Timothy C. Dyk is a photographer, visual artist, poet, and world traveler who has witnessed first hand the great beauty inherent all over the world, and some of the unspeakable pain too. Through the lens Tim has brought into focus the reality of AIDs, homelessness, and the economics of protest. His painting is vivid, contemplative, and striking. His writing is thought-provoking and propelled by binaries in opposition.
I had the pleasure of first connecting with Tim and an international group of like-minded cohorts in Kona, Hawaii in 2007 when he was working to bring to life a full colour book of photography, concerned with the global scope of human trafficking. They were successful in their endeavor, producing the highly praised Sex + Money: A Global Search for Human Worth (in which Tim’s poetry and photography are featured).
At present, Tim is working on a documentary film of the same name to highlight the reality of trafficking in the United States. Of the film, Tim explains it “follows 4 other students and myself as we travel around the United States, learning about the issue of sex trafficking within our nation. We aren’t making the film from a standpoint of being experts ourselves – more so as concerned citizens who want to learn how we can effectively respond to the issue while encouraging others to do the same.”
I caught up with Tim (via email) while he was on a break from filming in his hometown of Ellensburg, Washington. In his downtime from the busy schedule of the film, Tim has decided to engage his experience as a filmmaker on canvas. I think I, and others, have a lot to learn from Tim as he sets out to bring his concept into the world and so asked him questions about his approach to creating meaningful art, an interview I hope will be the first in a series.
Andrew Kooman: I’m interested in your psychological space as you gear up to create an exhibit. How do you prepare your mind and your heart for something like this, given both the subject matter you will be engaging and the reality of the challenges involved to bring form and shape out of the “void”?
Timothy Dyk: I think I definitely need to see it as a journey, not as a place at which I’ve fully ‘arrived.’ For the issue of human trafficking, it’s an issue and problem I don’t fully understand, but it’s an issue in which I want to learn to see hope. By communicating that exploration through art, I hope others will consider how they can take similar journeys with their own lives to begin taking action against the issue – in more ways than just art.
AK: I’m always interested to hear from other creatives about how the seed for the work gets planted in them. Is there a typical way ideas come to you?
TD: Looking back at the past few years, I don’t know that there’s been one single way that ideas have come about. A lot of times thoughts have come through conversations – strings of words people say will often stand out to me and cause me to think more in depth about what is really being said. A lot of ideas have come through prayer or meditating on scriptures from the Bible. A lot have come through traveling and interacting with people in entirely different parts of the globe.
More and more lately though, I’ve noticed a trend in that I’ve had a lot of ideas come about as I’m falling asleep at night. For a few weeks while we were traveling last November, it seemed like every night there was some string of words or picture that would come to mind. It certainly isn’t a time when I want to get up and start painting, but I have had to be willing to take effort and write the idea down before I fall asleep. If I don’t write it down, I know I’m bound to forget it. It’s kind of been odd to see how consistently this has been happening though…
AK: What’s your brainstorming process like. How do you grab hold of ideas once you have them and develop them?
I feel like a lot of brainstorming has taken the form of thinking as I fall asleep at night…once I start getting those initial thoughts and ideas, it begins to take a while before I can fall asleep, as my mind starts branching off in every imaginable direction.
AK: As a writer, in my experience the creative process has overarching patterns, but often projects evolve differently. Sometimes I’m very sure of the target I’m aiming for at the project’s inception; other times I grope in the dark and adventure with a project, eventually finding my way. How clearly are the decisions about final output made for you as you embark on a project (generally, or for this project specifically)?
TD: For this medium of creativity – painting – most always I have a clear direction in what I want to create. I think the main reason for this is that it takes so much more effort for me to create a painting, so if I’m going to do it, I feel like I need to have a clearly defined purpose. I guess it might change here and there when I figure out what materials I can use, or what would work for making a certain look – but generally I’ve had a pretty clear idea of where I’d like it to go, what I’d like it to look like.
With photography it’s interesting because my vision is almost always pretty vague, not knowing what I’ll come back with.
With the little bit of writing that I do, I’d say it probably fits somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
AK: You write, take photographs, paint – what is it about these media that you are drawn to?
