James Marshall (Dalek): Spectrum Analysis
James Marshall has taken a long, strange path to the hard-edge abstract painting of Spectrum Analysis. Along the way he’s discarded an iconic brand—his street-art cartoon character Space Monkey—and most of a pseudonym, as his handle Dalek has lately retreated to within parentheses after his birth name. Marshall has earned this work through self-transformation.
The gallery is given over to an installation of large-scale blue abstract paintings executed on modular panels. Painted last year during Marshall’s residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, these diamond and starburst forms can be matched up to form long horizontal murals. Marshall has created new transitions between some of the panels by painting directly onto the gallery walls.
Initially, there’s a disarming 8-bit appeal to this work. The gradations of Marshall’s blue spectra are stepped rather than smoothed. Eight shades of blue take the eye from white to black. The perfect lines between each blue are the result of a painstaking team process.
With ruler in hand, Marshall outlines his shapes on the painting surface. With a team of assistants, he masks off the shapes with painter’s tape and fills them with color using rollers. As the tape comes off, proximate shapes construct larger forms and a cool vitality builds as the overall image becomes discernable.
For Marshall, this collaborative energy is essential. He finds creating in situ with a crew “liberating and enlightening, as opposed to a situation where I come into a space with pre-made paintings, hang them on a wall, have an opening and go home. That whole experience seems so archaic now.”
These paintings give a sheer optical pleasure even as they retrain the eyes and the body. A viewer has to stop and let his or her eyes catch up. Otherwise the hard lines of the tapered, angular shapes seem to shimmer and jitter. Eyes see by darting about, depending upon the brain to assemble many glances into a coherent image. But Marshall’s paintings frustrate this assembly unless a viewer concentrates.
Scale also plays a role. Since the work is sized to a viewer’s body like rooms in a house are, one’s instinct is to read it as an architectural place. But where is this place located? Simultaneously macro and micro, Marshall’s forms look like the lattice of matter at high magnification or a telescope’s vantage of some astronomical phenomenon—places bodies can’t go. The viewer becomes an interdimensional flâneur, wandering between atoms and heavens.