A couple of weeks ago, we featured Mark Licari on the B/D blog, and the response was so positive that we decided to catch up with the man himself and ask him some questions about his work, squids, and life in LA. Licari’s world is full of sea creatures, crawling bugs, exploding volcanoes, and the degenerative force that turns a clean room into a big fat mess. In addition to his vibrant works on paper, elaborate lithographs, and hilarious sculptures, he also creates dramatic wall drawings that will make you ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ like a little kid. His show at the Monterey Museum of Art is on view through February 14th, so go check it out!
Can you talk about how you first started making art. When was the first time you considered yourself an artist?
Considering myself an artist can still be difficult, especially at parties or meeting people. The “what do you do” question is horrible, being an artist leads to a tons of follow up questions. So, I have tried telling people other things like that I am a dentist but that just got a flippant remark about how she was a paleo-nuclear physicist…. I first started making art when I was a little kid, drawing and coloring at home. Then, not to completely demystify becoming an artist, but I learned about art and how to make art in school of all places.
A lot of your work seems to involve varying states of decay to the natural order – cluttered dressers, untidy closets, decrepit cabinets – How does the idea of breakdown influence your work?
Things breaking down or a transferal of energy from one thing to the next is fascinating to me. Maybe something to do with my interest in science and the natural world on a very basic level. I can see the evidence of things disordering or decaying all around me and nobody really knows why, so I do small scale low-tech research and observation around the apartment.
There also seems to be a clash between the natural world and machines/technology going on in some of the pieces – airplanes flying into the abyss, exploding vacuum cleaners – Can you talk a little about how this battle plays out in your work?
The machines/technology are a way of representing people without actually having to draw them. I took figure drawing in college and almost went completely insane…. Airplanes just don’t seem very natural to me, they are down right scary, and yet amazing. So maybe it is the contrast of the man-made and the natural world that I completely don’t understand.
Tell us about the squids – What do they represent for you, and why do they keep popping up in your work?
One of the first squids I drew was a portrait of Ed Hamilton, the printer at Hamilton Press. The likeness is striking if I must say, he posed for hours but kept twitching a lot, squids aren’t still for long. Squids are just fascinating, something about all their arms and tentacles, like vines or roots of a tree. In the drawings the tentacles and arms can reach out and attach or stretch to various things in their environment (something to do with the Stretch Monster that I never received from Santa Claus. Maybe Santa didn’t like the fact that if you stretched him beyond his limits or punctured him he would leak the syrup contained inside him). A squid is a shape shifting, color changing, ink carrying conduit of sorts. They are also just freakishly alien looking and from a completely different environment from ours on dry land.
You work is on view at the Monterrey Museum of Art right now, tell us about the show and how it came together.
The show in Monterey is made up of works that were all made in the last 6 years or so, works on paper, sculpture and a site specific mural. The Nervous Man sculptures and the mural being the most recent. Monterey is such an aquarium-centric city that I couldn’t resist borrowing some characters from the nearby aquarium for mural subjects.
There is an awesome video of you working on the wall drawing for the show, and on your website there are pictures of other site-specific works that you’ve created. Walk us through your process for a wall drawing – do you have an idea of what you’re going to do beforehand?
The wall drawings are very loosely planned, I mostly just start out with some ideas and a few sketches about what I want to draw. I like to visit the space first if possible and then have some time to think before I do the drawing. Usually the actual architecture or layout of the space helps to inspire what I might draw. Then once I start, ideas and imagery begin to unfold. There is a lot of intuition involved and ideas of how to continue and complete the mural come to mind as I am working on it. The site specific murals take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, for example the mural at the Monterey Museum of Art took about 7 days to complete.
Some of my favorite works in the show are the nervous men sculptures. How do you come up with ideas for sculptural pieces, and does your approach to these differ from that of a drawing?
The sculptures all start out as drawings first. Then it usually takes a while before I can figure out a sculpture based on a specific drawing. Sculptures take a lot of planning, trial and error, tinkering with materials. The process is tedious and slow, totally different from a drawing but I put up with it.
You are also interested in printmaking. Can you talk a little bit about your early experiences with the medium and how that influenced you as an artist.
My first real printmaking experiences were at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I took two long and tedious semesters of lithography. The whole printing process is painfully slow and frustrating. I would draw on most of my prints to cover up the wacko registration and poorly inked areas. Working with a master printer has corrected my failures as a printer but my past experience influenced what I am doing now and I am still hand coloring and drawing on my prints. Many editions are hybrid litho-drawings of sorts.
Describe the process of creating an edition at a printshop like Hamilton Press. What’s it like collaborating with the master printer?
Making a print at Hamilton Press means getting to collaborate with Ed Hamilton, the squid I mentioned above, so that is great. Actually Ed is more of a zen cowboy. But we basically first meet and discuss ideas and sometimes look at a finished drawing or painting for inspiration on what might work well for the print. Because each color is basically a separate drawing, how they all mash together when printed is tough to figure out in your head sometimes. The printer guides you along the way basically, they can think about what you are doing from a different angle, a fresh point of view on how to achieve whatever it is the artist wants. They aid without interfering and they of course do the printing. Printers are very creative and skilled, artists too, strange rangers for sure. I had great experiences with the printers at Tamarind Institute as well.
Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I am planning for a show here in LA at Honor Fraser Gallery, the specifics should be posted on their site relatively soon.
You live in LA but you’re not from LA… what were your first impressions of the city, and how have they changed over the years?
Well, cliche enough, it was at first the gritty and dusty wild west. I was also completely and totally enamored with the palm trees. The palm tree fascination waned a bit when I discovered that many palms are rat infested, the New York rats live below and the LA rats live above. I was really fascinated with all of the different types of plants and trees that seem to grow so easily here, a lot of them not native to California which is interesting. LA is an amazing place geographically, mountains, beach, desert… not many jungles or monkeys unfortunately. When I first moved here and to this day the food and people are the most interesting thing about LA. Taco stands, burgers, Thai, Korean….. it all makes up for the lack of monkeys in the city.
OK, Lighting Round, I hope you are ready – 3 favorite living artists…
3 favorite dead artists…
Jean Tinguely, H.C. Westermann, Joseph Cornell
What’s playing on your ipod right now…
Next 2 movies on your Netflix queue…
No idea. My girlfriend controls the Netflix, so the next two are definitely not slasher films.
Favorite European city…
Dingle, Ireland (a town really)
Place you want to go before you die…
Lugano Switzerland of course! I want to visit my friends and my goddaughter and learn some Italian, but this has to happen soon and I can die much later.