May 16, 2010

Seize the Dayglo!

Or Happy Bastard Birthday Ya Massive Slice of Smilyness
An Interview with Artist Robert Walker on the occasion of he and Dylan Riley’s 2-man show:
‘The Day The World Turned Dayglo’

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)
Click on any picture to enlarge
(noting we’ve positioned Robert’s pieces to the LEFT and Dylan’s to the RIGHT)

Now I thought about starting this interview one of two ways. First, I thought I could begin by pointing out that Robert Walker is – so far – the only artist that I have gotten away with calling Buttface in a realm (also known as Facebook*), where he could trace it back to and confirm with some certainty that the input was indeed from me. Not that this should be a surprise to those that know (and love?) him, as Robert has sold me on the habit of calling best friends seemingly rude names which is meant to somehow convey great affection.
(*which is no kin to Buttfacebook by the way)

The other way I thought of – and obviously then settled on in terms of starting – was to point out again at nearly unbearable length that yours truly got his start in this whole interest in the design world in fact as an educated (?) colour chemist. Now I’ll wait until the requisite ‘say what’ and ‘wow, you must be a total dork’ comments have toned down to continue. No friends, I indeed studied and even quite enjoyed learning why it is that things like your jeans are blue, the American flag’s stripes are red and that if any part of your body turns Kelly Green with lovely Chartreuse specks, well, then good heavens, you should probably go see a real doctor at once!

Along the way, as fate would have it, this field took me even to meet some of the major purveyors of dyes and pigments of all types, including fluorescent colours which are often referred to as dayglo colours (so-called after the
DayGlo Color Corporation who claim to be the originators of daylight fluorescent colours). Now we are all surrounded almost daily by some dose of these interesting yet horribly messy-to-produce colours, be it via advertising, packaging, or many other realms as varied as those orange traffic cones you stole on the way home last night from the pub; in those horrible greenish blue nylon ski pants you just had to have but now regret having ever seen let alone paid for with your hard-earned cash; and even in trace yet effective amounts in that lovely plastic swizzle stick you’ll be using to stir your beverage of choice tonight in some local dive that also no doubt is using some fluorescent colours to point out their ‘ladies’ night drink specials’ or even the way to the appropriate loo (or toilet as we say in ‘real’ English).

I think you get the point. But speaking of which, my point is then that I was indeed the kind of student that loved such tid-bits of
information such as ‘Fluorescence is a phenomenon that occurs when a substance absorbs radiation of a certain wavelength, or group of wavelengths, and re-emits photons of a different wavelength.’ Oh yes, I was quite the party animal to be sure, because – eventually – that made perfect sense to me.

Now we could go on and make several rude comments about overly excited electrons and their higher vibrational states, but I’ll just let it suffice to point out that fluorescent ‘colouring agents’ are not only common in the plant and animal part of nature – for a particularly interesting read I can recommend this
book, especially if you hate voles as much as I do – but are also very common in minerals as well. And yes, to answer your next question, I was also indeed the kind of kid that loved to go to the science museums that displayed minerals illuminated by both tungsten lamps and black lights (UV source) to demonstrate this phenomenon.

Moving ahead, it does seem to be pretty commonly agreed that daylight fluorescent pigments were an American invention from back in the 1930s (vs. say the invention of flight, which every country on the planet has claimed as part of their own heritage). A couple of fellows by the name of Bob and Joe Switzer were experimenting with ways of combining certain dyes and resins (or polymeric ‘goo’ that would tend to solidify into what is known in scientific circles as ‘solid goo’). Their target was to produce colours that appeared to be far brighter than ‘normal’ colours and which also had the added, unique effect of ‘glowing’ under UV or black light. Why they did this, I’m not sure, but I’m thinking it had to do with not being allowed to hang cool rock-and-roll posters in their rooms when they were kids.

Initially, these new colours and effects found their way into magic shows in order to wow the audiences with these fantastic effects! Later, they would find there way into other stage performances or even movie posters. During World War II, they were widely used for making bright signal panels as used by the army, which eventually led to their use as eye-catching billboard colours. And so on.

Conclusion: they’re just plain neat, okay? The colours do indeed catch your eye, just as the title of this show and ultimately the works of these talented youngish artists do. If I had to tie it all up together (finally), for me it’s very much like the concept of reaching some kind of ‘excited state’ in seeing their combined efforts that makes what they’ve created in no small part so intriguing. The show has given them not only the motivation and ‘kick’ to put such pieces together, but has provided them with a terrific platform to see the new ways in which they could both express their own techniques and move beyond their ‘comfort zones’.

So without further ado, let’s move on to the story of ‘The Day The World Turned Dayglo’ with Robert Walker, who patiently answered our questions on behalf of himself and Dylan Riley.


