This interview with Dalton C. Brink appeared in Issue One of Theory. Enjoy the new and improved digital edition.
Tell us about your background in art and what initially attracted you to painting and art in general.
Well I grew up in Memphis and there wasn’t anything beautiful there, no landscape to look at. There was nothing intellectual, just music and that was it. When I was five I picked up the guitar and I’ve been playing ever since. I started playing indie rock shows and punk rock/hardcore shows when I was sixteen. That opened me up to the world of DIY ethics. It was a shit-hole Mississippi town, so it opened my world view dramatically–a big paradigm shift between small town and big city. I grew more and more in love with music. I was obsessed with it and played in bands for years, put out albums and things like that. After I got out of the Navy, I moved back to Memphis and played in a band, but I got sick of playing with them because there was a lack of artistic freedom. You had to run the band with a group of guys instead of just yourself, so I decided to quit the band. I needed something I could do on my own without anybody telling me what to do. That’s why I started painting. I always wanted to be an artist, but when I was a kid I thought it was something that you did or didn’t have. I didn’t think you could learn it. When I got old enough to realize that you could learn it, I started teaching myself. It was kind of my escape from the drama and stress of the band. I had also always written poetry and stories. Painting came out of that, from illustrating my own stories. It kind of just grew into its own story.
Along the Walk
Your body of work has some recurring characters, is there a story behind them?
The whole thing is a story. Everything I do ties together, it’s all one story. It’s basically the story of human struggle, of coming out of the human condition to our enlightenment. That’s what everything is about. The UFOs symbolize our hope for a higher consciousness, but you don’t know if they are good or bad. It’s the hope of our savior, or whatever that higher consciousness is. The girl represents our innocence, and the skeletons represent death. All the alarm clock birds represent time. It’s the struggle of humanity trying to reach enlightenment.
You mentioned UFOs. Do you believe that extraterrestrials have visited earth?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I wouldn’t even call them extraterrestrial, I would call them extradimensional, from a different dimension all together. I believe they are still around, I don’t know if they are good or bad, but I think there are probably more bad than good ones. I think there are good ones too though.
Let’s switch gears. You started a DIY venue in Bozeman called The Cottonwood Club, what’s the story behind it?
When I moved to Bozeman there was nowhere for me to show art. Bozeman was mostly tourist art. I don’t know, there was The Emerson and stuff on campus, but I didn’t really fit into any of those categories. Neither did a lot of my friends that were doing the most interesting work. Bozeman didn’t have any DIY venue. When I grew up, DIY venues were the door to the world. It was out of necessity that I started The Cottonwood Club. Basically, It’s a space to build up an artistic community. It’s not a gallery, it’s not a music venue. It’s a place where people can come together, show their work and express themselves. All the other galleries I’ve been to in this town have all these stipulations, like you can only hang certain places, you can’t paint the walls, you can’t do all this stuff. Here is a place that you can do whatever you want. I don’t take commissions on work, sometimes I ask for donations and I hardly ever charge admissions, unless it’s a touring band–they need gas money. The Cottonwood is a liberation of artistic endeavors.
One of the regular events at The Cottonwood Club is Free Art School. How can it be a school and be free? That is contradictory to the great American tradition of profit-based educational institutions.
By free I don’t mean money. Free means to liberate; it’s a verb, not an adjective. It’s not school in your typical sense of the word; definitely not your typical archetype of American education.
What does the Cottonwood Club have in store for the future?
Hopefully we have seeded something that won’t die regardless of who’s in charge or what space it’s in. We’ve been kicked out of a couple different spots already, almost got evicted from this spot. If the idea is there, that’s The Cottonwood. This place is free and offers freedom to artists, unlike all the bureaucratic galleries and art venues around that are solely based on profit. When something is based on profit, it dies if you close it down. Something that is free and not based on profit, but on more of an ideology, you can’t kill that. Even if you shut it down, it will just spring up somewhere else.
Any closing statements?
As a statement to fellow artists, we have responsibility. We’ve been dealing with form way too long. We need to start acting as if we are calling out through the flames and say something with meaning. It is our responsibility as artists to take abstract concepts and to make them into physical objects or images; make something to show the audience, to show the world an example of what humanity should be. Anybody who doesn’t take that responsibility seriously is a parasite on the world. We should be fighting that with all we can.