With illustrator James Dawe

“The physicality of the process and constant layering of the portrait, peeling away and working hard to get a likeness, feels like an homage to Red Fawn Fallis’s struggle and sacrifice.”

In Atavist Issue No. 90, “The Heart Still Stands,” Emmy- and Peabody-nominated journalist Elizabeth Flock tells the story of Red Fawn Fallis. A young Native American activist, Fallis participated in the demonstrations at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She fell in love at the main protest camp, on a prairie south of Bismarck, with a man named Heath Harmon. He seemed too good to be true—and it turned out that he was. Harmon was the reason, Fallis told Flock, that she was charged with the attempted murder of a police officer during a protest in October 2016—an action she firmly denied.

For Flock’s story, which ran in April 2019, The Atavist commissioned U.K.-based illustrator James Dawe to create several collages. The main piece is a layered portrait of Fallis. Here Dawe answers questions about his unique process and explains the story he hopes that his work will tell Atavist readers.

Atavist Magazine: Your collages are highly intricate and textured. What is your creative process like?

James Dawe: For the collage portrait, some planning and mapping out of the face is required—enhancing the tones and contours of the face first (via computer), then projecting this adjusted image onto paper. First I’ll trace around the tones and key shapes of the face and then begin filling in the lighter sections, selecting material that is close to the existing colors and gradually building on them. Other collage work, such as the spot illustrations featured in the body of this article, are created with less restriction. Usually it’s about finding a good focal point where two or three images are interacting in an intriguing way and then growing the composition from there.

AM: What story do you want the collage of Red Fawn Fallis’s face to tell readers of the narrative feature?

JD: The material used is all connected to and sympathetic of Fallis’s story and heritage, 80 percent being printed-out images reflecting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Native American land and tribes affected by that project, and the symbolism of the events that took place in 2016. The deeper you look, the more you see snippets of moments and textures key to Red Fawn’s cause. The physicality of the process and constant layering of the portrait, peeling away and working hard to get a likeness, feels like an homage to her struggle and sacrifice. I wanted the final piece to have a meaningful gaze and matriarchal prowess.

AM: How did you decide on other materials, particularly tactile ones?

JD: I sourced fabric samples with patterns close to those used by Native American people. I also ordered beads and bird feathers from eagles, peacocks, and guinea fowl off eBay, to add depth and a 3D aspect. Finishing touches included the application of a cassette tape, relating to police interviews and investigations in what sounds like a corrupted legal case against Fallis.

AM: What power do you think collages hold, in comparison to other forms of image-making?

JD: The labor-intensive action involved with a collage seems to convey meaning and strength. A line drawing can carry just as much weight, but the photographic aspect of the collage is instantly impactful. Your palette is determined by the printed material and fabric in front of you. Decisions have to be made in the application, and the element of chance involved adds a sense of drama.

Early collages of the Dadaist movement were connected to propaganda—the raw and rapid response to something printed in a newspaper has always held a lot of power. Collage can be about subverting authority and showing a fight for a common cause, in a surreal way.

Read the full story, with Dawe’s arresting images, here.