Interview with Mario Zoots

The mysterious and psychologically challenging images created by Denver-based artist Mario Zoots are produced by applying a visual barrier between the viewer and the appropriated image by way of physical paper collage and digital manipulation. Each work carefully alters an existing image that was originally existed through the Internet, print publications and photographs and challenges our perception of and relationship to everyday mundane imagery.  Likewise, up until recently, the artist’s work could only be found through similar distribution sources such web pages, small run printed zines and prints or posters. However, Zoots opened his first public show this month, offering viewers the unique opportunity to engage his images in person. I Miss Mystery is the title of the artist’s new exhibition which is currently on view at Illiterate Gallery in Denver. DailyServing founder, Seth Curcio, recently spoke to the artist over a brief phone interview to talk about how he interrupts his found images, the advantages of working online and in print, and his sound project Modern Witch.

Seth Curcio: When did you first begin to create collages and prints? What was the initial idea that got these series going?

Mario Zoots: I began making collage because I didn’t have enough space in my apartment to paint anymore. Brian Bamps was living in an attic apartment in Denver for a short time. I visited his house and saw his small American school desk that was attached to a chair where he made all of his drawings. He had a box that he’d place the finished drawings in.  I knew I must work smaller because I was at risk of losing my living space. So I began to make collage and pen illustrations. We’re not artists with studios, we’re artists with homes. I consider myself an appropriation artist and a network artist. I am interested in making pictures reflect contemporary feelings by subtracting and distorting them. I’ve been preparing for my first solo show, I Miss Mystery, which opened in Denver at Illiterate Gallery on February 5th. I printed large giclee reproductions of my collages for the show. In addition to original and printed collage, I’m showing an experimental video and creating an installation out of hundreds of pages of porn all slightly altered. It feels cinematic. My ideas for the work come from movies, long Internet conversations with my contemporary girlfriend, and my own studies of archives.

SC: There is a mix of vintage and contemporary imagery used in your work. Where do you find your source material and what qualities do you look for when selecting an image?

MZ: I find my source material in libraries, in thrift shops and on the Internet. I’m constantly working and constantly picking things up. The mix of vintage and contemporary material is not significant. I don’t feel that using baseball cards from 1971 makes them more meaningful or valuable. Thousands of the same cards were printed and are lying around in hundreds of basements. I use popular materials because I’m attracted to them. I like the idea that there are multiples of the images in existence, that others have seen them in print too. The Pop Era has existed for so long, it’s inescapable, and it’s married to reproduction, duplication, and multiples. I feel by putting my art online and working with print that I am also participating in this type of reproduction culture, albeit, digitally.

SC: In many of your works, the composition seems to be deconstructed, and sometimes even aggressively interrupted. When constructing your imagery, do you intentionally obscure your subject to heighten the mystery or psychology of the image? How is the viewer’s relationship to the original source image altered by your manipulation?

MZ: There is an inherent psychology in popular media. Magazine pages are rich with meaning that’s been devised by advertising agencies or publishing groups. I believe the meaning in popular data is always heightened by audience. I can’t say that my collage or illustration heightens the psychology because I believe it’s already there.  Change causes mystery.  When I change images, I believe the psychology of the image is still in tact for the most part but then I find the disruptions and interruptions in my art to be haunting and mysterious. Perhaps the change, the deconstruction, the mystery is what my audience feels the most.

SC: Many of your works embody dark and disturbing qualities while utilizing a playful and irreverent humor. This seems to work as a tool to allure your viewers into the often absurd images, while causing them to confront their expectations of commercial imagery.  How do you want this visual jarring to effect the viewer?

MZ: I find humor in what I create but don’t necessarily feel like I need an audience to share that sensibility.  I borrowed a family portrait from the Internet and disrupted the faces. While sitting at my desk one day, I received an email from a man who said he really liked my art and that he was writing to tell me that one of the family portraits I’d used was his own.  It made the collage feel so different. It felt like a lifting of the curtain, synchronicity. Someone from this hyper multiple meme on the web spoke out. There are real people behind those faces!

SC: Most of your artwork is displayed digitally through the Internet. It is rare to experience the work in person in a gallery setting, however you do create a series of zines that feature the works. I am curious about both the production of your zines and how you feel the work is best displayed, over the Internet, in person or as a publication?

MZ: Most of my art is viewable online. Some of the digital collage only exists on the Internet and nowhere else.  I make zines with Kristy Foom and Keenan Marshall Kellar under the publishing name Drippy Bone Books. Zine publishing gives me an opportunity to curate and work collaboratively.  I just finished printing a new zine called Rescreened that features the work of Natalie Rodgers, Daniel Hipolito and myself. It’s a book of photographs taken of televisions screens and screenshots on personal computers of youtube.  I printed thirty copies. Kristy is tabling for Drippy Bone Books at the Lancashire Zine and Multiples Fair. We’re releasing Rescreened there at the end of this month. I like working in both the online, print and gallery realms. They’re all very different. When I need a break from one, I move to the other.

SC: What are the main sources of inspiration that you constantly return to?

I’m inspired by the Internet, and the many blogs I follow on a regular basis, my Internet footprints. I watch a lot of b-films, just last night I watched Virgin Witch a film from 1972 about 2 sisters, Christine and Betty, who have dreams of becoming fashion models, they sign with an agency and go to a castle for a photo shoot, but it’s not just any photo shoot, the real reason they are there is to serve as virgins in a induction ceremony for a coven of witches! I am inspired by music too, a record I can’t stop listening to is ‘Songs’ by John Maus, it’s insanely epic.

MZ: Do you have any new projects lingering around the corner. Anything that we should look out for?

Modern Witch is my sound project. I work with artists Kristy Foom and Kamran Kahn as a band. We use electronics and synthesizers, and most times record straight to tape. We play DIY venues and art galleries.  Disaro Records is releasing our cdr!   We hope to put out a 7″ record later this year.  One of my favorite Modern Witch shows was at Show Cave Gallery in Los Angeles. I think there are special things happening in Los Angeles right now, and I’m excited to have the connection to the L.A weirdos.  We’re planning a return to Show Cave in March 2010 to perform music and curate a Drippy Bone Books group art show.  The name of the show is WE OOZE. I feel like it’s going to be a mysterious year.