This is an interview Brian Sherwin did with me back in 2008.
Art Space Talk: Mark Staff Brandl
As an artist, his works have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Whitney Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the St. Gallen Art Museum, The Thurgau Museum of Fine Art, The E.T.H. Graphic Collection in Zurich, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the International Museum of Cartoon Art, the Art Museum Olten and others.
Mark Staff Brandl: ...And Col Pacific and I got a "Latinum" Latin Diploma from ISME and a Diploma in German at the Translators’ school and am now doing a PhD dissertation at the University of Zurich in Art History and Cognitive Metaphor Theory. I like to learn stuff!
I was born in Peoria, Illinois, raised mostly in and around Pekin near there, although I spent the longest time anywhere in the US in Chicago. I loved most of the places in their own way. I occasionally miss Chicago, although not its art scene — more its Mexican neighborhoods and African-American influence and good food and music and just plain tough, cool, amazing denizens.
MSB: Besides the various universities and the like (there are more than I have named), I also learned a lot about sign-painting and display from my father Earl Brandl and I learned a lot from my mentor, the renowned comic artist (from the 40s till now), Gene Colan.
In the university my most incredible teacher was C. W. Briggs, who was a truly amazing man and teacher. He could see into your artistic soul and tell you "what you were trying to do" even when it was more radical than you expected and than he enjoyed. He was a great painter too and deserves a fabulous monograph (take note art historians out there).
I am always open to "the technique of friendship and dialogue" (as Ortega y Gasset called history) with other artists —frequently dead ones who are somehow more alive than many of my contemporaries. Goya, Tintoretto, Titian, R.B. Kitaj, Eldzier Cortor, Jackson Pollock, Marc Swayze, Gene as always, my Dad — those are some people I’m discussing with in my head currently.
MSB: As I said, I was born near Chicago; I lived in this city the longest I have ever lived in one spot. My career as an artist began there. I worked at the Field Museum building dioramas, had my ups and downs, had many shows, many reviews, sold well enough, won some awards, was listed as best installation of the year (or something like that) in The New Art Examiner once for a Raw Space piece. And so on.
That, together with all the other aspects of Chicago's recurring provincialism, and a dreadful, dissolving love relationship, made me think, "Why the hell, then, don't you just go directly to that worshiped Mecca — i.e. NYC?". I started on my way, however, then met my future wife, Cornelia Kunz (pronounced "Koo-ents" as English speakers may be wondering!). I met her in the kitchen of my Chicago studio, strangely enough, due to a Maxtavern connection (a well-known artists’ bar). She is Swiss, and after an unexpected further year in Chicago, and a later year in Tortola in the Caribbean, we headed off to Europe.
I have now lived in one place or another in Europe for 20 years. Whenever I live for extended periods in the US, I never seem to make it out of NYC. Recently I have, though, become re-involved with the Chicago artworld due to Wesley Kimler, called "The Shark." I have dual citizenship now and feel both the US and Switzerland are my "Heimat." I feel very American when I am at home in Europe, and feel very European when I am at home in the US. I enjoy somehow always being a part of something while somehow standing outside it as well. I spend a lot of time in other countries too and would like to live in many of them.
The "Dripped" works unite the two forms above with a third element. They have three "levels" of potential viewing: close-up they look like a dripped Pollock work (hence my slangy nickname for the series), middle distance you see all the sign-painterly outlining, shadowing, feathering, etc. that I got from my father. Farther away, you see that they are genuinely representational works in a sketchy, painterly-drawing fashion much like Gene Colan. So, depending where you stand, they either unite or contrarily collide my three influences.
Furthermore, there is a definite socio-political aspect to my approach. Although I am highly, perhaps over-educated, according to a few gallerists, I am bringing the blue-collar technical achievements into the museum/Kunsthalle world. Like superhero comics, I feel attracted to technical ability and violence. I have sublimated this into my creations. But I always feel good when I get Colan and my Father's hard-won techniques, merged with philosophy, smuggled into the "upper" realms — near a video-on-the-floor, purposefully bad painting or junk installation gesture or the like.
MSB: I have some difficulty with fairs, but not a lot, frankly. I know they have nothing to do with artists (who are usually unwanted at VIP affairs there, e.g.); they are about commercial sales between collectors and high powered galleries. Curators always complain about them, but what the heck, of course they do — fairs are the only part of the contemporary artworld that Consensus Curators do not control. Why can’t there be various parts of the artworld for various members. And remember, collectors and gallerists are putting THEIR money where THEIR mouth is, not tax or foundation money where someone else has told them is cool.
BS: Do you have any concerns about the artworld in general?
MSB: MANY concerns. Mostly they revolve around sycophancy. "I've seen most creative minds of my generation destroyed by obsequiousness." One and all seem to want to rewrite the beginning section of Alan Ginsberg's wonderful first line of his poem "Howl." The original: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, ...." Yet I could not resist, for in art, culture and politics, as well as elsewhere, I find my version to be true.
MSB: Read my rant above. Follow your own individual dreams and visions. God has given you something to do as an artist. Only you can listen to the voice and find out what it is. Learn about all the ins and outs of the "art business" but don’t take them to be engraved in stone. Just know your enemy. Be smart. Be smarter than those who would control us, work harder, and be of higher quality. Stop kissing ass, and stop viewing kissing-ass as simply "correct career management." Change whatever you can get your hands on. There are no rules. Rules are for mannerist academic sycophants and are used to control you, the artist.
BS: What about the Internet? Do you view the Internet as a tool that artists can utilize for exposure? It seems that the net is becoming very important for artists today-- even the galleries are catching up-- and I'm certain that will continue. Oddly enough, there are artists online who are more popular traffic-wise and with the general public than many of the artists that have been championed by mainstream galleries. As you know, art collectors are getting younger and are more tech savvy. Due to this... Do you think at some point online exposure will make an impact concerning how successful an artist is in the artworld? In other words, do you think that artists who can show high traffic-- and interest for their work online-- might gain the interest of galleries in the future? Could that become something that galleries will consider? What is your view?
MSB: The gallery is unfortunately probably fading away to be replaced by far more nefarious entities. The internet is not one of them. Collectors love the personal contact of physical presence — parties, gallerists, other collectors, aperos, but also really touching a painting, for example. For music, internet will be wonderful. It has begun to replace the radio, it will accomplish that, and then replace the record label. However, visual art (other than perhaps photos) don’t do well on it. It is not a conveyer of primary information for most artforms (especially paintings and installations).
Nevertheless, the internet will be a form where revolutionary things may happen for visual art at the secondary level. Probably through networking. It is already replacing the closed-shop of the art magazine. Sharkforum has more readers (not hits, actual readers, —hits are of course huge too) than almost all art magazines. Internet e-zines, group blogs, are the wave to follow, I think, as they indeed replace paper-based art magazines as the makers and guiders of taste, as the conveyers of discoveries, as genuinely critical venues. Yes, most blogs are masturbatory now, and their sheer number is numbing, but that is real democracy and we will slowly learn to sort out the best. Let’s hope they remain enablers for artists.
BS: Back to your art... your art is included in the collections at the Museum of Modern Art (NY), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), The Whitney Museum of American Art and several other collections in the United States and throughout the world. Where can our readers view some of your most recent work in person? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?
MSB: Whew. I seem to be all over the place right now, when I should be concentrating on my big dissertation (which will also exist and be created on-line and end as a book but also a painting-installation). I have been working with my buddy here, Daniel F. Ammann, a novelist and theorist, doing some more complex Covers works.
If you’d like semi-regular email updates of about my activities (usually drawn in sequential comic style and featuring images of the latest paintings and so on), contact me through my site.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or anything else that is on your mind?