Singer Alexa Dirks (Edgar Martin) and visual artist Ray Dirks (Ray Dirks)
I think I used to sing in my sleep. I can't think of a time when I didn't dream about singing in front of a crowd or just making music in general.
—Alexa Dirks, musician
Art is a constant presence in the home of visual artist and curator Ray Dirks. So it's no surprise that his daughter, Alexa, would also choose an artistic path.
For her it was music and her playful, soulful voice is a characteristic part of Chic Gamine's sound. In this occasional SCENE series, we meet the Dirks duo and explore art in their family.
What was the household like, raising a family/growing up?
Alexa: My dad never seemed to sit still unless he was showing me a movie I 'had to see' or playing me records 'I had to hear.' He had a studio in the basement and although he is a visual artist he always had a strong love for music that he instilled in me. My first musical tastes were greatly influence by who he turned me on to (ie. The Beatles, Three Dog Night, Neil Young...etc.). My mom, too. She was always singing around the house and in church.
Ray: In 1991 I began curating exhibitions of contemporary African art. This meant I ended up somewhere in Africa once or twice a year. Our 'normal' was for me to be around almost all the time or not at all for several weeks.
Alexa: There were lots of international artists staying with us constantly. I remember older men (mostly from Africa) staying in our basement, smoking outside, creating art I had never seen in our living room and asking me about school in accents I had never heard. There was always something going on but it never felt chaotic.
In what ways did you encourage your daughter/were you encouraged by your father?
Ray: From a very young age it was obvious Alexa had a special talent, not just to sing but to sing with a passion that was contagious. She's always been a charismatic character.
Alexa: My parents always encouraged me with music. All throughout my youth they encouraged me to try out for musicals, take singing lessons (which didn't really work out for me) and join any musical outlet I could.
Ray: When she said she didn't want to sound like everybody else, we let her stop taking voice lessons. We wanted to encourage her to be herself, not what someone else would turn her into.
Alexa: When I quit my first and only full time job at 19 to pursue music I think they were a little bit skeptical. But that didn't stop them from coming to EVERY single performance. I had a weekly bar gig for about 3 years and they would come EVERY Wednesday without fail. They go wherever it is physically possible for them to go in order to see me perform.
You are both artistic, yet you have chosen different artistic paths...can you talk about that?
Ray: We both follow the art that we know, where we feel our talent lies. I've always drawn. My parents, while not understanding where I might go with it, never stood in the way of my pursuing a, likely, tough and low income life. I wanted to be that way with my children.
Alexa: I never really thought about our specific paths being so different because it felt like it all kind of jumbled together at one point or another. We both decided against a conventional life. I think we understand each other in that way.
Did you WANT Alexa to be a singer/want to be a singer?
Ray: At a young age, Alexa came to [my wife] Katie and plaintively told her, in a down moment, that she had to sing. There was nothing else for her. Yes, we wanted her to be a singer. What that meant, we didn't really know when she was younger. Now, we know it is both a wonderful and difficult life. We are incredibly proud.
Alexa: I think I used to sing in my sleep. I can't think of a time when I didn't dream about singing in front of a crowd or just making music in general. It's not necessarily the career path that was taught to me as the easiest...I didn't really have a road map on how to make it happen and I still don't. I just kept following what felt right to me...and now I'm here!
How do you support each other now?
Ray: Alexa has helped me on a number of projects, writing music, singing for gallery project DVDs I've worked on, singing at gallery events, etc. I try to help from my experience in the arts, with media, etc.
Alexa: I'm so proud of all his accomplishments. He is a true humanitarian and one of the bravest and most honourable men I know. He is constantly pushing himself to the limit to tell the stories of people who have a hard time being heard. He does it through art, media and any way he sees possible. I respect him so much and I've always felt respected by him.