Hi Robert, welcome to the show. Speaking of shows, is this your first semi-solo show? Or have you been involved in others before, either together with Dylan, on your own or even in other groups?

‘The Day The World Turned Dayglo’ – which we named after a track by the punk band X-ray Spex – is our first collaborative show.

We both have a lot of experience of working in our ‘chosen fields’ if you want to call it that. And in the past, we’ve both made work for public spaces but have stuck pretty rigidly to our comfort zones.

In terms of my own work, I’ve done a lot of solo and group shows over the past ten year period working as a painter. These shows have varied greatly from ‘State of the Nation’ – which was a group show in Japan – to exhibitions for
Dean Clough Gallery as well for the furniture store Habitat.

What led you and Dylan to ultimately decide to collaborate like this?
From my side at least, Dylan’s work has always fascinated me from when I first got to know him back in 2007. In a lot of ways, I think that his work is the opposite end of the spectrum to mine, even though we share a common goal to paint figuratively. This really drew me to working with him and when we did start, we both found that we get an incredible ‘buzz’ from each other’s energy.

So really, we couldn’t see any reason why not to collaborate. We both understood how we work individually and how our techniques vary. And it was these differences that fascinated us and convinced us to work together.

So why then ‘The Day The World Turned Dayglo’? I mean, despite my riveting lecture at the start of this interview, it’s not actually a show devoted to the fluorescent arts as such.
We tried to imagine what could happen if we had an ‘umbrella’ title for the show as a brief and nothing more. The results were surprising but were exactly what we hoped for.

The concept of the show was based on a couple of things. One it was set up for both of us to explore the idea of living within our own work. We also then wanted to see what we as individuals might perceive what was happening around us during this period.

Obviously then the overall idea covered a lot of ground. But it allowed us to make our work as painters act uniquely but also be connected in practice. I mean, we’ve both worked within many different mediums of the years with a strong focus on painting. For me it was also fascinating, because I find Dylan’s work so fluid in its delivery. On the other hand, I consider my own style to be much more structured and even obsessively neat.

It was fantastic and what we’ve experienced and learned is that by collaborating with anyone that works outside of your own comfort zone, that it broadens the creative process to a level you can’t imagine beforehand. It made us both stop and think about our own practice and how we’ve executed our work in the past. There was a great sense of juxtaposition of all the ways we think and work and then form a new outlet for our work.

In terms of the dynamics, when you do a show like this, are you still working as individuals or is there a real synergy involved? Or do you even find cases where one is playing art director and the other takes the unenviable role of abused yet anxious intern?
I would only work with someone I can trust and who’s work I respect. I would also expect the same back. I couldn’t dream of working with anyone who isn’t on a similar level. I need to know that before work’s even started that we both completely understand each other. Ultimately, that will shine through into the work made by both parties.

In our case, I believe in and trust Dylan’s practice inside and out and he seems to feel the same way about mine. Because of this mutual understanding, we were able to co-operate and truly have dual decision-making for all aspects of the show. I mean, if you want details, I titled the show but the rest came from our mutual drive to make new work.

In terms of experience, it’s also good that we can both draw on about 15 years of experience each of us has in our field. And we just sort of ‘observed’ how the other worked and how each of our methods allowed us to explore a broader understanding of new techniques and development in colour theory. We each found a really nice balance, even playing with thoughtful colour placement and subtle changes to the way we would normally work on our own.

Why do you think that you’ve each come to these ‘points’ namely why do you consider Dylan to be ‘the smooth one’ vs. your own attraction to structure and ‘neatness’?
This question makes me smile.

Just about everything draws me to make what I do. I’ve always soaked up what’s going on around me. All of my work has been self-taught and I’m fascinated by pushing technique within one’s own practice. One aspect of a medium can be executed in so many ways depending on who’s working with it. I find this very exciting, it makes the possibilities endless.

My inner drive to make work as good as I can means I inevitably finish up with a stripped down structured piece so the viewer can see how open I am to my own criticism.

For our work together, I wanted to see how Dylan’s work might effect what I make as what he does is so fast flowing but yet really structured in colour. For example, I find that Dylan had always painted portraits only using mostly black and white in the past. And for our collaboration, even though he still found himself starting his work with black and white, he later moved into neon by the end of the preparation for the show.

On the other hand, I think my work is precisely neat and very open with colour. So again, by the end of our ‘preparation’ and making the work for the show we both ventured into ‘new ground’. Dylan learned to try out more vivid, free-flowing colour and I learned to work with a more loose way of painting.

And also looking more at our past work, I get a lot of my inspiration from so-called ‘High Fashion’ whereas a lot of Dylan’s stuff is ‘born’ if you will from his enjoyment of Graphic Novels. Still, it’s due to this kind of ‘opposite’s attract’ aspect of our backgrounds that help us to make some really vibrant yet sometimes dark work.


Continued in Part 2

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