Putting the erm… into Vermin
All photos by shellshock
“Given the state of the planet, humans, or some humans, must now be categorized as vermin” (John Carey in ‘The Intellectuals and the Masses -Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia 1880-1939‘)
I’ll spare you the weak reasons for the complete tardiness of this ‘review’ of Dale's show this October in Bristol. Soz, but I’m here now, so let’s just get on with it ‘eh? And finally I get to use the word ‘tardy’ in a blog :-)
Vermin (aka Dale ‘vn’ Marshall) has long been one of my favourite writers/artists, primarily as one of the Souls On Fire (SOF) crew throughout the late 90's and most of the 2000's, so I was especially excited when I heard earlier this year that he was doing canvases of his own work, and was then preparing for what seemed to be a very tardy [got it in again :-)] first exhibition for someone in his late 30’s.
The reason for this late blooming was presumably, at least partly, because Dale has led a life and a half so far, and by his own admission not necessarily a life you’d wish for when a kid. Dale’s personal experiences and ongoing battle with his own mental health, including stays in a secure unit, is in equal parts amazing, shocking and totally understandable when you see his art (visit here for more info). I don’t know Dale but I feel some connection through his art, maybe aided by us being from the same city. My own minor battles cannot be compared to his, but I do get a strong personal feeling from all of this, and my heart skips a beat when I dip into his soul.
I get the impression that during these dark days and nights Dale probably forgot that he was an artist. He also probably forgot he was a writer. And whatever inane discussions exist in the world about what a ‘writer’ really is and who is and isn’t a ‘writer’, I’d merely suggest that Vermin was and has always been a writer, even if it might not be as obvious as when a young lad does ‘Trax’ (or whatever) in large, basic letters on a scabby wall. Dale has a totally different style to that, but his work still (quite literally) oozes his name.
So ‘Room 101, The Fine Art of Graffiti‘ showcased 101 oil paintings completed in 101 days this summer, as well as five additional show paintings and site-specific installations and wall daubings. However faint it may have seemed to the casual eye, I'd say that all 101 canvases had ‘vermin’ carved into them, like ‘Blackpool’ in a stick of rock, or to use a far darker analogy, like a self-harming teenager with a sharp knife and a bloodied and scared forearm.
Although Dale is now happily studying at the historic School of Art at Coventry University, and has a great support network around him, he‘s obviously not going to forget his past quite so fast. The Room 101 theme obviously drew parallels from George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and was most evident in the institutional paraphernalia that was scattered around the venue. ‘Dentist’ chair and prescription drug cocktails with flashing light, a recreation of his hospital bed, a freaky video, maggots in a bowl, etc. When some people walked into the venue they must have thought… erm… what the hell is this!
The canvases were amazing, and although there are tinges of melancholy, brooding and inactivity, they actually mainly radiate hope, colour, passion, energy and thoughtfulness. Just like Don McCullin hates being refered to solely as a 'war' photographer, I imagine Dale doesn't want to be just seen as doing those pretty dark abstract murals. It was a really strong body of work. I know a few professional artists and to do 101 canvases in 101 days (um... that's one a day I reckon..?) is quite a stretch, especially with a rigorous quality control as well (I think Dale had about 30 odd others that didn't make the cut).
So now I can come on to the two canvases I managed to buy amidst the slightly undignified bun fight that occurred on the opening night. A lot of people had obviously heard about the show and some even travelled some distance and waited for quite some time (and/or pushed into the queues) in order to be there first to get what they wanted. Call it madness, peer pressure or dedication, or a bit of all three. I was amazed that I still managed to get my first choice of the 90-odd canvases that hadn’t been pre-reserved or were not for sale. I really wanted at least one that had ‘writing’ in it; a sort of hybrid of ‘pure’ art and a tag. That for me was something to straddle the two worlds they represented.
When Dale later took the canvas down off the wall for me he mentioned that he learnt a lot [about oils] when he was doing this piece. That was quite sweet actually - talk about personal service! How many other places does the artist take your canvas down off the wall himself? I actually wondered if he might follow me home and want to take it back :-)
My second canvas was from the more meditative pieces on the opposite wall. Yet it still has that slight tinge of violence in it.
More power to your elbow Dale. Hope to see more from you soon. And if you do fancy a ‘time share’ visit to your canvases, pop round next time you’re visiting the Royal Arthur [this will be explained in a forthcoming blog…]