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VISUAL ARTS REVIEW: Broken, Beaten & Buried

Dalek Unleashed: Redux's first 2009 show is a welcome break for the pop artist

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Broken, Beaten & Buried
Redux Contemporary Art Center
Opening Fri. Jan. 23, 6-10 p.m.
On display through March 7
(843) 722-0697
www.reduxstudios.org

Time was that you'd wait patiently to see a piece of art. The work would be created in secret, concealed until its grand unveiling. These days, that isn't always the case. Some artists recognize the process itself can be informative and entertaining, especially if members of the local art community are involved.

That's just what's happening at Redux this month. Internationally renowned painter Dalek (a.k.a. James Marshall) has been given carte blanche to transform the Redux Contemporary Arts Center. A team of eight to 10 artists will help him prepare for his show, which opens Friday.

Prior to the opening, Redux has invited viewers to witness the transformation, giving them a greater appreciation for the imagination, effort, and growth of ideas that are all part of Dalek's work. His paintings are a colorful pop riot policed by strange space monkeys, with elements reminiscent of Max Fleischer cartoons, Japanese abstraction, and psychedelic sci-fi movies.

"There's been a lot of preparation, and Dalek has a very clear vision of what he wants," says curator Seth Curcio, who is also a member of the team. "He's carefully geared his ideas to the space. But there's still room for us to play around and do a fair amount of experimentation."

Marshall got his start in the graffiti world, taking his tag name from an alien race in the TV show Doctor Who. His popularity spread in the mid- to late-'90s as he began to appear in graffiti magazines. As his fame grew so did the complexity of his art. It got more active and energetic just as he hit the mainstream with a 2003 book called Nickel Plated Angels. Since then his space monkeys have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Juxtapoz magazine.

After a chance meeting in Miami in 2007, Curcio (a longtime fan) started talking to Dalek about a Redux show. It turned out Dalek's sister lives in Charleston; he vacations here every year. Almost a year later, the installation is taking shape as the largest Curcio's ever curated at the gallery.

Although this is Dalek's first Charleston show, it's not the first time he's worked with a team to create a complex installation. His first collaborative project was at Phaiz in Chicago last September with three other artists.

"I loved the dynamic of it all," he recalls. "I'm really excited to see what comes out of working with this many people. It brings a whole different dimension to creating something and to my role within that process."

Dalek's Charleston connections don't end with his sister. In 1996, he met Lowcountry native Shepard Fairey, who shared similar underground roots. Fairey's iconic portrait of President Barack Obama, with its dramatic shading, was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery (see Artifacts, right).

"It's a coincidence that he is from Charleston and my family lives there," Dalek says. "Shepard helped me out tremendously in my early years. He was one of the very first people to believe in what I was doing and helped push me to keep pursuing it."

Since then, Fairey has become a mainstream icon and Dalek has branched out in a similar fashion, incorporating his art into shoes, toys, skateboards, and animation. His web series A Purge of Dissidents took almost two years to produce with friend and collaborator Tom Halzelmyer.

"I learned so much through the process," Dalek says. "I would do it much differently if given the chance. I would have more of a team to help develop and create stuff so as to shorten the time scope."

Although the animated series was abstract and the production process was agonizingly slow, reactions were always solid. "I think people enjoyed them," Dalek says modestly. "I am glad I did it."

The Redux show provides Dalek the opportunity to be creative without having to worry about commercial concerns.

"He's exploring areas he's wanted to explore for years but hasn't had the chance," Curcio says.

A successful career can be a curse as well as a blessing; the artist is required to create collector-friendly work for commercial galleries. A nonprofit exhibition allows him to deviate from that work and come up with some truly mind-bending concepts. But his inspiration doesn't come from abstract thoughts so much as the people around him.

"I have always been an observer of humanity," says Dalek, who went to school to study sociology and anthropology before switching to art. "I am endlessly entertained by the human dynamic. I can people-watch for days.

"Personal behavior, group behavior, cultural behavior — it's the core of everything that we know and are," he says. "So much of it is seeping into us without our knowledge. There is a very serious connection between those subjects and my artwork."

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