Spontaneous. Irreverent. Gritty. Electric. Underground. Unrefined. Different. Raw. These are just some of the words synonymous with Dada and punk, two cultural movements with a lot in common. When embraced by an artist, something unique emerges from these two movements that makes art fun and engaging.
Opening on Saturday August 13th at 6p.m., Marc-Anthony Macon’s Punk Dada Tea art opening will have eggs and music by soul funk renegades Tell Mama at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center’s gallery. Macon is a former University of Illinois graduate who decided to come back to Urbana “because [he] sorta fell in love with this place.” He takes the best and strangest of what he finds in the C-U area, and he distills it into unique artworks.
In order to learn more about the Punk Dada Art Exhibition (or more commonly referred to as the Punk Dada Tea show), I took the opportunity to ask Macon about his influences, interests, and art-making process.
Smile Politely: What or who are some influences on your work? I see a bit of Pop Art in your work.
Marc-Anthony Macon: I got a lot of inspiration from the kids I used to teach drama to. Their effortlessness, that intuitive and unselfconscious approach that they take to art, is really delightful, and their art is amazing. I also just love the sloppily sanitized commercial aesthetic of the 80s, and a whole mess of beautiful lunatics from history and today. A few artistic influences are Hannah Höch, Max Ernst, Matt Kish, T. Marie Nolan, "Weird Al" Yankovic, David Lynch, Jean-Michel Basquiat and, not gonna spew lies, Bob Ross. There's also a pretty hefty influence from the harmonies of Ikenobo style Ikebana and traditional Japanese calligraphy. And my dad. Growing up he was always making sculptures of completely bizarre things out of toys, metal, wood, animal bones, flowers, and mirrors. My mom worked in a biochemistry lab, so I spent a lot of time there soaking in the clinical and goofy aesthetic of scientists. I grew up in a very free, weird, and art-forward household.
SP: What led you to collage as your preferred medium? Or are you shifting away from collage to explore painting?
Macon: I was drawn to collage because the day I decided to begin producing art, I just grabbed what materials I happened to have on hand, and used them on the spot. I've more or less continued in that vein, with some departures into more planned whatsits here and there, but mostly I just find stuff, cut it up, stick it together in haphazard ways, and maybe paint on it some if I'm still not happy with it. I'm having fun working with collage without putting much thought into it; I really respect collage artists that put hours of thought and planning and execution into a piece, and you can really see all that work shine through in the finished object, but for me, spontaneity is God. S'fun.
SP: You seem to have a tendency to work on a visual theme like bowls of ramen or people in awkward scenarios. Does your upcoming show focus on a single theme or is it more diverse visually?
Macon: I've never thought about my stuff in this way, exactly, but now I'm a little giddy about people seeing some of this stuff as a parade of awkward scenarios! For the Punk Dada Tea Art show, I'll have a lot more figure work, and collage-paintings that tell little stories and postmodern myths, with a side of eggs to keep things flavorful. The theme is… let's say the theme is if a really greasy & fruity breakfast and Saturday morning cartoons had a lovechild.
SP: I'm interested in your process and objectives as an artist. Do you choose your paper materials deliberately or do you choose to use materials that you find randomly in order to add subtext to your work? Or do you prefer not to have subtext in your works and you want to emphasize the materiality (or visceral nature) of your materials?
Macon: I use whatever materials I stumble upon, find discarded, some that are given to me, and I get others from local sources like The I.D.E.A. Store and Jane Addams Book Shop's life-saving ephemera room. I'm not thinking much about subtext or meaning, and I try not to have anything in the way of intended message, meaning, or mood when I'm making art. I'm just playing.
SP: I was curious so I explored your social media connections. How has exploring calligraphy and flower arrangement helped you expand as an artist?
Macon: It's definitely influenced the way that I interact with space, particularly negative space. I study Ikebana (flower arranging) under Kimiko Gunji, and Shodo (calligraphy) under Shozo Sato. Both are visionaries, and their application of traditional artistic ratios and techniques to our modern lives has been a revelation to me. It's been an adventure and a privilege to work with two masters in exploring the overlap between these arts steeped in tradition, and the more rebellious cores of the Punk and Dada movements. While they may ostensibly differ in terms of immediate outward expression, these arts and lifestyles contain surprising and intricate similarities of spirit. It's keen.
SP: Do you have any other comments about art that you would like to make?
Macon: I don't want art to be only for the chosen few. I don't like the idea that only the wealthy, the educated, and the elite are privy to the enrichment inherent in fine art, the avant-garde, the absurd, or the otherwise challenging. I like the idea of an artistic dialogue with the public, wherein the working class is perfectly within their rights to call bullshit on the artistic establishment, to say that they could do just as impressively as any working artist if they chose to devote their energy thusly. Art is an individual experience, not a collective or hierarchical assessment. Right now, I'm really into art that makes people laugh together, think together, and communicate honestly. I'm really into art as something that's just fun to do.
Paid for by the Urbana Arts Grant, the Punk Dada Art Exhibition will be on exhibit at the IMC Gallery for the next few weeks. The opening reception will go until 9 p.m. on Saturday August 13th. Guests are encouraged to dress as strange, wild, or avant-garde as they are capable of if they choose to do so. You can find more information about the Punk DadaTea Show and Art Exhibition at Macon’s tumblr or at the Facebook event page.
Images were provided with permission from the artist.
Sarah Keim is a contributing writer for Smile Politely’s Arts section. She's a bit of a recluse on social media. Sarah ditched C-U for the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin this past weekend. Prithee, raise thy tankard and give a hearty Huzzah!