Dale Grimshaw

Dale Grimshaw, a UK-based artist whose style is described as “melancholic social realist,” is a non-typical resident in the world of urban art. Composed as deconstructed fragments of time, Dale’s paintings are a far cry from the shapes and styles most common to the genre––in fact, were it not for the punk rock roots of Dale himself, it would be hard to make even a small connection.

Lucky for us that that connection was made, because sharing him with a less-relatable sect would be a tragedy for us all. Read on to see why the work of Dale Grimshaw has been blurring artistic borders––and the concept of time––for so many of his adoring fans.

“I realized that I couldn’t live off doing paintings on the back of punk’s jackets after all.”

Format: It seems––and correct me if I’m wrong––that you’ve been very well received from the get-go, which is something not a lot of younger artists can claim. Can you walk us through your career thus far?
Dale Grimshaw: I’ve been interested in art and creating things for as long as I remember. When I was about twelve years old I used to experiment in my bedroom with oil paints that I had procured by dishonest means from the local model shop! My mum realized I had talent and bought me some pastels and most importantly an easel––which I still cherish. At school my behavior and the way I dressed always over shadowed my artistic talent. However, I later lived and was schooled at an assessment centre where the staff there really encouraged my creativity.

After very troubled teenage years and my mother dying I knuckled down and did a pre–degree art course at my local college in Blackburn, Lancashire. I didn’t really have the academic qualifications required although my work impressed them a lot and they gave me a place. This was the first time that I thought about continuing my art at a serious level and I also realized that I couldn’t live off doing paintings on the back of punk’s jackets after all.

I was then offered a place at Middlesex University in north London the following year. Whilst studying there I won the Liquitex International Student award and had my work shown in New York. I also won the Apthorp fund for young artists.

In 2000 I was commissioned to produce the biblical paintings for the Millennium Church in Dublin. Although I’m not religious, the opportunity taught me a lot and I enjoyed the physicality of working on such big paintings. I was also featured in the UK TV show A Brush With Fame.

I did various group shows in London up until doing the solo show “Echoes and Exorcism” at Signal Gallery this year which was a great success.

Format: The idea behind your current work centers on perception, and represents a visual depiction of how we only see fragments of reality. That’s a big concept––can you expand on that for us?
Dale Grimshaw: Although my background stems from more traditional figurative painting roots, it’s a style I can often find a little lackluster and lacking in movement and inspiration, especially in more formal portraiture. Therefore, I try to capture movement both of the people in the painting and with the paint itself.

My paintings are my interpretation of how we see the world around us. To a certain degree, photography, art, and film have dictated how we think we see the world; therefore, I’m challenging this concept. However, some elements of these mediums are very interesting visually to me, and for example, I’ve used TV techniques like split screen in my painting.

When one looks back or remembers an event or situation we don’t see them in our mind as a nice rectangular Kodak photograph. Memories are built up of many visual elements and fragments. They are also altered by emotions and our other senses. Therefore in my work I try to capture these moments in all their complexity. I feel that is still a rich source to explore further.

The following paragraph from the “Echos and Exorcism” press release says a lot of what I feel about perception. “His current creative concern is posing the question—how do we see the world? We focus here, there and everywhere, sometimes randomly, sometimes with a purpose––searching, seeking, and trying to understand. Our visual experiences can seem like an enormous jigsaw that our brain works overtime to join up and make sense of. Dales work is presenting the viewer with glimpses of the world that we see before the mind has had a chance to create order out of chaos––the puzzle laid out before us still in pieces.”

“The world always seemed to be something that happened somewhere else.”

Format: Your work is very personal and emotional––how does your past reveal itself in your art?
Dale Grimshaw: My past comes through in various ways from the subject matter to the actual application of the paint on the canvas. The paintings capture polarized opposites in terms of techniques but also of moods and emotions. The painting “Exorcism,” for example, captures a raw gratuitous flare of anger and frustration, whereas the painting “Echo” is more contemplative and peaceful in appearance. I can be patient and caring, but I can also have strong feelings of anger at the world around me.

Sometimes it helps to get the feelings and ideas out; this process can be quite therapeutic and brings emotional depth and truth to my work.

Home-wise I moved around a lot as a child, not necessarily long distances, but there were times whilst growing up that I felt very rootless, frightened, and small. The world always seemed to be something that happened somewhere else––maybe the isolated figures in the paintings are a depiction of these feelings.

Format: Tell us about the mural you created in Cairo.
Dale Grimshaw: Working and living in Egypt had a big impression on me. I was still at university when I was asked to be involved in this project—which involved working for a past student that had become an interior designer. The murals were actually on boats and turned out to be owned by Thomas Cook.