TD: I think it started just with seeing that they were things that I at least semi-knew how to do, but I’ve definitely had to work and learn to make them skills that are more usable and effective. One common thing I see in all of them is that they can be very much pre-meditated. In speaking, I often find I forgot to say certain things, or left out certain pieces of information. With these forms of art, I feel like I can take whatever amount of time is necessary to perfect the specifics of what I’m really wanting to say.
AK: At a practical level, can you talk about why, at this time, you’ve decided to engage the realities of modern day slavery in the United States primarily through painting?
TD: After traveling around the United States learning about the issue, I originally thought I would have a lot more photos about the issue…but it turns out we didn’t have a whole lot of time for capturing the issue through photography. It turned out the ideas that I was thinking about were a bit more abstract than I felt I could communicate through my photos. With painting, I like that I am able to visually portray an abstract idea much more than I would be able to in trying to take a single photo of something that actually already exists visually and physically in reality. With painting you can put a huge variety of visual concepts onto one space – and I think it turns out for this issue of human trafficking, it’s so diverse that I feel painting is the best way I know how to communicate the diversity and the underlying abstractions of what is happening.
AK: How much time do you think about your intended audience when you create? As you embark on the creative journey for this project, do you have one in mind?
TD: This has been a challenge, as I think my audience is more or less everyone. I think mainly maybe you could maybe say college-age/ young adult, because that’s definitely my peer group, but I hope it will reach anyone who’s willing to hear what I’m trying to communicate. My small town is really diverse – ranging from conservative farmers to the most liberal of university professors. I’m a bit nervous as I think the message could be misconstrued by certain audiences, but I’m hoping and praying people will see that my intentions are for good – not to bring about division, but to encourage a unified response to an urgent need in our society.
AK: Can you give us some hints about what you plan to put on the canvas?
TD: A color scheme consisting mainly of red, white, and blue…a lot of stencils and layers…and I’m pretty sure it will incorporate some references to some foundational American values/ideals – neo-patriotic I guess you could say. 🙂
AK: What are some challenges you face as you set out to create? Are there typical blockages you face as an artist, and if so, how do you push beyond them?
TD: Right now I can say of this project that the hardest part is simply getting started. Once I get going I feel like I can just cruise and actually get things done…solidifying ideas and making the actual art. I’ve found though that I can almost always find something that ‘I need to do,’ or ‘has to get done,’ ahead of taking time to create. I’m really seeing that if I did everything that ‘needed to get done,’ I would never get around to starting the creative projects that I’ve had floating around my head, which in my mind are much more of a priority. I’m learning to see where my priorities need to stand as far as being responsible with the ideas that have been put in my head, and the everyday responsibilities of life and relationships. I see that I have a lot to learn.
AK: What motivates you to tackle the project?
TD: I feel like I’ve been able to see a lot of things that not many people are able to see, and especially through the process of filming for the Sex+Money documentary, I’ve been able to learn about a lot of things that not everyone is aware of, or at least not everyone is willing to talk about. I feel that with what I’ve heard and seen, it is a responsibility I have to communicate that to others who may not know…and to communicate in a way that will invite them to take part in the discussion with the skills they may have.
AK: How important is the environment you create in to you and how controlled do you like it to be?
TD: Unfortunately, I can be really picky with the places I make art, mainly in regards to lighting. I definitely prefer to be in a place that is warm with color and light – the warmth of an environment helps me feel comfortable to take the time I need to take to complete an idea or a piece…rather than rushing to make the work so I can escape an ugly or un-inviting room. I feel like cold, fluorescent light eats away at my insides.
AK: What is your space like now, and what is your ideal space?
TD: Currently I’m living in a house with a few of my friends in Ellensburg, WA. My main creative space here is a big desk, complete with a large cutting mat…and some nice lights. I can get most of my drawing ideas penciled out here, but I don’t think I’ll be doing much painting…as I’m renting and don’t want to get paint on the carpet. I’m thinking I’ll be doing most of my painting in my parents’ garage, where there’s a concrete floor…so I can wash it if I spill.