As artists, sometimes it feels like we’re paddling upstream. All of the work we do for one piece, or one show might give us very little return. We could easily turn into existentialists, banging our heads against the walls, and wondering what the next step is. Most of the time the answer is simple: make work every day and then get out there and show your work again and again. Marc Wagner can attest to that. He recommends it.
Marc is an important ingredient to the Sioux Falls art scene soup. Chipper, inspirational, and knowledgeable only begins to describe Marc, but I encourage you to get to know him; seek him out and spend some time around him because when I do, I’m better for it.~Jess
What is the path that has led you to where you are today?
My earliest memory would probably be in kindergarten. I won a drawing contest. I won a box of markers, and it was just the best feeling in the world. I’ve been drawing ever since. It’s in large part due to very supportive parents, very supportive teachers ever since kindergarten [who have helped me] in the pursuit of arts. I have a wife that’s very supportive…friends…the people I’ve surrounded myself with that have made it possible. It would have been pretty easy for me to quit if it hadn’t been for that.
Did you go to college for art?
Yes. I majored in graphic design. I ended up enjoying studio arts classes a lot more.
Where did you go to school?
You work mostly on paper with markers. What kind of markers do you like to use?
Sharpie pens. They’re my favorite. They’re relatively affordable, and they last a long time. You can make a wide variety of marks with them. For color, I used to use Sharpies, but now I use Prisma markers. I upgraded a couple of years ago.
Are you working on any specific projects right now?
Yeah. My drawings incorporate a lot of pop culture references and figures. I’ve been doing a lot of what I like to call “comic drop” pieces, where I cut up old comic books and I stand on my chair and drop the pieces. Wherever they land, I make an outline on my paper, and I’ll try to replicate that piece.
A lot of my work deals with how we’re constantly bombarded with images in our everyday life, whether they be neon signs or what’s on our phone. There’s always things being put in our face, and we don’t really have a say in it. So I make my own clusters of all these different things. There will maybe be a logo of some company, and then I’ll throw in a colorful character like Mickey Mouse. I’ll put all these things together in a confined space, and try to point out that message and that theme.
Why are you drawing Mickey Mouse?
Because when I was 10, I went to Disney World, and I took a Mickey Mouse drawing class. And I drew Mickey Mouse hungover. I gave him bags under his eyes and stubble and a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and I got kicked out of the class.
What did your parents do?
They weren’t mad or anything. They thought it was funny. The guy stopped the class, because we were all drawing on digital tablets, and so he could see what we were doing. He said, “That’s not how we draw Mickey.” And I was told to leave. It was fun. I guess I’ve always done these things.
I don’t remember this, but my mom tells me, when I was in preschool, they gave me a piece of paper with an egg on it. We were supposed to color it like an easter egg, and I turned it into a dinosaur. I kind of got in trouble for that, too–as much as you could as a preschooler. I think when my mom went to pick me up, the teacher said it was something to be concerned about.
Not following directions?
Do you talk to schools about graphic design?
I’ve done it formally once. I went in and talked to a 100 level art class. I talked about what I do, basically, which is freelance illustration, and how I use what I learned in school and apply it to my craft. My friend Les and I will be teaching a drawing class up at SDSU. That will be fun.
How long of a class is it?
It’s just a three-hour class. It’s called “Art Fair”. It’s for high school students to learn what the visual arts department has to offer. That day they put on a bunch of hour to three-hour long classes, so you can go take a drawing class, you can go take an animation class, you can throw a pot on a spinning wheel. It’s a great way to see how different it is from high school to college, in terms of the quality of an art education. You can really do a lot with it.
Do you prefer to have an end goal in mind [when you draw]?
I like to divide it up. I like to do a little bit of everything. The comic drops are just one series I’m working on. I also have “stacked realities”, and then I just have my regular cartoony drawings. I enjoy doing freelance work quite a bit. It is much easier to have an end goal, because there’s other eyes looking at it, and it’s something that has to serve a purpose. So, I’ve been doing a lot more of that lately.
Do you go online and use websites that people post a job on?
I’m kind of lucky that I’ve done enough things for people that have recommended me. So, I did the posters for Total Drag, which led me to do the Doug Benson posters for the Collective Efforts Union, which led me to do other projects. So, it’s more word of mouth, which is fun. I’m not against those websites, I’ve just never had any need to use them…overbooked as it is.
Do you want to say anything about the new Skullmore sticker?
