meet the Artist Party with James Marshall takes place Friday, November 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. at SMoCA. The Community Mural Project takes place Saturday, November 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bell Tower (SMoCA will have special hours starting at 10 a.m. that day).