Updated: Apr 10, 2020
We caught up with digital artist and photographer Dale May to talk about the force, lego and his amazing conceptual art which everyone is talking about. Dale has always been firmly planted in the arts after graduating from Parsons School of Design in NYC and his work has been featured in People, Glamour, Marie Claire, PDN and Bloomberg TV. As an editorial photographer, he has captured iconic images from Charlize Theron, Daniel-Day Lewis, and Jared Leto to name a few. Read below as we discuss his series “Lego Wars” which he began developing in 2011 from his Brooklyn Studio.
Describe your creative process.
I usually start by photographing a particular Star Wars Lego figure and lighting it in a way that brings out it’s details and personality. Some of the pieces are simple portraits but I spend a lot of time picking background colors that enhance the look of the Lego figure, which helps bring it to life. I usually add backgrounds in Photoshop, so I can find the perfect color. For some of the more conceptual pieces, like my fashion series , I chose fashion brands that seem to mirror the look or attitude of the figure. For example, Chanel was perfect for “Coco Vader” because Karl Lagerfeld is always wearing those dark sunglasses, which reminded me of the eyes in Darth Vader’s mask. Some of my other pieces were inspired by the name, like “Chewy Burch” and “CthruPO” (an X-Ray of a C3PO Lego Figure) and then I created the piece after. For “CthruPO”, I collected various hardware parts, pipes, wires, electronics, an old 8 track player and photographed them all separately, compositing them in Photoshop to create C3PO’s robotic skeleton. Once I have a final image, I create c-prints and then front mount them with archival acrylic and rear mount with aluminum Dibond, which gives them a shiny plastic look, like the original toy. On the X-Ray pieces, I have a version that’s printed on Duratran (translucent photographic print) and mounting in an LED light panel, made from archival acrylic). All of the pieces are produced very large, the smallest being 2’x2’ and the largest being 8’ x 4’ but I frame the figures with lots of headroom, to dwarf them in the frame. I wanted to create that push and pull, a larger than life, epic importance, while retaining their cute toy quality.
What inspired you to make the “Rainbow Coalition?”
“Rainbow Coalition” was inspired by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the official US Military Policy. I try not to get too political with my pieces but I am for absolute, equal rights for everyone and found it ridiculous that the LGBT community was “permitted” to risk their lives in the military and fight for our country, only if they “stayed in the closet.” That was the initial inspiration for the piece but it’s also about unity & love, so I titled it “Rainbow Coalition”, to open it up for interpretation.
We love the Princess Leia lego! What made you want her to wink?
For the longest time, I stayed away from Lego figures with faces because their faces are a little “dead,” in my opinion. With the figures wearing helmets and masks, I could imagine that there was a tiny little person inside and that they were actually alive but with the faces, that wasn’t possible. They lacked personality. After creating the majority of my work, I realized I didn’t have any pieces for young girls, so I created my first Lego Wars piece with a face, Princess Leia. I created her face in Photoshop and gave her more personality, with fuller lips and a cute but devilish wink. I felt that it was the perfect expression for Carrie Fisher’s character (RIP).
What were the goals of your Lego Wars project?
At first, I just wanted to create nostalgic, pop art that I would want to display in my own home. After getting encouragement from my best friend, Samuel Owen Gallery owner Lee Milazzo, I continued with the project and focused on ways to create art that would resonate with all generations. Many of my clients are buying my art to decorate their kids rooms but just as many are buying these pieces for their beautiful homes and businesses. It’s not often that parents and children can share a fine art gallery experience, discussing it and enjoying it equally. I love that it is a way for parents to introduce their children to fine art.
Do you think that you will add to the Lego Wars project?
Yes! We recently sold out of the 42”x42” Princess Leia’s so I’m am currently working on a new Leia piece. I’ve also purchased some figures from Episode VII that I might work with. Most recently, I have been working directly with interior designers to create custom pieces for their clients homes. I can match the size and dimensioned they need and also match a Pantone color background, to fit seamlessly into the room they are designing.
You have worked on various projects for photography, film, and exhibitions. Which has been
your favorite to date?
I’m a huge movie fan, so I love when I have the opportunity to photograph celebrities. I won a 2015 Communication Arts award for one of my Benedict Cumberbatch images. The shoot was part of a press junket, so I only had 10 minutes with him but I planned ahead and created three sets, including one with a projector and film reels. He loved the idea, threaded the projector, turned it on and really got into character. I wish I was shooting video because it was wonderful to watch. The images are still some of my favorites.
Where is the last place that you have been that you would suggest to someone to visit and why?
(It could be a country, a store, a restaurant, etc)
I’ve had some amazing trips lately to Milan & Tahiti, but my favorite place to visit are The Baths on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin islands. It’s so beautiful and doesn’t feel as commercial as some other island destinations.
What are you working on now?
I am directing a short film that I wrote, starring a stunning burlesque performer named Emily Shephard. We shot scene two, which is a dream sequence that occurs when our lead character, a NY costume designer, has a drug overdose. The film is about her bizarre journey, in and out of conciseness, between life and death. We have two more shoot days and then we can finish up post production. It’s a personal project, so we schedule in between commercial jobs.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I have a ten month old boy, so I wake up at 5:30am, shower, put the boy in a baby born so my wife can sleep in, feed my dog Jimmy and eat breakfast while catching up on emails. I love waking up slowly and having the quiet, morning hours to reflect and reboot. I arrive at my studio by 9 AM and if it’s not an actual shoot day, I spend the entire day retouching and catching up on an endless list of projects. With everyday business, meetings, marketing, project research, retouching and video editing, I spend 80% of my waking day, tied to a computer. Although I do promote myself on social media, I spend as little time as possible on it. My focus is on “creating,” as much and as often as possible. I usually finish up at the studio around 6:30PM, come home, cook dinner and then my wife and I will try to watch a movie after the my son goes to bed. There are times when I’ll get back to work, editing video or something else but I try to keep my work at the studio. There are never enough hours in the day but I love what I do.
What can you tell an emerging artist or photographer is the most important thing to do?
Create fearlessly and never wait for inspiration to find you. True inspiration often comes from the artistic process itself. Success comes through creative growth and persistence, so keep working and doing what you love!
Lego Wars series is available exclusively through:
Samuel Owen Gallery - Greenwich CT / Nantucket MA