The photographic collage work of Mario Zoots is both disturbing and enthralling, like a sick joke you’re not supposed to laugh at or like a fun nightmare. The work feels as familiar as much as it does chaotic almost confusing but with plenty of color and humor. Zoots has that nostalgic aesthetic everybody’s into right now but is still conceptually sound. Repetition, displacement, and the role of reimagination are recurring themes.
By digitally manipulating images, Zoot’s collages make a direct comment about the nature of contemporary cyber-culture. But what exactly that comment or cyber-culture is I couldn’t tell you. I’d say the idea is left to the audience but it feels truer to say that this type of obscurity is native to the nature of subject matter Zoots is speaking on: self-reflexive, confusing, and overall hypersaturated.
I have so many questions for you. We’ll start with you. Where are you from?
I am from Denver Colorado, native. I am 4th generation Colorado, my great grandparents grew up in southern Colorado working on the farms.
Are you in Denver now? I hear a lot about Denver being a hip city but I haven’t been since summer vacation of 1995.
I am in Denver now. And yes this city has gotten ultra hip in the last few years, either that or i got more hip and met all the cool kids. I was born here and have lived here all 31 years of my life. I like it here. I want to move away though, I need a change of pace. I want to live in portland, or austin or some other city that reminds me of denver.
And what era of your personal life has had the deepest effect on your work?
I think the biggest part of my life where I was the most inspired is when I was living with a woman named Kristy Fenton. Her and I started a band called Modern Witch, this was around 2008. From 2007- 2008, I came up with all the formulas I am still using today. I would like to think that my work is about tapping into the unconscious and setting up parameters to allow chance to work its magic.
What do you mean by formulas?
The formulas i came up with were like, make a collage out of one piece of paper using both sides or Only make work that is 8 x10 that way it would fit my scanner and I could post it online, and another is make a work with paper all from a certain time period, for example I tried exercises where I only use paper from 1955-1959, another is 1970-1975. I tried this technique thinking that these works theoretically could of been made in the 50’s or in the 70’s, this calmed my urge to make work that could be timeless.
Did you ever go to school? What are your thoughts on college vs. not-going-to-college?
I did go to school, i have a BFA in New Media from Metro State College of Denver. I think there is no one way to make art, i respect those in and out of school. A lot of kids i went to school with never really made a lot of art to begin with. They were young and i think were going because their parents wanted them to or something. I met the few talented kids while in art school, and we are still friends today. And most of us are doing really good at showing regularly and keeping new
This fall I start my MFA at the University of Denver in a new program that just launched called Emergent Digital Practices. I am very excited to quit my job and work full time on my ideas for another three years. I think school is what you make of it. To be honest the faculty at MSCD did not teach me much while i was getting my undergrad. I learned the most from staying late and just working a lot harder than those around me in those classes. I watched tons of tutorials and taught my self Adobe. I experimented a lot, and i made sure to make every single project i was given fit into my personal work. I would then talk that work and post it online, never saying this was student work. I never have publicized my involvement in academia. I like the work to speak for itself, thats why most times I give little to no information on my process or what it means to me personally. I create things and the viewer finishes them by taking personal experience and finding their own meaning in the work.
In what ways specifically (medium, method, materials) do you feel music and the styles you mention influence your work both in collage and photography? And in that vein, what do you feel is the role of style in both mediums?
80’s and early 90’s rap influence my work and relate to it in that they are both sample based. You take a sliver of something that you come across in your life, and you appropriate it to tell a new story.
Also as in the case of ‘Punk’ and DIY culture, these ideas hit close to home for me being that if you are not privileged individual, you really have to make something out of nothing. Used books and magazines and the internet have always been more affordable than canvas, paint brushes and paint.
It seems that you’re as much a collage artist as you a photographer. There are themes of deconstruction and identity throughout your pieces and through your reconstructed, collaged and often scrambled images.
To me collage and photography go hand in hand. I am fascinated with taking photos. And I am really trying to start using my own photography in my own collage work. I have a whole new series of work that I hope to get online soon, I’ll show you what I’m talking about.
I want to photograph bands more, I love punk / post punk photos, especially when looking back at them 10+ years after taking em. Photographing bands really captures a style / moment of life. I did a performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver on March 30th where I played with Modern Witch for a exhibition that debuted a portfolio of punk rock photos from 1977 by legendary artist Bruce Conner alongside a group exhibition that explores punk rock’s historical and ongoing relationship to visual art.
Who personally and professionally or even historically influences you and your work the most?
I am very inspired by the late Dash Snow. His collage work and polaroids have always pulled me in. The level of mischievous and crime in his work is very attractive to me. I grew up doing graffiti, stealing paint, trespassing and defacing property all the while documenting and archiving it. I think this paranoid lifestyle has passed in and is visible through my work as an artist today. I have been photographing my life and work for 15 years now.
Lately I have been following closely the work of Max Snow, Banks Violette, John Stezaker and Ben Aqua. There are so many artists making strong work right now its really hard to keep up with the constant flood of information on social media and art magazines / blogs. But the artists I mentioned above are some of my favorite to follow.
If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?
If I was on death row my final meal would be a tall can of PBR and a cigarette.
Mario Zoots is a photographer and musician based out of Denver, Colorado.