Studio Visit with Marc Zajack

By Micah Danges

I met Marc Zajack when we were both students in the art department at Kutztown University.   Marc’s work regularly migrates between different mediums, and I have always been drawn to the way that he combines everyday items in thoughtful and unusual techniques. At any given time he is quietly balancing multiple projects: working on paintings, building a kinetic sculpture, designing packaging for a tape release, or shaping a surfboard in the basement of his Fishtown row house. The following conversation took place over the past few months.


Micah Danges: You make surfboards—can you talk about how that happened? Do you think of this as part of your art practice? 


Marc Zajack: I’ve wanted to make a surfboard since I was a kid. Through my art practice I developed a skill set that gave me the confidence to give it a go. A lot of the process is thinking about how the board will work in certain conditions, which determines what kind of board you would make. There is a lot of visualizing and physical feeling of the board. The process can be repetitive and somewhat performance-like. With that being said, building a surfboard is very much part of my art practice. Like any piece, once you get in the zone and the steps are laid out, the excitement of finishing the work grows stronger. It is pretty much the same feeling as when finishing a painting, sculpture or whatever creative project you may be working on. With surfboard making the end result rewards you over and over again because you get to ride the thing, and that is the best part.



MD: You use both art materials (oil paint and canvas) and everyday items (six-pack holder, coffee cup) in your practice; can you talk a little about how you approach each type of material differently?


MZ: It’s important for me to use what’s around. Everything has a life and some sort of energy to it. When I’m searching, materials tend to dictate how they are to be looked at, used, or reconstructed. Usually it’s something that continues to catch my eye or that I find myself in constant interaction with. With the I.E.D. (improvised electronic device) sculptures I started with a paper coffee cup because I just found myself constantly in the presence of them, using them, seeing other people with them, and walking past them in the street. That began a line of thought about how to incorporate these things into a work or works. The dialogue unfolded and the sculpture was made. That triggered the I.E.D series, which is a continuing project.


With these sculptures my purpose was to create kinetic works that have a visual element as well as an audible one. The play on the abbreviation and the overall look of the piece gives the work a playful yet serious experience in regards to what is curently happening in society. There is a bomb reference in how the pieces are constructed, but they also refer to the idea of giving things that are regularly discarded new life. Aesthetically, I want the works to be hypnotic and mesmerizing with the drone they create in their movement and sound.


Painting is a little more straightforward, as far as materials go. I want to make paintings just because I enjoy it and find it relaxing. The meditative process is what I am after, and making the work is an added bonus. I approach utilizing materials such as oil paint and canvas with a sculptural hand, as I’m constantly building textures—destroying and constructing surface as well as an image—to the point where I tend to think of them more as objects as opposed to paintings.



MD: The process part of your work is very visible; the content seems more embedded. Could you talk a little bit about the content of the work?


MZ: The content of my work comes from studying my environments, the situations that occur and my reactions to them. I tend to use objects that I find repeatedly in my daily routine. Six-pack holders, coffee cups, and broken umbrellas are objects that most people have some sort of connection with: they are recognizable and common in the daily routine. At times I want viewers to recognize what things are without question, and other times I want to disguise that recognizable element and keep certain aspects of the work hidden. I want to create a sense of familiarity with the work without it being overly familiar.


The imaginative, fictitious moments and distorted narratives I conjure up in my head tend to play out in the work I make, whether I like it or not. I try not to overwhelm viewers with my perspective on what the content is, but rather allow them to interact with their own knowledge and experiences intact. I find what people pull from the work and what they miss interesting. The conversation that occurs when this happens is what I’m after.





MD: There is a playfulness that is consistent in your work, but at the same time, the work feels very sincere.  Is humor important to you? 


MZ: Humor has always been something I play off of. I try not to be that serious of a person, so I definitely don’t want my work to lack “funny moments” and come off as sterile (to me at least). It’s important to search out and find the humor in life—definitely a necessity for me. Arranging specific materials in a certain way determines whether piece is funny, absurd, straight up bizarre, or all three. That’s the playful quality I believe you are talking about. I think it’s funny at times that I’m working with things such as motorized coffee cups and plastic flowers.



MD: Can you name some influences on your work?  Whose work do you like to look at/listen to?  


MZ: I really like Farrell Brickhouse’s paintings as well as Paul Housley’s. I enjoyed the Jason Rhodes exhibit a few years ago at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. The Paul McCarthy talk was something I’ll never forget. John Bock, Robert Gober, Tom Sachs, Raymond Pettibon—all work I am drawn to because of how something is constructed or the way a medium is applied. I tend to be interested in loose handed, lo-fi, and analogue approaches in both visual work and sound.


As far as what I’ve been listening too, I’m always down for The Band, late sixties-early-seventies era, John Coltrane, Cleaners, Jim Jennie and the Pine Tops, Henry Flynt, Lamonte Young, Scott Tuma, and Roy Montgomery.




MD: A few years back, you ran a cassette label called Deep Fried Tapes and released over 30 titles in a very short period of time.  You continue to balance many different projects simultaneously.  Did this mode of rapid production with Deep Fried Tapes influence how you are working today?


MZ: Deep Fried Tapes was a five-year project that put out experimental music (mostly on tapes but I did few records), DVD releases, and zines. Over that time I did about 35 releases. It was a great experience, and in many ways it did influence how I’m working today—especially with balancing projects, time management, productivity, and how to work with other artists. I had a good system down for editing the tracks, making the masters, getting the artwork together, doing the assembling and then sending tapes out. A similar system is somewhat intact in my studio, working on a few pieces at a time. Having to wait for a painting to dry then allows me to bounce over to a small sculpture, where I need to add some epoxy or assemble a motor. I try hard to keep the work moving along, but of course there are situations where a piece will sit for a while without being touched.




MD: Do you approach working with sound differently from making visual art?  Is installation and performance a place where they both meet for you?


MZ: My approach to sound is very similar to my visual art practice. In some of my sound work, collage is the main method that moves the piece along. Like painting it becomes the building of layers and surface that gives the piece texture and feel. Sometimes I map out the sounds I want to hear; other times I leave it up to the moment and go at it a bit more loosely, allowing the sound to evolve on its own. Sometimes it works out and other times it’s a complete mess. Either way, the approach within both mediums is consistent in how they’re made. As far as where they meet, I think I’m still figuring that out.




MD: You sometimes work collaboratively.  How does this compare to your individual practice?


MZ: Individually I can be a bit hard on myself and obsess over the work I’m making. I tend to find myself tweaking things, reworking, and starting projects over. I can be a bit compulsive about it. When collaborating I feel like I can relax more and really get into the experience of working with someone or a group of people and their ideas. Bringing ideas together, having good dialogue about the work, and getting to know someone are pretty great rewards to collaborating, which I’ve been fortunate to experience in past projects with Pima Group and with Mark Dilks & Ted Carey, more recently with the Kali Yuga Zoo Brigade. When working solo it’s just you and your head. I’m not saying I don’t obsess when collaborating; it’s just more subdued.


MD: Do you have any new projects that you are excited to work on in 2016?  


MZ: I’m involved in a project with Mark Dilks called MMNNSSD, and we’ve just released our first cassette under this moniker. I also have a solo project called Tandem Cascades and am finishing up with a cassette release titled BREAKERS/PEELERS. Visually, I’ll be showing work in a five-person group showin October at Alfred University.



Marc Zajack is an artist living in Philadelphia. More of his work can be seen at MMNNSSD sounds can be heard here.

Contact Marc: