Pleasure in creation

Local artist Dragonboy’s new exhibit inspired by Buddhist deity

Will exchange art for burritos.

Will exchange art for burritos.


Art show:
Mahakala: Guardian of the Temple shows Jan. 7-23 at the 1078 Gallery.
Reception Jan. 21, 6-9 p.m.
1078 Gallery
820 Broadway

Local artist David “Dragonboy” Sutherland recently rifled through his storage unit, choosing old pieces that will soon find a temporary home at his 1078 Gallery retrospective show, Mahakala: Guardian of the Temple. He has quite a collection, from abstract paintings to neon-colored doodles to 3-foot-tall 3-D assemblages featuring plastic toy buckets, karate trophies and old comic strips fused together onto cork-board canvases and slabs of wood.

Having been around the proverbial (art) block several times, it seems natural that Sutherland’s menagerie is large enough to fill a retrospective show. After working in graphic design at Chico State in the mid-1990s, he went on to open Chico’s Crux Artist Collective and then co-founded MANAS Artspace. He’s had shows at the university, often collaborates with Chikoko’s fashion performances and once instigated a three-day event at the 1078, during which he locked himself inside and invited people to come make art with him.

“It was pretty rad,” he recounted. “I sold a painting to a frat boy.”

Starting today (Jan. 7), his works will be displayed at his first official 1078 show. “I’ve been fantasizing about this for a long time,” he said. “A lot of these pieces haven’t been in any show.”

It’s not easy to pinpoint a specific style that unifies Sutherland’s mixed-media works, but that’s intentional. “Once we pigeonhole ourselves as this or that, then we lose a certain essence that is, for me, what the Mahakala represents. … It frees us from stagnation—of being tied to the material plane,” he said.

The Mahakala—his show’s title and an inspiration for his art and spirituality—is a compassionate deity recognized in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. “He’s a no-bullshit god,” Sutherland explained. “[He’ll] help you out, but you have to show up. It’s more like, ‘I’ll fill you with energy if you do the right thing.’”

Sutherland’s art evokes the spirit of the Mahakala much more than traditional depictions, which show the god with fiery eyebrows and a crown of skulls. So it is with his piece “WOLFGAR.” Made from various sizes and shapes of colorful wooden slabs, the abstract mask comes together in near-perfect symmetry. With plastic figurines and leaves framing the face-like structure, it does little to recall the Mahakala’s physical representation.

From his most recent masks to his assemblages, Sutherland’s pieces are similar, not in form, but in the process of their creation. Gathering items from thrift stores, roadsides and railroad tracks, he uses screws, wires and epoxy adhesive (his “new best friend”) to fuse old stuff into something new.

“[The process] is pretty simple, and yet the creative spirit is very much involved because I don’t know what I’m going to make. I’m not trying to say anything. It’s more of an honoring of creation itself.”

Much like each individual piece, the collection of works featured in Mahakala will be installed as one large assemblage. Visitors also can expect poetry and an interactive component to the show.

“When people come to my show, I want them to be inspired and to have a sense of hope for the future, where we get back to taking pleasure in creation.”

For that reason, Sutherland plans to sell his works for next to nothing. He half-jokingly offers alternatives to money payments, too. “Buy me a burrito or something. If someone connects to the piece, I want them to have it. I want to get it out there.”