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Caribbean Fantasies: Don Dahlke

Don Dahlke lives in the Caribbean, a long way from his native Oregon. The son of a feed and garden merchant, Don chose painting over the store.  He set off to California then Mexico before finding his home in the Caribbean.

Don loves the light and the smell of this world.  His paintings reflect the surroundings.  A palm tree casts its shadow upon the cottage.  The dimly lit interior beckons closer inspection.  We enter the house and discover a book and some glasses on a table.  To the left is the bedroom.  Directly ahead is the back porch window where a sun-drenched ocean is revealed.  There is a breeze and the air tastes like salt.

Here lies the power of Dahlke’s art.  He reminds us of lazy summer days.  We view his work and feel warm.  His houses invoke our curiosity.  Lay back in the hammock on the deck and dream.  Surrounded by books, quiet conversation, warmth and shadows you marvel about simple things.

As a child, Donald Dahlke loved to create his own worlds on paper. Today he's still creating his own  worlds and happily for us, they are worlds we love. Donald Dahlke is an oil painter with two distinct styles. First, there's his naive style that depicts the spirit of the West Indians. These paintings show fantasies such as steel drum musicians floating over a turquoise sea. Then, there are Donald Dahlke's idyllic scenes that capture the, warmth, serenity and mystery of the Caribbean. They are surreal views of doorways and windows you might see anywhere in the Caribbean but they are in truth, our own fantasies of the "perfect peaceful place."

I first discovered Donald Dahlke through his painting, We Be Poppin! that was featured in the "Year 2000 Caribbean Art Calendar" In this painting market women, pulled up by their parasols, float into a summer sky. The painting, he says was inspired by the movie, Mary Poppins. "But," he adds, " I used the West Indian image to portray the whimsical feeling of life in the Caribbean. The people
here have a more relaxed, carefree attitude toward life than people in the States or in Europe." This feeling is also captured in his painting, "Jump Up and Sway" in which West India musicians are lifted into the air by the sheer power of their music.

An art graduate of the College of the Cayman Islands and the University of Oregon, Donald Dahlke considers all his paintings "pure" in that they come from no pre-conceived intent, but are made fresh at the moment of creation.

I am often surprised by what I create because I'm always looking for new ways to interpret the subjects. Sometimes an accident will turn into a new way of doing something. For example you know oil and water don't mix but I like to mix an oil base medium with a water-based one and what I get are swirls of colors that don't mix. This produces a whole new look.

Living in the Caribbean, Donald Dahlke has created his own symbols for what he believes is important to Caribbean culture. Carnival for example... and fish.
In the Caribbean, fish is an important part of the culture. Fish creates food and jobs. To depict this importance, I created a painting in which a West Indian man is on the back of a brightly colored fish, riding it like a bucking bronco in the sky. In the foreground stand women looking on as the man attempts to tame the fish. "I call this painting West Indies because I think it sums up the preoccupation here...

Donald Dahlke is a busy man. Not only does he paint, but he creates all his own posters and prints. And then of course he saves a bit of time to dream up inventions such as a vending machine that would dispense photocopies of art. The concept is the same as a newspaper vending machine. It would sit on a sidewalk corner next to the newspapers and when you get your daily news, you could also get your daily art.


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