Marcus Colburn is an artist and sculptor who I met online. He also has a cool website www.marcuscolburn.com where he shares his work. He has traveled around from Iowa to West Virginia to North Carolina, but art has always kept him grounded. I wanted to find out what motivates his work. What I found is a cool guy who is committed to art and freedom of expression. Here's our chat.
MICHAEL: Hey Marcus. I find it interesting that you're both a painter and a sculptor. Do you ever feel that you have to balance these two disciplines or do they just naturally co-exist?
MARCUS: Hi Michael. Thanks for the chance to have this chat! It seems to me that most painters would want to sculpt at one point or another. Is it unusual? I think that both disciplines are just a way to try to express something. I would probably consider myself primarily a painter who occasionally sculpts though. Actually I would say that I'm primarily a painter who occasionally cooks, occasionally sleeps, and occasionally has to take a break from painting. I can tell you that I'm not able to have both a painting and a sculpture going at the same time. For some reason, I need to either be in paint mode or sculpt mode and it takes some time to switch in between the two. Perhaps I'm just not good at multi-tasking.
MICHAEL: I feel the same way about art, writing, running and yoga, which I'm about to do now. I love them all, but I do have to balance them for everything to work well. When did you first realize that you were becoming an artist? How did it happen?
MARCUS: Wow, that's a tough question. It's like asking "When did you realize you were becoming a werewolf!" I remember when I was 7 or 8 years old at Christmastime my grandmother gave me a big box filled with stuff to make other stuff: cardboard, masking tape, pipe cleaners, a big 120 color crayon set ... that type of thing. I thought that it was the greatest gift ever! Better than any GI Joe I received that year. So I think that I've always had a creative mind, but it wasn't until my first year of college that I began to seriously paint and it was for all of the usual reasons. I was 19, angsty as hell and thought I had something to say to the world through art. It's sort of funny that I'm now in my 30s and I feel exactly the same way. Maybe some people choose art as a career or an avocation or a lifestyle or a hobby, but I really don't think I had any choice; it's who I am. I don't wish for that to sound pompous or grand—in fact, lots of days it kind of sucks, but I have to accept it ... just like the werewolf.
MICHAEL: Aren't you also a graphic artist or art director? I've often wondered whether other jobs in the art field are enough to keep artists fulfilled creatively.
MARCUS: I was Art Director at Zendik Farm Arts Foundation, yes. I was also the graphic designer for projects there and I still do some freelance stuff in Photoshop, Quark, Indesign, etc. for survival purposes. I don't know about most artists, but for me the traditional and modern expressions don't really have anything to do with each other. I definitely have a very old-school way of thinking about these things though. I love working in Photoshop, for example, but I don't think it really translates to the paintings or sculptures in a creative sense. I guess if I were to imagine a legacy, I would rather it be closer to a Van Gogh than David Carson because even though the later is awesome and I love his stuff I relate better to the first. So, my answer is no. I don't think that those types of jobs can be a replacement or substitute for oil paint and marble (or acrylic paint and alabaster ... Ha). This might be a huge mistake in this commerce economy where an artist has to eat, but I think that if I stray too far from the ideal vision, I might not get another chance to go back to that innocence of creating stuff that's just for the world outside of the market. That said ... my dog does have to eat and I would sell a painting pretty cheap right now!
MICHAEL: Your website also uses the name "Rev Zendik." Is that also you? How did that name come about?
MARCUS: From 1999 until recently, I lived near an artist named Wulf Zendik and his wife Arol. I left that situation and now I live with my dog in a cabin in the (North Carolina) mountains. We can talk more about Wulf Zendik if you'd like to, but he was my mentor and my biggest influence and his wife Arol was also a mentor of mine throughout those years. Longest story in the world in the shortest way possible ... Wulf wrote a 900 page novel called "Zendik" about a painter (it is an awesome book by the way) and at a certain point I asked if I could use that name to sign my paintings. The Rev part was arbitrary, but it kind of stuck and I've been painting under both names for quite some time. I still have to figure out which name to really use. I think I might be Marcus Colburn and represent Rev Zendik as his agent. Hell, I really don't know.
