*The following is the first part of an intriguing conversation I recently had with multi-media artist Dorian Dargan.
Itoro Udoko: When did you first start creating art?
Dorian Dargan: When I was a kid, I’d draw like comics with my dad. I did a lot of pastels in my classes. Um. I’d never really painted before. I started in like junior year of high school. That’s when my work first really started to have meaning. I did some research on international tribal art, some traditional African Art, Pre-Columbian Art, and Australian Aboriginal Art. That kind of stuff.
IU: You talk about that a lot right? And there’s that whole encapsulating theme in most of your work. There’s the tribal aesthetic, both visually and conceptually speaking. That’s really evident. Then there’s the whole“A Noble Savage” moniker as well. What does that mean? And why does tribal art play such a big influence in your work?
DD: Um, I’m not sure quite where it came from. But I think that in the beginning the tribal images were really powerful. Simple and powerful. Strong images projected in simple geometric forms. And I did a lot of research on Picasso and I could see the influence in his art. And just being younger, my grandmother used to have a lot of African masks in her house and stuff. I guess I was just influenced like that growing up. I was really drawn to the idea of strength.
IU: What about “A Noble Savage”? Where does that come from?
DD: A Noble Savage. First time I heard of that term was freshman year in high school. I read Lord of the Flies. You know the story. Kids being stranded on an island. They created hierarchy, all of that. That was my first introduction to the idea. A lot of my work is influenced by, you know, being African-America n. I deal with a lot of issues of race and identity. And also in my academic life, most of my work has been influenced by international relations, poverty worldwide and such. And I’ve always been dually captivated and horrified by colonialism. How evil an act it was, but something beautiful came from it. Different cultures mixing. How slavery has affected black people today and just the long-term effect it’s had.
It just sort of the irony of, you know, being an educated black person. Sometimes, being the only black friend somebody may have. You become an ambassador of your race. Here I am: a noble savage, you know. And also, everyone has savage instincts. Even things that go against social contracts. Taboo stuff. They don’t go away. People still have the desire to kill, sexual feelings. That’s sort of the idea behind A Noble Savage. It grows with me.
la palabra, 2008 mixed media 12” x 18”
IU: Your work is conceptual. Extremely conceptual. So the cool thing about it is that the concepts can’t be separated from the aesthetics. Actually without the concepts, the aesthetics have nothing to stand on. And that’s really beautiful. You talk about Alberto Giacometti and Jean-Michel Basquiat a lot, as both artists that have had big influences on you conceptually and aesthetically speaking. How have they helped shape you?
DD: Giacometti. When I was in second grade, my art teacher did a lot of trivia with us. My art teacher showed us a sculpture of his. Giacometti has these elongated figures. They’re not aliens, but they look sort of like that. And the faces have like chunky textures; but they’re not really faces. Giacometti just kinda shaped how I saw the human form, early on. The way that I thought about it was very similar to the way that he did. And also, it made me think that sketching, and drawing, and thinking, and painting were all together. They weren’t at all separate things. Because he never separated them.
alberto giacometti in his studio
Basquiat. I recently found out about him in a book. I feel that there was a lot of similarity in our work. He was a young African-American artist. He was of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, but he was still African-American you know? And he was extremely successful. I was like, you know, it’s crazy. For him, he made a lot of art. I feel like his approach was similar to the place I’m in right now. I feel that I can be as successful of an artist as he was. You see the tribal influences in his work. His work is very simple, broken down. There’s a lot of energy in it. Um, I like the idea of making art for a purpose. Capturing a sentiment, and portraying something. I got past the point of just painting pretty flowers. I’m not super patient. A lot of my paintings are really fast. I wanna finish them while I still have that same feeling. I don’t wanna get bogged down. That’s how he was.
And I mean. I like his paintings too. Um, people throw out the word genius to describe him. I don’t necessarily think that every single painting he did was brilliant. But I can appreciate. He recreated the idea of beautiful. It goes back to the colonialism thing. Black can be beautiful. It was not necessarily the conventional idea of beauty, but he changed it. Also, the act of creating, it’s like a spiritual thing. God created us as complex creatures. Some people may not be deemed beautiful by others, but they are definitely works of art. And just the idea of myself being a creator. That influences my work. There is beauty in creation.
jean-michel basquiat, while creating art
IU: I love Basquiat. I’m currently in the process of soaking up all the Basquiat I can haha. Do you recall the name of that biography you read on him?
DD: Yeah um. It was by Phoebo Hoban. Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art. It’s like a biography. It just talks about all aspects of his life. Random stuff that he did. The girlfriends that he had. The dealers he dealt with. His collaborations with Andy Warhol. It also really captured the whole art scene of the ’80s. It’s a really good book. Phoebe Holban wrote it.