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Mark Flood

Interview by
Jeff Elrod
From Issue 24 — SS 2014

In an ongoing series of works in which the emblems of corporations are blurred, crackled and distorted into abstraction, the American painter messes with the collective imagery for people to think new thoughts about corporate power.

JEFF ELROD  So what about these mutant corporate logo paintings?

MARK FLOOD  There are three generations so far. The first one is the out-of-focus effect—which I stole from you! I took one look at your blur paintings and said, “Blurred is the new in-focus!” Then there’s the insect generation—it reminds me of the extremes of insect evolution, where they developed lots of brightly colored spare parts. And then there are some new ones that I’m just trying out, where I stretch them out to extremes and put them back together, but they’re all distorted from the stretching.

JE  But what is the point of the logos?

MF  The negative aspect of it is that one could say I’m just doing some free design work for our corporate masters. But I think the internal world of our minds is a mirror of the external world, and if you fuck with external visual things—like seemingly immutable corporate logos—you mess with people’s thinking about corporations, maybe suggest the rapid evolution of human relationships towards something less nightmarish. So these pictures are a way for people to think new thoughts about corporate power, as opposed to feeling despair in the face of the enslavement of the human race by corporations.

JE  You have a very science fiction approach.

MF  Yes. I live in a world of fantasy.

JE  A fantasy world where you have the illusion of control.

MF  To me, the power of art is to develop imagery and let it sink into people’s thoughts. It’s slow, but it’s the only real power art has. I don’t believe in making propaganda for the causes. Propaganda is not art. I don’t think it’s right to manipulate public opinion.

JE  I won’t bother pointing out the gaping holes in your ideas or your many contradictions.

MF  That’s very considerate of you.

JE  You’ve made plenty of propaganda.

MF  Well, I tried it out when I was younger. But it was experimental.

JE  More technical notes… Photoshop?

MF  No, no Photoshop. I don’t even have Photoshop.

JE  Then what?

MF  Well, as you know, after seeing the Wade Guyton show, I was inspired to look for my own glitch. You sent me to a printer that would actually let me stand there and watch the million-dollar machine spit it out. They were surprisingly open to helping me find printing glitches, but they also said it was better to do glitches in preproduction, not the printing—which felt a little arty, but I tried it and I found something. It basically involves giving the machine so little information that it freaks out and fills in the gaps. So, no two turn out the same.

That was the beginning. Then I found out every computer had done it differently. So I bought a bunch of computers and found all these different versions of the glitch. One of them was so extreme, I thought, there’s something wrong with this laptop! Then I found out if you overheated them, the screen colors went crazy—and that I could capture it. So I did a lot of heating up laptops with blow dryers and hotplates. I melted some plastic and inhaled some poisonous fumes. I did the corporate logos. I thought it would go on forever, but after a while, it got repetitive. It was over. So then I did the American flags. I also tried porn, which didn’t work as well…

JE  That’s a lot clearer than your press release. Why do you write them that way?

MF  Look at a normal press release from a museum or gallery: it’s like a little baby bird crying, “Look at me! Look at me! Let me explain what I mean, and why I’m so important.” They explain the art so you don’t even need the work. Just read the press release and go on your way. I hope my art is so irrational it could never be explained by words. So I attach something poetic that expands the art.

JE  It’s great how you naturally rant and rave.

MF  Thank you.

JE  I know you’ve always been interested in corporate logos because I found that painting of an Esso sign you did when you were a teen.

MF  I always wanted my art to depict the social world, which was my take on modern painting. But I never felt you could just show how the world looked, you had to show invisible forces. And other things, like how human bodies were organized in hierarchical power structures and corporate power.

Look at a normal press release from a museum or gallery: it’s like a little baby bird cry-ing, "Look at me! Look at me! Let me explain what I mean, and why I’m so important."

JE  How do you choose which of these mutant logos are successful so that you want to make it into actual paintings?

MF  I’ll be developing them and every once in a while, I’ll stop and save an image that makes me feel or think something. I save a thousand, select a hundred, print ten.

JE  And sell two?

MF  Something like that.

JE  What’s it like to design art that you don’t manufacture yourself?

MF  I walk into an art fair or an exhibit, and it’s full of paintings by me that I’ve never seen before, never touched, never signed. I love it. I’m proud of it. Impersonal facture is optimal.

JE  Yet you still push around paint with a brush?

MF  Yes. I do like to hedge my bets. Some techniques require the fucking brush. I tried to get away from brushstrokes—I hate them—but metallic and iridescent pigments don’t display as well without them.

JE  Some of your logos paintings aren’t printed—like the so-called “aged paintings,” that are cracked like an Old Master.

MF  Those use a totally different manufacturing process, but conceptually they’re related to the printed paintings. They’re hand-painted and artificially aged by this guy in Dallas. He has real skills! They look like they’re falling to pieces but they’re stable. I got the idea from how Cornell artificially aged his boxes. Not many artists have dealt with artificially aging their art. I guess because everyone wants to be the new thing. Forgers deal with it.

Anyway, I wanted a painting of corporate logos that looks like it’s 500 years old because time is the great relativizer. It’s the same principle as the mutant logos: the idea of relativizing the despair one feels about the enslavement of the human race by corporations. Things look a little more hopeful when you look at it from 500 years away. There’s an inspiring passage in Society of the Spectacle where Debord says something like, “Capitalism is always trying to make itself look permanent but it might be as transitory as a cloud passing across the moon.”

JE  Do you want to make any remarks about this disturbing new video, Astroturf Yelp Reviews Says Yes (https://vimeo.com/122215221)?

MF  It’s the promo for the upcoming show at Peres Projects in Berlin. I always do songs for shows. Astroturf is another comment on the way corporations are eradicating the human.

It’s something that’s hard to grasp—and, I found out, hard to visualize for a video. What I ended up doing is showing a bunch of human replacement robots, like sex bots and soldier bots, but that’s not really what the Astroturf thing is. It’s the replacement of community grassroots dialogue with corporate generated pseudo-dialogue. So in some ways the video is a failure. But it just had a life of its own.

JE  What’s the source on these “Social Media Grid” paintings?

MF  It’s the little six-pack of social media logos you see everywhere online. I love working with the Twitter bird. I’ve always loved arrays of corporate logos, ever since they started doing that in the Seventies. I guess because it reminds me of fields of Mayan hieroglyphs. So I took the “Social Media” array and put it into the glitch machine.

JE  You really pushed this image much further than the “Available NASDAQ Symbol” pieces.

MF  I decided to ignore legibility.

JE  Illegibility is the new black.

MF  Everybody always knows what everything says anyway, no matter how distorted it gets.

JE  The Social Media Grids touch on so many modernist styles.

MF  Stylistic evolution goes faster when all you have to do is type into a laptop. But ultimately, it has nowhere to go. Except maybe a FEMA camp.

JE  It’s all about the glitch.

MF  The mistakes are always the best part. Since Cezanne, anyway.

Mark Flood (American, b. 1957) lives and works in Houston. He is represented by Peres Projects, Berlin, and Zach Feuer, New York. His solo exhibition “Astroturf Yelp Review Says” is currently on view at Peres Projects, Berlin through June 13.
Jeff Elrod (American, b. 1966) is an artist who lives and works in Marfa and New York.

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