MICHAEL: Are you a trained artist? Also, how do you describe your work? To me it seems mainly figurative, strong on color and somewhat animated ... highly narrative.
MARCUS: I like your description, Michael. That is one of the most difficult things about my work and something that I'm just now coming to terms with in the sense that I am not "classically" trained and don't seem to fit into a particular heading of description for the work. I did study art in college, but never did get the proper piece of paper that says I have a degree. I think that you can come at any discipline from two directions: either 1) study, learn the rules, apply the rules, break the rules; or 2) break all the rules, learn that certain things don't work in application and then study to figure out how to do it differently. I really do not like the terms "outsider art" or "self-taught artist" because they imply a lower level of aptitude and every 15 year old girl with a sketchpad in her bedroom can be called an "outsider artist," but I suppose that's what I would have to be called, if anything.
MICHAEL: So many young artists today are obsessed with having a "style." I tend to think that we all have inherent ways of doing things and that is our "style," whether they look similar or not.
MARCUS: One good thing about not fitting in with any particular camp is that I can do whatever I want with the paintings. In other words, if I want to paint my dog I can paint her in any style or mood that I choose that day—well, within the scope of my ability of course—instead of having to paint in a particular way that I've been labeled under. I think that any painter who tells you they would choose not to paint like Caravaggio if they had the ability is a liar, so style really comes down to ability at the end of the day. I like to say that an artist's style is simply determined by capability. It's an enhancing of strengths and ignoring or weaknesses resulting in the best possible work he or she can do at that time. My newest paintings will be recognized as mine, but they will be very different also and I can't see it working for me any other way.
MICHAEL: Totally. I feel the same way about writing. Have you always felt this way?
MARCUS: I remember the exact day that I had to make this decision for myself. I had just sold a painting for what at the time was a very large amount of dollars for me. Well, the person who bought it came back and said that her friend would like the same painting, only in blues and reds instead of greens. I told her I would think about it and get back to her. A few days later, I was approached by another person to do the same painting only this time in purple. It was one of those very clear cut times in life where there is a fork in the road and I chose to not go the way of painting whatever matches someone's couch.
MICHAEL: Good for you! Earlier, you mentioned "outsider art." It's so funny because I think the very acceptance of the term "outsider" is act of conformity. We all have to conform on a daily basis, but not when it comes to your personal work. There are quite a few rich and famous artists alive today who many artists criticize for "selling out." Do you think it's possible to be commercially successful without "selling out"?
MARCUS: I have no idea, Michael. I wouldn't ever disparage anyone for doing whatever they do in the art world, but I also don't think that money can ever be the predominant issue. To me, success has more to do with expression and to a slightly lesser degree, recognition. I think that as artists, the heart of the matter boils down to simply expressing a thought, emotion, or idea and hoping that someone somewhere sees it, feels it, and appreciates it. Ultimately, we are looking for love, but that is a lot to ask ... so we settle for appreciation, fame, or money. Maybe I'm just being romantic about the whole thing, but I think that there is far too little romance on the planet right now, so I'm going with it and I will take this opportunity to invite everyone to come with me.
MICHAEL: People are looking for love, but they settle for fame or money. Wow, I like that. That really nails it. Finally Marcus, what does art do for you and why do you think it's so important?
MARCUS: Well first, I want to thank you Michael for the chance to have this chat. It was very fun and I think you are doing good things for the art community with your work. To me, art is only a series of possibilities: A possibility to find truth for myself which hopefully can resonate with others, a possibility to communicate an idea in an aesthetic way, a possibility to wear a funny mustache and get away with it, a possibility to play as a child in a sandbox, a possibility to find freedom, a possibility of changing the world and a possibility to find holiness. I guess that's all.
MICHAEL: A possibility to find holiness. Nice. Sounds like you're on your way. Thanks a lot man. This was great.
Check out Marcus' website at www.marcuscolburn.com