Before this trip to Cairo I had only been out of the UK once before and had never been on an airplane either. The work turned out to be quite commercial but I learnt about deadlines, working in the heat, and about Arab culture.

I had come from what I considered quite a poor background—until I lived and worked in Egypt; that is, where I saw real raw desperation and poverty at close quarters. Personally I was treated very well and we had our own driver, along with residing on a small cruiser on the Nile that had a swimming pool and hot tub. I really got a sense of the divide between rich and poor––it was all really quite an eye-opener for a young punk rocker from the mill towns of northern England.

Format: You abandoned art for a time to pursue music. Why did you leave it, and what made you come back?
Dale Grimshaw: Since I left school, I have always loved and been involved with music. I liked Siouxsie & the Banshees, Sex Pistols, Adam & the Ants, etc., from being about eleven years old. Then Crass and the whole anarchist approach made a big impression on me. I was very much influenced by the energy and music—but also by the imagery and artwork too. So I did both the art and music in conjunction for a while. Due to the time factor I eventually stopped the music while I was at university studying art, but once I left I then dropped the art.

I always felt torn between the two and it was a very destructive process that ended up diluting a lot of my creative energy overall. By the time I stopped doing music a few years ago I was programming Drum and Bass! Musically, things just didn’t seem to work out.

It sounds pretentious but I never felt complete when painting wasn’t a part of my life. One day I literally woke up and realized that I couldn’t bare it any longer and began painting again. It felt very refreshing. My heart has always been with my art and I still have so much to learn and achieve. And besides, I paint most of the time to music and use it as an aid—whether it’s aggressive or calming.

Format: It seems as though showing at Signal Gallery in Hoxton has marked a turning point in your career. What has being there done for you, professionally and personally speaking?
Dale Grimshaw: The gallery is in the heart of Hoxton—which at the moment is a very trendy area in the UK. Banksy did a lot his wall pieces here years ago, and the place is full of street and outsider art, along with flashy bars and clubs. So with this in mind, my work couldn’t be seen in a more exciting environment.

There are also some very innovative and cool artists coming through the gallery—people like myself who are not exactly stencil artists but are more at the fine art end of the urban art scene in the UK. Chris Garlick is very passionate about what he does at the gallery and has a very non-exploitative approach to business.

It’s a great confidence builder having a gallery behind you and Signal will probably show some of my work at art fairs that come up too.

“I love the fact that many people seem to love my art. It’s the biggest buzz I have ever had.”

Format: What are you currently working on and towards?
Dale Grimshaw: Despite getting other offers, it looks as though I’ll be doing another solo show at Signal Gallery in January 2009. I had a short mental and physical vacation after doing the work for the “Echoes and Exorcism” solo show in April this year, as I felt a little burnt out. However, I’m fighting fit again now.

Even though I have my own distinct style I still feel I’m going through an exploratory process when I’m in the studio. Currently I’m experimenting with calligraphy and lettering in my paintings. A few weeks ago I had a bad argument with one of my sisters regarding an article that touched on some things from my childhood. It was all very upsetting and one day I felt so angry that I just started writing what I was thinking over the painting––it seemed quite destructive in terms off the original image on the canvas, but at the same time it felt very therapeutic!

I used to do large-scale calligraphic work on a freelance basis for shops and pubs so it only seems natural that this, along with my fascination with graffiti and handwriting, would seep into my painting. It may stay or it may go, I will have to see.

I’m using the lettering as a way of giving texture to some of the more spatial areas in the work, and at present the figurative element still takes priority. The notion of exploring figurative painting juxtaposed with further abstraction seems like a very exciting prospect also.

In the future I would also like to experiment with working on different surfaces, i.e. round canvases, light boxes.

Format: What do you love so much about art?
Dale Grimshaw: As far as others’ work is concerned, I love going to exhibitions and seeing and immersing myself in a good painting for the first time.

I love contemporaries: Lucien Freud, Peter Howson, and Jenny Saville to name few. I also love Goya and Rembrant. There are so many artists, especially the old masters, to learn about and learn from. At the same time I can be equally mesmerized by some eight hundred year old graffiti on a pillar at the back of an old church. Hopefully I’m going to Venice this year to soak up some of the arts and culture there.

From an artists point of view, I love art as an escape route or as a world I can enter into. It’s means of communication, good or bad. The act of executing a painting can be a mixture of pleasure and pain, but it’s usually worth it in the end.

I now love the fact that many people seem to love my art. It’s the biggest buzz I have ever had.

Carmel Hagen

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  1. From what I hear Dale Grimshaw is going to be doing a solo show at Lazarides Gallery in London late next year. Big time? Cool pictures though!

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