Getting Tattooed by Robert Dayton
Toronto, Canada: where
10 min: read time
Robert was stopped at a red light sitting on his bike when I pulled my bike up next to his. I thought we first met right then and there as I asked to take his photo for a collection of Toronto faces. He remembered me walking by and remarking on how I liked his brocade cat bag on a previous passing. I don't doubt this of myself. Robert Dayton is an artist who was living and working in Toronto, by next month he will have relocated to Los Angeles We met in the new-ish Nation's grocery to check out their massive food court, browse the grocery aisles and check out the video game arcade.
As we spoke about Robert's art practise a projector switched between images of tropical paradise. Robert noticed the new tattoo on my forearm that Alesha Aquino had stick and poked a day earlier. "What is that?", He asked pointing to it.
Thats different. What's the story with that?
Oh I just got this a few days ago it's sill healing.
Wow is it always gonna be like that?
It's a tattoo. It just look a bit different because it's a stick and poke but the colour was really light pink ink.
Wow I want one like that. It's like the softest pink.
What about you Robert, what have you been up to?
My old pal Jason Mclean was in town. He showed up at the Beaver a few times where I host karaoke which is fun. Jason and I had done some drawings together again. We hadn't done drawings together for a little while. We mostly were doing them through the mail but since he was visiting I hand delivered them.
You do half and he does half?
Kind of. Sometimes I will start or he will start and then he'll work into it, I'll work into it and we'll just see when the drawing is done. So there is one I thought was done and he said well I want to add some more blah blah blah. So I was like add a little more. So there are these jams and he has kept on making booklets so he might put these into a booklet. We both come from art booklet and zine backgrounds. We go back years and years and years.
He came out of London Ontario. Which is pretty interesting because London Ontario used to be a Canadian art hub a long time ago before Toronto ever was. The Nihilist Spasm Band came out of there. Which is like the first noise rock band ever. They have been together over fifty years and they are artists. The drummer was Greg Curnoe. I just saw them perform a couple weeks ago and its funny cause Greg was the drummer and he's passed away now, but I went to school there with his son Galen. I thought I saw Galen, and I haven't seen him in years. He had a band called Unclean Weiner. It was a great, wild two-piece band. I think one of my bands might have done shows with them. We were (or are) July Fourth Toilet. It was a lot of artists and cartoonists to. Jason would sometimes make wild costumes for me to perform in, as did my bandmate Susan. We wanted to be as open and lucid as possible. That is another thing where I question just how open we were. We could have been more diverse, there were members from the ages of eight to eighty, there were men and women but I still think that there could have been more cultural diversity. Just more more diverse, it should have been even more. There were a couple of women in the shows, a couple of women in the band but still mostly guys.
Do you think that it is because women weren't seeking to be a part of it because they were afraid or didn't think they wouldn't be accepted or do you think it was your duty to go out and tell people that you wanted their voice included?
Sometimes it comes a little too late. I know more now than I did then, I was a lot younger then too. Things were so different. I was taking gender studies and it is amazing how much I still had to learn. And still need to learn, it's a process. But I was very open at the time to having more women in the band. At that time it seemed that there weren't many women around making music but maybe I needed to push outside of those communities I was in. I was talking to a friend of mine Dane, who was one of the early Canadian rappers. I said, "You know the music scene I was in at that time - mostly white guys. That's Vancouver". He said, "Not where I was," - he was in the hip hop scene. That's the thing, maybe finding ways to get out of those scenes, maybe I was a bit intimidated too. I think things have changed. Even when I was going to art school, what was the ratio, like 50% men 50% women. Now I just did grad school a couple of years ago, in my second year of grad school I was one guy and seven women. The undergrads it was 90% women.
When was the last time you performed with the July Fourth Toilet?
The last show we played was two years ago. That was so strangely inclusive that we had live Skyping. We had to do a live Skype...
People performed over Skype?
jody is a long time member and lives on the island with jody's partner and their kids. So they all played all four of them during the live Skype. Well when we performed we basically went with our mandate that we've got to be as lucid as possible.
Is the music all performed ad lib then?
