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Dalek Speaks: James Marshall Discusses The Power Of Public Art

Hugo Phan
Marshall stands in front of his mural on the Harvester Arts building in Old Town.

James Marshall, also known as Dalek, is a North Carolina-based visual artist who garnered attention with his Space Monkey character, described by the artist as “a strange, vaguely humanoid mouse that [Marshall] would depict in an array of bright colors and twisted circumstances, often wielding a butcher’s cleaver.” 

Credit Dalek Instagram
One of Dalek's most recognizable characters, Space Monkey.

He used this character extensively in his work until 2007 when he abandoned Space Monkey and began working as a purely abstract artist. Marshall recently completed a mural that graces the Harvester Arts building in Wichita.

The project came about in part via his friendship with Harvester co-founder Kristin Beal. The two met while both enrolled in graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University. She contacted Marshall in 2015 and wondered if he’d be willing to add his work to the Harvester building.

Marshall began plotting the project from a distance, through photographs.

“The main thing was to see what the space looked like,” he says. “I was able to give her feedback [from those]. I could say, ‘You’re going to have to shave this, you’re going to have to power wash that, prime this.’ I let her know about the limitations of what I could do with the windows and the dividers and the concrete.”

He then completed a mock-up of what he envisioned for the building and sent it on to Beal, who approved it and prepared for the artist’s fall 2016 visit. A mural, he notes, requires a slightly different mindset than the other work that he does.

“The interaction with the general public in a mural piece is completely different than in a gallery space or museum,” he says. “Whenever we do a mural piece we find people who walk by or drive by who would not normally interact with art or have much of a relationship with it. Even it gets them to walk to the doors and ask what you’re working on or even if they’re just happy that it beautifies the neighborhood, it truly engages the public in conversations about art and gets them more interested in it. I love it.”

Mural arts, Marshall says, have become a much larger part of the artistic repertoire than in the past.

“I know that there’s a huge explosion of mural arts going on all over the world,” he says. “You see a lot of studio artists that have started getting into murals. It’s such a different canvas and a different approach. It’s nice to get out of the studio and paint something of this scale with as many moving pieces, with more social interaction. I went from doing one every couple of years to doing three-four of these a year. It’s always new and challenging. We ran into a problem with the lift when I got here because the sidewalk’s not flat. We had to solve that problem. Stuff like that, for me, is fun, having to use different equipment or get up in lifts. It’s so much better than just sitting in a studio.”

It is in part a natural extension for Marshall, who has long been involved in both graffiti and skateboarding communities. Mural projects also offer him the chance to travel to places he might not otherwise have been.

“I’ve been to New York and Chicago a million times, and as much as I love those environments, if it wasn’t for this project, I couldn’t imagine having another opportunity to come here,” he says. “The experiences that I have, interactions with people, the connection that they have to the artwork, is so much stronger because I think it’s more meaningful. I’ll leave here saying, ‘I’m so glad I went to Wichita.’”

He adds, “If something like this gets someone excited about art or introduced to art, if it changes someone’s perspective about art, that’s powerful. That’s what I like about making art.”


Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

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