“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” - Pablo Picasso
For Dalton Brink, being an artist is a serious job and it carries with it serious responsibilities.
“I believe our job as artists is to take abstract concepts and turn those into physical manifestations so the public can digest it and make it part of themselves,” Brink says. “Artists need to tackle the hard subjects of our times and translate the unseen to the seen. If I’m not doing that, I’m failing as an artist.”
In living the life artistic, Brink’s work extends to writing, composing, sculpting, painting and filmmaking. But it also reaches beyond his own work, into the community. He’s helped to create an underground art scene in Bozeman while, at the same time, nurturing his own creative self.
“For me it’s hard to pick one medium,” he says. “It’s just a need to create. They’re all different, facets of the same thing. It allows me to express myself in different ways.”
It’s not that he’s saying the same thing over and over in various forms, but that each outlet allows him to get at the core truth from a new perspective. It’s like Brink’s world is so large, one medium can’t hold it. Each discipline feeds into the other, helping Brink to flesh out themes and widen or focus his scope.
“I picked up visual art when I wanted to illustrate my stories,” he says.
At Brink’s studio in the basement at 215 S. Wallace, better known as the Cottonwood Club (first covered by this publication in September of 2011), his paintings lean against the wall, next to his keyboard sculpture and piano. The paintings—mixed media collage and paint—depict a futuristic nihilism rich with symbols like an alarm clock bird that signifies fleeting time and a spaceship used as a way to symbolize our collective search for meaning.
“I’m creating my own mythology,” he says. “All of my work deals with trying to cross over to a higher consciousness.”
It is part of his personal struggle to overcome his own ego and to pass into a more reflective and universal truth.
Brink, a “dropout” from the Navy where he studied nuclear engineering, decided instead to dedicate his life to art.
His new book, Of A Seedless Generation, was edited by novelist and essay writer Walter Kirn and is set to come out in 2015. Brink has also published several chapbooks of poetry and is working on a new novel when he’s not curating the next show at the underground art gallery.
“The thing with Bozeman is that there are no art collectors here,” he says. “And those who can afford to buy art are buying Indians painted by white dudes for their third vacation home.”
That’s one of the reasons he’s a core member of Paintallica, along with Jay Schmidt and Jesse Albrecht. Paintallica is a collaborative group of artists creating site-specific installations around the country.
“The Emerson has the potential to be a good tool for artists, but they’re so worried about what goes up there and the artists are worried about censorship, that it’s not happening,” he says. “Art should reflect the times, and we’ve been at war for the last thirteen years.”
Which led Brink to start the Cottonwood Club, a kind of DIY art venue, where artists, any kind of artists, are invited to show and sell their art at intermittent shows.
“I love the Bring Your Own Art shows,” he says. “I may not like sixty-percent of it, but I love that people bring their own work and can have a forum, outside of academia. It’s about art for artists.”
And here, in the basement on Wallace Street, there are conversations that are not taking place anywhere else.
“There’s just no place in Bozeman that’s relevant, and certainly no place that’s going to sell my art,” Brink says. “I wanted a place people could do whatever they want. Whatever. Even if I don’t agree with it. I have to remove my own reservations and let the Cottonwood Club live on its own.”
In his mind, the work—his and everyone else’s—should speak for itself.
“A gallery’s primary motive shouldn’t be to make money,” he says. “Art is not about pretentious assholes.”
It’s not always a free for all. Aside from the Bring Your Own Art nights, the Cottonwood Club also has curated shows.
Three of them are set for the near future: one featuring Louis Still Smoking’s work, a Cuba-inspired photography show by Jelani Mahiri, and an erotica show that is being put together in collaboration with Tate Chamberlain, of Art Crossing fame.
“A curator has a vision and he or she chooses work that makes that vision come alive,” Brink says. “I get off on how much people get off on the freedom they have here at the Cottonwood Club.”
Michele Corriel is an accomplished journalist and author, who also enjoys slumming with the Magpie.