I call it Mt. Skullmore. It’s my logo. It’s what I use for my website, for my business cards. I made it up a few years back as part of branding for a fictitious brewery that I set in South Dakota. I thought it was just funny. And then a few years after that I made a line etching, and it just took off. I made stickers, and those are selling. I made shirts. I like it, because it has meaning to me, and people seem to be responding to it, as well. They see some sort of message behind it, which, I have my own. That’s true with most of my work. There’ll be a narrative or some sort of reaction within my work. I have my own version, then someone will come up and make their own version. They could be totally different, and I really like that a lot–that something can offer a different experience.
And you don’t have to do any work.
Right! It’s just how they interpret it. In a lot of my work, I’m working almost subconsciously. I don’t sketch a lot beforehand. My sketchbook is filled with pretty much finished things that I just leave alone. I like playing on paper, revealing things to myself that I don’t normally think about.
You just like putting the pen to the paper to start drawing.
Yeah. For every good drawing, I’ve got twenty lousy ones I’ll never show anybody. That’s important to keep in mind. If you want to do something, you’ve got to put a lot of work into it. I don’t really believe in inspiration. I mean, I believe in it, but it’s not something I rely on. More often than not, when I see something I really like in someone else’s work, I almost get mad, and it motivates me. It’s like, What am doing here? I should be at home, working on stuff. I’ve got to make something that good. There’s a great Chuck Close quote: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just go to work.” I draw at least an hour a day, pretty much every day, unless something comes up.
Is that because you want to? I mean, you want to, because that’s your job, but do you sit down at the same time every day? Is it meditated?
Not necessarily the same time. It can be meditated. It’s interesting because I’m doing the same thing every day, but some days I don’t want to. But I do anyways. Some days I can’t wait to sit down and draw. Some days I do it at work. I’ll find the time to make it happen.
I was just wondering if it was a conscious thing?
Yes. I make sure I do it. When I don’t, sometimes, skipping one day can turn into three days can turn into a week. I’m very good at putting things off, and that’s one of the things I don’t want to put off, ever.
Did you build that sculpture?
Yeah. I made that in college. It’s the only sculpture I have from college that stayed together. That one’s interesting, because my technique for making a sculpture was I would take everyone else’s scraps, and I would fabricate something together. I took three semesters of sculpture and I never spent a dime. I never realized this until now, but I guess there’s kind of a parallel between my sculpture work and my drawing. With my drawing, I take a lot of things, and I put it together. I guess that a different way of doing that. But I didn’t realize that until just now, so thank you for asking.
So, having that revelation, does it inspire you to do sculpture again?
I’ve been wanting to for awhile, and I think that was the last straw. I’ve been collecting little pieces of wood and things in my garage, and I have a band saw, and I live next to Dave Lethcoe, who is one of my favorite sculptors. So, I could probably use him for tips. I’ve been wanting to do sculpture again.
So, if you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
I’ve never really thought about that. I don’t think I’d want to be anything else. I’ve had jobs that aren’t art related, but that’s always just been a paycheck to me. I think being an artist is a lifestyle. You live a pretty good life. You never stop creating things; you gravitate towards other people that do the same things.
Do you scan a lot of things onto the computer?
I primarily work on 8.5″ x 11″ paper, because that fits on my scanner. I’m very sentimental. I like tangible things. So, being able to scan a drawing and put it on my website and be able to look at it whenever I want to makes it a lot easier to part with something. Scanning things led me to start making zines, because I can take a drawing, scan it, scale it down, do my layout and print it.
I’ve been making these for three years. I saw a lecture at a graphic design conference in Dallas. I thought they were super cool, so the first day I got back I started making my first zine. And I’ve been making them ever since. I try and make one every couple of months. I used to make one every month, but that was in college when it was a little bit easier. I just like to use it as a way that, if someone is unfamiliar with my work or wants to own something without spending $100 for an original, they can spend $3 and have 16 drawings.
Where do you get them printed at?
I used to get them printed at Blueprint, which was this print lab I worked in at SDSU. But now I get them printed at Minuteman Press, which is downtown. They were super nice, and it was very affordable. And the quality is good. I’ve gone to UPS a lot, and the color never comes out right.
So, besides Mickey Mouse and culture, what else do you gain inspiration from?
I usually just get fixated on one thing. This one here is a collection of drawings I did in college was inspired by a cellular biology class that I took…by mistake. I wasn’t supposed to be in that class–it was for majors–but I got this really sweet textbook full of these crazy shapes and colors that happened to be viruses. I did a whole series of stuff I found in that book, and I combined them with my monsters. I did that for six months. I always carried that textbook around with me, even when I had dropped out of the class.
Words play a big part in your pieces. Where do they come from?
They come from a lot of places. I use a lot of text in my work, because I like typography a lot–particularly hand lettering. The words come from the songs I listen to, a movie I recently saw, something someone said that I overheard. Or sometimes, when I wake up, and I’m really tired, a weird phrase will pop into my head that doesn’t make any sense at all. I recently got one of those magnetic poetry things, so I’ll be coming up with phrases to put in pieces or title pieces. That’s a good way to come up with the text, because my work comes from a very reactive, stream of conscious method, so it only made sense for the titles of the work to come from the same place.
Reactive is a good thing. You’ve got to get to that point where you can just attack a piece of paper and have something beautiful come out of it. It takes a lot of practice. And in doing so, you’re revealing something to yourself and something to your audience. I guarantee that something that you’re making that is stream of conscious, reactive–someone else is going to see it and relate to it and have some sort of response to it just like you did. No matter what you make, at least one person out there is going to like it. Even if it’s your mom.
(Laughs) Yeah. It’s usually Mom. Do you have a lot of the emotions when you look at your pieces? After you get done do you feel proud?
There’s some pieces that make me happy. But usually, I’m moving on to the next piece pretty quickly, and I make sure not to high-five myself for too long. I have a lot of anxiety issues, and I think that comes across in my work. But drawing is very, very therapeutic. It’s my way of getting by those things, brushing them off, taking mind off things.
What art shows have been to this year, and what are your favorites?
We’re doing a show pretty much every month. I think the one at Ipso Gallery was my favorite: More than Friends. It had work from Diana Behl and Peter Reichardt, who are two of my old professors from SDSU, and two of my favorite professors. I managed to take one figure drawing class with Peter before I graduated, and I got a lot out of that class. Stuff I still use. Before I took that figure drawing class, I was just drawing one type of thing and doing a bunch of those. It was mostly just cartoon characters. He sort of encouraged everyone in the class to do something you haven’t done before. What’s it going to hurt? So I started experimenting with different things, and that’s where I developed my comic drop technique.
I’m selecting certain images that I want to go into the piece, but where they go in the paper is out of my control, and that leads me to compositions that I maybe would not have come up with on my own. I make rules for myself when I’m drawing, because if I don’t do that, I end up making the same drawing over and over. The same composition: everything is centered and there’ll be a cluster of cartoon characters. I make rules for myself in order to get out of that, and that’s one of the things I learned from this class.
Are there any artists in Sioux Falls we should keep an eye out for?
My friend Les Cotton. We collaborate on a lot of things, do shows together. I’d like a lot more people to know about him. Our work often gets confused. One guy got this tattoo and thought it was from my drawing. And I said, “That’s awesome man, but that’s actually my friend Les’s.” I took a picture of it, and it was great. Our styles go together. He did the Soulcrate poster… If I’m too busy, I’ll send people his way.
What do you think of the Sioux Falls art scene?
I’m really proud to be a part of it. When I went to college five years ago, I wasn’t really a part of too much. I took a class at the Horse Barn. I would maybe go to the Pavilion, but it wasn’t stuff for people like me. It was more Terry Redlin stuff. But when I came back, I was really surprised. There’s a lot of opportunities for artists, in terms of shows, having people to bounce ideas off of. There’s even resources for becoming a better artist. There’s always classes being offered. I’m really happy with where it’s at. It’s just going to keep getting better. It’s really nice that young artists, or artists that are young at heart, are able to get their name out there. It just gives so much more energy to it.
What advice do you have for people who are starting out?
Show your work. Get your work out there and get feedback. That’s something that took me three years of college to learn. I think you’ll find it helpful to do so, because with feedback you’ll learn what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong, what you can improve. That’s something you can’t get if you’re keeping everything to yourself. You’re going to stay in your house and work on one painting for six years, and then you’ll emerge and someone will ask why’d you do this and why’d you do that. Two years ago, at Artist’s Against Hunger, there was this kid. His paintings were okay. I was talking to him, and he was 17, still in high school. And I thought, right on. You’re the only high schooler I’ve ever seen show work at this type of thing. Most kids your age are either to scared or they don’t care. It’s hard to show your work. But in a town like this, with so many venues and possibilities, that shouldn’t be an excuse.