It depends. It depends on the show. Sometimes it was improvised, sometimes it was fully set up. Sometimes there would be people in the band that never played in the band again. Sometimes it would be country. Sometimes it would be glam glittery rock. Sometimes it would be a whole set about tea. Every show had to have a theme. So the show two years ago, I was coming to Vancouver- we never really toured. Just did a bit of the West Coast with his band Three Day Stubble who were a Nerd Rock band. We played this gig called the Poop Parlour at the middle of a junk yard in Portland, my friend Jody she put it on.
How many people would usually play in the July Fourth Toilet?
Oh it depended. That last show there were five of us on stage and three on Skype, some shows there were fourteen of us. Our first show there were two of us.
How many people do you think played in the band in total?
Probably eighty, but forty were at a party probably *laughs*.
We did this little short tour. It was kind of an important tour because we played with The Sun City Girls. We befriended the legendary Sun City Girls who are just legends. They are just legends. They are from Arizona then they moved to Seattle. They were a legendary act. They would sometimes improvise, sometimes not improvise. Sometimes they would just do a whole puppet show, sometimes they would go into free jazz or this Middle Eastern music, sometimes you get intense punk, really confrontational stuff.
Is this the book you are working on?
No that is Canadian Glam. That is different. Canadian Glam is not a scene I was actually involved in, I was too young. It is kind of the predecessor. The context of Canadian Glam is basically to push against the structure of Canada which is really the whole repress, repress, repress. Canadian Glam is like don't repress, be as wild as possible. Don't be culturally conservative. Be multi-disciplinary. Do some gender play too. I feel like Glam kind of creaked the door open a little way in terms of that. Identity politics, fashion and performance.
The concept of one of the July Fourth Toilet shows was to have a drum machine, because our usual drummer Clancey was not available. So the drum machine was supposed to be the same beat that Canned Hamm, my song and dance duo with Big Hamm would start our sets with. The theme was to have the drum machine go all the way through. So the drum machine would keep going, and I had this shitty goatee. I grew a beard and had shaved it into a really shitty goatee. Then after July Fourth Toilet finished there was just drum machine and I shaved into a moustache and did a costume change.
Have you spent most of your time in Vancouver?
Yeah I have been here for about nine years. I moved here with a girlfriend at the time and she got into law school. I got this part in this Canadian Manson movie filming in Toronto and I was feeling bitter and frustrated. I thought I'd try things in Toronto which might have been a bad career choice. But that is where I learned as a whole that Canada is fairly culturally conservative. That was where Canadian Romantic I had to deal with a lot of my own repression after the fallout of the relationship which ended a year after I moved to Toronto. I had a book come out as a result of, but not about that relationship. A book about heart break called the Empty Bed. I also did this Canadian Romantic character, which was to deal with that repression, to deal with the walls. All the self pity, all the loathing and the ugly shit. In a funny way. The Canadian Romantic was because I noticed people weren't feeling attractive and I wanted people to feel attractive.
I like the tattoos because they worked with what was part of the person receiving them. There were birthmarks, scars and all these things.
So is drawing them just a free form thing? Is there a little consultation beforehand of what the person wants?
I say like, "You want free form," and they go, "Yeah free form!", Or there will be a whole batch of flash art. The flash art is all what I had originally put in the Canadian Romantic videos. That is where they came from, I had automatic flash art. Instead of drawing the Cn Tower.
You shaved on stage?
Oh just behind, I did it quickly. My friend Ted who plays keyboards in this band Destroyer said, "You shaved your goatee into a moustache!". Yeah, yeah, yeah. So he caught that but I was going, "Did anyone catch this". I completely shifted my identity from one band to the next in the five minute change over while the drum machine kept going. There were these radio contest winners, a mother and son and they left early, I don't think they knew what they were in for, the plastic roses that I was using to cover my groin in the July Fourth Toilet set had shifted a bit too much. It was my two projects doing a show together so I wanted it to be as different as possible. Then for Canned Hamm our entire encore was our Christmas in July set. I always liked the idea of doing a Christmas in July. That was the last show that those projects did, two years ago I think. It's harder to make a project here happen in Toronto.
Can I have a tattoo?
Yeah what do you want? I also do a Hamilton special, that is a neck tattoo. Big in Hamilton.
Will my earring distract from the tattoo?
We can work around the earring. I just got a new brown ink pen! It was just given to me.
A ball point pen tattoo of Robert's cat Tommy. This photo and the one of the tattoo above are pulled off Robert's website.
Interview and photos by Alexis Venerus
See more of Robert's work
Follow Robert @therobertdayton