EM:16 Dave Dent

Dave Dent is not where art meets science because he doesn't seem them as opposing forces to be joined, he sees them as seperate paths to the same destination. We discuss his intentions with art to reconcile faith and science, the differences in metals and ancient Egyptians. It was great.

Have you felt much of a difference creating for a ‘graduate show’ as opposed to creating as a student?

It is nice in some ways to be doing a project that isn’t assessed but I am actually doing an MA. This is part of the practical work for my MA so it is actually being assessed! I’m in a very odd position.

That is quite an odd one, one of the things most people have said so far, is they feel quite free being away from the assessment side of things. Do you think you’re missing that?

I’m trying as hard as possible to think of it as not being assessed. The fact it’s an MA I do have a lot more freedom and you build up a freedom through your degree so it’s an extension of that... But I can’t completely divorce myself from the fact [it is assessed].

Yes, I was naughty and asked if  I could touch them all

Yes, I was naughty and asked if  I could touch them all

What made you want to do an MA?

It took me a long time to start doing my art degree. Before I started my degree, my last formal art lesson was in 1973; I didn’t do, what was in those days, O-levels Art. I went into sciences and didn’t do any formal art from 13. I trained as a microbiologist. There’s an Einstein quote that says all religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree and I’ve always viewed that [they’re] an exploration of the same thing. It’s a way of trying to interpret and understand reality, or at least that’s how I see it. I suppose through art I am trying to reconcile my spiritual and scientific understanding into a coherent… (laughs) It’s not coherent by any means because it’s too complicated but I’m working on it. It’s a work in progress. But, going back to the original question of why I’m doing an MA, I have just loved the process. It’s been something that’s been with me for many years but having started formal training in it and education, I don’t want to stop.

That learning style must be quite different to a Science degree?

Yes, it is, but my approach to art is very systematic, very methodical in lots of ways. My degree piece, I actually planned, I mean, it was in May but I’d planned it from April the year before. I had the idea while I was putting up my end of second year piece and basically worked towards it. I mean with this, I decided pretty much before the residency what the outcome was going to be, it has changed a bit because it’s not on the wall anymore, but I have to order the glass so I have to decide how much glass, how many.

With the group name Pulse, do you relate it to your work at all?

I’m not sure it does but it also doesn’t jar with the work. To try and come up with a title for such a diverse range of work... Trying to come up with a title for our degree show, it didn’t quite break out into warfare (laughs) but we had a vote and in the end it was ‘Derby University 2016 Fine Art Show’. [Pulse is] a good title; it’s succinct. There’s suggestions of being contemporary and on the pulse so it works well on the title.

Tell us about how you got into this form of glass painting, with layering metals? It’s not necessarily what you expect if you hear glass painting

It started in my second year, we had to do a response to something in Derby Museum and Art Gallery and I picked Joseph Wright’s ‘The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus’. I did a piece based on alchemy, I basically produced three panels, the first panel represented lead, the third gold and then in the middle I did a philosophers stone which was actually a bronze panel. A scientist called Glenn Seaborg, used a particle accelerator to actually turn lead into gold. Only a few atoms but still, you could do it! Basically by firing protons into a nucleus and making it bigger. All three panels were square, and I coated bronze onto [the philosopher’s stone]. Then, there’s a thing called the feynman diagrams which represent the interaction between the particles for the reaction; I carved them into the surface of this bronze panel, of the transition from lead to gold, so that was my philosopher's stone. So that’s really what got me into coating metals onto glass and then I thought, there’s quite a long way I can go with this. I started playing with various other metals and materials; I got very interested in the concept of art as alchemy. Artists take basic materials and hopefully transform them into something that is valuable, something beautiful… Well I mean, beauty is an odd concept but, we take base things and transform them. Artists are alchemists.

So it flows back to what you said, art, science, spirituality, being from the same tree,

The earliest alchemy came from priests in ancient Egypt and the mummification of bodies; alchemy grew out of that, through the Middle Ages and again a close relationship between alchemy and priests. Then a lot of the experiments that alchemists did in the search for gold produced the particles that artists use. Eventually alchemy grew into modern day chemistry. I think because knowledge is so vast these days we have to break it down into understandable chunks but by doing that I think we lose the connection quite often. I think artists make connections and it’s about inviting viewers to make connections.

Tell us a little about your project, what we’re going to see on Opening Night?

There has to be something about the work, and I hope there is, that invites them to engage with it because if they don’t engage with it, on an aesthetic or a tactile level, they’re not going to think anymore about it. It’s got to be engaging in some way to invite the viewer to wonder, is it about something? If it is, what is it about? To engage with it as much or as little as they want to but there’s got to be something there, an access point of some form.

What do you want to get out of the residency?

Tthe experience, working with a different bunch of artists, exposing my work to a different audience and just sort of an opportunity to do some more exploration, mostly outside of university. (laughs) It’s a different challenge, a different way of working and I guess if I have future residencies I’ll be a bit more reckless and not plan so much before I go in, try and sort of break away from being too controlled.

How are you finding sharing a space with everyone?

It’s just great coming in and  you chat sometimes, you get on with your work and there’s been no sort of, artistic differences. It’s a big enough space, it’s a great studio space,


Written by Lucinda Martin for Surface Gallery

Images by Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill