Five Minutes with Mario Zoots

Gallery shows in Berlin, magazines in Italy, installations in Sao Paulo, commissioned work for Urban Outfitters, pieces in recent exhibitions that cast large shadows over James Franco’s entries, and a Masters of Arts degree from University Of Denver. On paper, collage artist Mario Zoots is pretty damn refined. And then all of the sudden he turns heads when he says shit like, “Defacing media feels pretty similar to defacing property.”

What are you currently working on? I just printed these (the above prints) today for a show I’m entering in Los Angeles at this new space called Private Island. The stuff I’m making starts with arbitrary portraits I find online and then I try to intervene. In some I draw geometric shapes over the skeletal features of the body and others I do vertical copy-pastes onto it. What I do is abstract in a way, but it all usually begins with the portrait. Why do you focus on the face? It’s really about the eyes for me. When I disrupt someone’s gaze, I find some mysterious, surreal quality. It makes you forget who you’re looking at. I try to create collages from dreams. When I dream I know who the people are, but I usually can’t see their faces. There’s a real energy behind that. How do you choose your images? It depends on the project. For my most recent one, I did a hi-res file search of family portraits from my birth year (1981). But it’s really just a lot of digging and tapping into digital archives. It’s mostly just Google image search. A lot of the things I find for my digital work are these massive family portraits people uploaded and they’re just big and huge, and I just think to myself, ‘Man, I want to fuck with this.’ I put it back into the web when I’m finished so hopefully next time you come across the original image, the new one will pop up right alongside it. Where have you shown so far in your career? I’ve shown at both museums in Colorado (BMOCA and MCA). I was flown to Brazil in 2010 to create an installation at the Museum of Image And Sound in Sao Paulo. It was pretty crazy. I just got hit up by them over the Internet. You’ve maintained a pretty strong web presence. I was on the digital island for years. I didn’t even care about showing in Denver. I was putting out a ton on the web for a long time so if someone just Google image searched me, they’d get my whole portfolio. I was really into Net art, but then wanted to start having pieces I could touch and feel. I started returning to paper collages. For a while I was just this guy you could find online. And now after getting attention internationally, people are starting to recognize my work locally and that’s pretty cool. But yeah, the Internet has been good to me. What’s your favorite collage you’ve done? It’s too hard; I like them all. There’s no bad collage. It could be an image fragment that I cut out from another photo, made smaller and reframed. It could also be a collage that’s huge with 50 different pieces of paper on it. But to me, the good and the bad have to work together. It’s about Mario Zoots as a collage artist. The whole makes the one. It’s a steady stream of consciousness. So my favorite piece is really always my fans’ favorite piece. Who’s your favorite artist? I love how simple John Stezaker does his collage. He’ll just cut two photographs in half and put them together. I also really like Dash Snow. I started out doing graffiti, so I really like gritty street shit. Oil and dirt and griminess. I’ll walk around and just photograph trash sometimes. I try to not look at too much collage art because it’s really easy to become unoriginal. So this all started from doing graffiti? Well, I’ve been in SWS (The Strong Will Survive) since 1999. We just had our 20-year anniversary. It started here in Denver and now it’s international. I’m not really (too) active anymore. But yeah, my mentality then shapes my approach to my collage practice today; do everything daily. You’re only as good as your last collage, tag, whatever. So for a good ten years, I’d tag something everyday. Does your graffiti work from back then inspire your work today? I keep graffiti very separate from my collage work. Not just for legal reasons, but because I don’t do graffiti art. I don’t want to be a street artist. I want to show in museums, and then walk outside and tag the pole out front. They’re very different worlds. And you also express yourself musically? I’ve been in a few bands. Modern Witch actually inspired this genre called witch house. We didn’t intend for that at all and at first I hated being put into this category by some dude from Pitchfork. People started tagging it on lastfm and it felt like a joke. But that’s what my band was labeled and it grew from that. Now we’ve started Men In Burka, which is with my friend Kamran Khan. It’s dance music inspired by the Middle East. People in Denver really like it and the shows are really fun. We’re playing at the Larimer Lounge here on 2 November. Have you ever considered moving to a city that’s a bigger market for art? I really like having Denver as my center. I can own a big house with a yard for my dog and not be paying anything close to my friends living in small Brooklyn studios. There’s cool people here, weed’s legal and I was born and raised here. I just feel really comfortable in this city. I’m a third generation Denver resident, so my family has deep history here. But I love traveling and meeting people around the world and staying in touch. Speaking of meeting people, you were recently in a show with James Franco? Yeah, the Biennial Of The Americas. I had a billboard with a collage on it. Franco didn’t come out to the show though. The Biennial was actually going to pay to fly him out here, but some people put a stop to that since the show wasn’t going to buy plane tickets for the other artists from Berlin or elsewhere. What’s next for Mario Zoots? Just to have no bad days (laughs). One of my mottos in the past was to say yes to everything. But for 2014, it’s going to be that it’s ok to say no. I’m going to be more specific with the things I want to do. I have a group show coming up in Brooklyn that I’m pretty excited about. I’m making around six pieces for it right now, and then I’m going to fly out and enjoy the show. – Alex Ryden

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