Marcel Dzama: A Conversation on MOCAtv + Upcoming David Zwirner London Exhibition

March 01, 2013

The artists featured in the MOCAtv series include David Choe, Marcel Dzama, FriendsWithYou, Andrew Kuo, Geoff McFetridge and Raymond Pettibon. Artists Talk with Alia Shawkat and Lance Bangs has already debuted the FriendsWithYou episode on MOCAtv. The Marcel Dzama episode debuts this morning.

This first-time collaboration on six artist studio visits, with Bangs behind the camera offering a glimpse into each artist’s rarely seen creative space and Shawkat in conversation with each artist to discuss the process behind their work.

Alex Nicholson: In the video you discuss shooting a movie in Mexico and another one with your grandfather. You have made several films, contributed to music videos and also did a top 10 for the Criterion Collection. What aspects of a film's story or characters influence your work the most? Is there something in particular about a character or story that will inspire your own drawings and art?
Marcel Dzama: I like watching old movies before I am about to start working on a film just to get inspired by stories and narrative. I don't work with narrative in my drawings but prefer it in film as otherwise my films could end up becoming too surreal. I like them to have that element but with a working story. Even if the story only makes sense to me. I'm drawn to certain characters, usually small time villains from seedy underworld's, lately women with babies, impressarios, enigmatic gypsies, thugs and people wearing costumes to conceal their identities. I feel like I grew up with a lot of these characters in Winnipeg and they tend to pop up in old film noir too, so I'm right at home there. I'll be interested in certain characters for awhile and they'll show up in whatever medium I'm working in, either drawings, film or sculpture.

We see in the video that you recently had a very cute baby! You also mentioned that you would probably like to do a children's book at some point. Has having a baby around had a noticeable influence on what you are inspired to create?
Thank you very much! He's just the best and I'm glad to see him in playing keyboards in the video. He's influenced my work so much. Even before he was born I found myself drawing a lot of pregnant women and fetuses. Now there are nursing babies, usually boys wearing striped shirts which is his style. He just loves music so we're all really getting into Ella Jenkins around here and she's an amazing person. I think of new children's books everyday. I will make something for him very soon, yes.

You show us a chess set you are building and have also built life-size pieces for a production you put together in Guadalajara. Your work is full of reoccurring characters from bears, bats, and masked assassins to musicians, military officers and acrobatic performers. Chess also has a cast of reoccurring characters who you bring to life in your short film A Game of Chess. Can you tell us when you first became interested in exploring the game in your work?
I have always been interested in chess, ever since I was a child. I was just never as good at it as I wanted to be. When I started really getting into Marcel Duchamp I fell back in love with the mystery and the rigour of it through following his obsession. I tried really hard to better my game but am still only okay. A friend of mine, Eduardo Sarabia from Guadalaraja was a teenage chess champion so I cast him in A Game of Chess. I just love how mathematical and thoughtful it is. I love the tension and the drama it creates. It has always felt akin to a ballet which is why I wanted to make a chess ballet.

You mention how working with many different mediums help to prevent you from getting too bored with one. In the video you show us Player Piano paper rolls you are starting to draw on and some tin art you were inspired to create in Mexico. Do you enjoying working with found and recycled materials? Do they help make the creative process more interesting and challenging?
Yes, definitely. I've always collected other people's garbage when walking around whatever neighborhood I'm living in. My Dad did it growing up so maybe that's where it comes from. It's amazing what you can find from mannequins to discarded paper to great chairs. I've had to cut down since filling up my home too much. I'm getting into hoarder territory.

We really enjoyed seeing your journals in the video. Aside from using them to jot down and plan ideas, do you often go back through older journals to see how your ideas and inspirations have changed? You mention feeling like you almost have to many ideas to complete. How do you decide which ideas to pursue and expand on?
Thank you. I actually don't look back at my older work too much. I'm always trying to look forward. I feel like that can be a rabbit hole to get lost in when you do it. With ideas pursued and abandoned I guess what gets worked on is the one I'm most connected to at the time. Though maybe collage is an exception to that. I feel like images I've connected to in magazines always sit in my head for a while waiting to meet up with another image so I keep them around forever always revisiting. Maybe I can sit on film ideas a bit longer too only because they are so hard to get made. But at least I can consistently think about a few main idea's for the year in planning to make it. But like anything, it can be hard to look at older stuff. Maybe it can also be instructive but for me I'm always working, always trying to get it done before it is old to me.