Interview: Dale Marshall aka Vermin Exhibits at Soze Gallery, Los Angeles
Vermin’s exhibit, Best Kept Secret, at the Soze Gallery in Los Angeles is an intense and poetic view into the cells of the “walking medicated,” utilizing a virtuoso’s expressionistic Wildstyle technique.
“From a young age the cracks started to appear. When I think back now, being a sensitive person with an over inflated ego, there were always going to be problems.” ~ Dale “Vermin” Marshall
Dale Marshall aka Vermin aka vN is a virtuoso wildstyle expressionist painter. He utilizes a seamless combination of these two styles to infuse a compassionate melancholy throughout his work. Exhibiting an open heart and an honest voice in his paintings and his dialog, he has stated that his subject matter is the “walking medicated” on an emotional level and that his compositional construct is his tag “Vermin” on an aesthetic level. Due to his personal connection to the subject, being one of their own in the past, he is able to articulate a web of connections on both the previously referred to emotional and aesthetic levels.
Like Wildstyle, Abstract Expressionism deconstructs the surface shapes of representational subject matter in an attempt to reveal and extend their inherent ideal forms. Some abstract artists choose a reductionist tact in which to disclose the pure ideal form, whereas others choose to extrude and extenuate the shapes, expanding on the pure forms, revealing intricate webs of energy, connection and communication that exist between them. As a painter who can be seen to fall within the latter category, whether on a wall or a canvas, Dale renders layers of resonance, vibrations of dense veins and branches between, around and through his forms to reveal their shared internal circuitry and neural connections, as well as their entwining auras of conducive and combative energies, and the resulting reflections and refractions.
Another aspect of this particular body of work is the use of his tag, Vermin, as the compositional basis for each painting. A tag for a writer is an identity symbol. It becomes a neurological hyperlink, a piece of bio-code embedded in the walls of the streets. When clicked, this hyperlink contains meta-tags consisting of bits of DNA-HTML that allow you access to their history, personality, temperament, and so on. Frequently tags consist of nonsensical letterforms that are merely a collection of letters that stylistically function well together, which, like expressions on the face of a portrait, reveal the subject’s personality through their calligraphic form and flow.
But when a writer chooses a representational noun or acronym with a dictionary definition, such as the word “vermin,” then the meaning of the word itself expresses something about how the artist feels about himself and by proxy other members of his subculture that he is speaking to and for. Therefore, the meaning of the word “vermin” can be read as a metaphor about the theme of this body of work, which he has stated is “presenting the idea of the unrepresented of Californian culture.” As a self-proclaimed Impressionist in style, he captures a sense of this outsider culture and expresses the id of The Other in these abstractions.
Many of these paintings glow and shimmer with the pastel yellows and blues of a California coastline as painted by an Impressionist intent on capturing a sunny day. WIth scribbled flourishes, the horizon line jumps and pulses like an electrocardiogram. Vermin becomes embedded as a calligraphic code deep in the heart of the landscape. The beauty and power of Dale’s painting lies in his ability to utilize his virtuoso technique to channel not only his own personal voice but also that of this unrepresented segment of society.
This post is broken into this an interview with Dale by 12ozProphet, which is accompanied by a photo-essay of him in his California studio and then at his opening at Soze Gallery. The photo-essay is by Todd Mazer who is a heart-felt art photographer living in California. Recently, Todd was called “A true advocate of the art” in an interview. He has focussed his camera on street art, including a lot of the artists who are involved with the Graffuturists, who Dale has also been affiliated with. Other artists associated with them are Augustine Kofie, Poesia Transcend, Mark Lyken, CageOne, Mare139, Persue, Joker, and many more.
12oz: Where were you born, where did you grow up and what do you consider your hometown now?
vN: I was born in the ancient city of Bath, England and at the moment I have a studio in Snowdonia, Wales. I consider Southern California my hometown also now, as I have plans to come back for work.
12oz: When and where did you start writing graffiti? What was important to you about getting up? Why did you pick the name “Vermin”? When you abbreviate it to “vN” why do you capitalize the N rather than the V?
vN: I came from a very different lifestyle, yes I tagged for fun in my early years but it was very different from living in a big competitive city. Vermin chose me. I capitalize the N in the hope for a better future. The v was my early troubled life and the N is my journey now, it’s a windy road that finishes moving upward.
12oz: Was Wildstyle an aesthetic goal for you? Why were you attracted to it? Who were your influences?
vN: There were a few writers back in the UK who were very inspiring throughout the 90’s. I don’t give it much thought these days. Everything has become an experiment, construct, deconstruct.
12oz: Did you study art in school? When and where did you start exploring expressionist techniques? Who were your influences?
vN: I have studied at art school. I still take classes now. While being in California I have enrolled in graduate painting class with one of the best art universities, which I have just completed. I was inspired by impressionism (markmaking) and I have let that develop into a more contemporary practice.
12oz: How and when did you start to make these visual connections between wildstyle and abstract expressionism? Was it purely visual or theoretical as well?
vN: I just felt that it was something that had to be explored. I have always had a vision and I am following my intuition, it’s part of my journey. I paint from memory. The connection of graffiti and wildstyle are my firm roots into story telling based around text from a personal point of view.
12oz: The focus on linear horizontal compositions, whether simply one level or stacked, for most of these paintings gives the impression of landscapes. This kind of compositional technique combined with the color palettes you’ve chosen strongly suggest coastlines, sand dunes, and hills, like the geography of much of California. In a “curatorial note” on the Anno Domini website, it was stated that they are actually based on Vermin wildstyle pieces. Were you combining the influence of the two?
vN: Yes I often think of landscape and composition when executing a piece. Some are ariel views. I have been inspired by the colour pallete of an outdated mental hospital mixed with the California sunshine (where I have lived for the past year). The text is within all the pieces on show at Anno Domini.
12oz: In the title and the exhibition statement, it says that this body of work was created in a “California Institution.” How did that experience influence this body of work?
vN: Soon after arriving in California I felt the institution. I came to LA with expectation, you know the iconic. It wasn’t long before I witnessed a different side (which I favour). I wanted to soak up the true energy and produce a show. The control here is overwhelming, the grid roads, rich gated communities, experiencing the barred windowed projects in South Central, cloned lifestyle, the TV advertising of the anti-psychotic medication industry, the list goes on! But, I do love it here and the people are great.
12oz: It was stated that each of these pieces starts with your tag, but also that this body of work is about the “walking medicated” and “presenting the idea of the unrepresented.” Who are these medicated and unrepresented subjects? Do you feel an affinity to them because of your time spent in institutions?
vN: I can sometimes tell when people are medicated without even speaking to them. I often travel here using public transportation. I have an affinity with these people because I too was once like that. You usually see someone having a mild psychotic episode at least once a week on a bus and it takes me back to my personal moments and memories. I wanted to portray this somehow with abstraction through some of the pieces. It’s like I have seen some artists come here trying to connect, with shameless self -promotion to sell their work to the rich with their own personal advertising, their agenda, using the iconic, blah blah. This is so far removed from what I am about, I consider myself an artist and it’s nice to feel the intention is to connect with people, real people, from all walks of life, the rich and the poor.
Text: Daniel Feral
Photo: Todd Mazer