Marc Dennis' Hyper-Reality
by Paul Bruno
D: SO I READ THAT YOU WERE BORN IN DANVERS
MA. TELL ME, IS THAT A CITY, A SUBURB?
MD: Yes Danvers, MA. It’s a suburb of Boston about 20 min-
utes north, known as the North Shore. It’s where witches were
burned. It was first known as East Salem but changed the
name. Salem got all the tourists and money.
D: DID YOU GROW UP THERE?
MD: I was born there, and moved at 6. We moved to Sharon,
MA and then to Guilderland, NY and then Puerto Rico, until
I was bar mitzvahed in Newton MA and then onto another
town in MA. After that on to NJ and then finally to Brooklyn.
D: BY THEN YOU WERE HOW OLD?
MD: After I graduated college. I was 21.
D: DO YOU HAVE ANY BROTHERS OR SISTERS?
MD: 4 brothers, but no sisters.
D: WOAH! A HOUSE WITH 5 BOYS! WHERE DO YOU
FALL IN LINE OUT OF 5?
MD: Woah is right. My dad used to joke around and say our
family was like the five sons of Abraham.
D: ARE YOU THE ONLY ARTIST / CREATIVE IN YOUR
MD: I’m the only artist in my family. Although, I think my
grandfather studied painting at one point but never took it
past his teen years. My uncle from Havana was an engineer
and studied drafting/architectural rendering, etc.
D: THAT COUNTS! WERE YOU A CREATIVE KID, DOING
CREATIVE THINGS, OUTWARDLY?
MD: I was always creative. Big time. I drew on all the walls in
our house as a kid. I drew bugs, birds, lizards, etc. I was the
kid in 2nd and 3rd grade who did all the holiday decorations,
etc. I asked the teacher if I could delegate responsibilities
to other students to make the experience go faster and to
engage the other kids.
D: WERE YOUR PARENTS SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR DECISION
TO PURSUE ART?
MD: My parents were very supportive in the sense that they
never said don’t pursue it. It was clear I was skilled and
talented. My teachers told them. They saw it. The neighbors
saw it. I was always drawing. Since I was five or so, I’d
spend ours drawing. I don’t think they ever thought I’d do
D: GET INTO TROUBLE AS A KID?
MD: Yeah, I got into fights, broke into abandoned warehouses, cabins in the woods, stole boats and went out on joyrides, stole stuff from stores, and finally was arrested at 16for grand larceny for robbing cars, stolen property, etc. I was told to go straight and I did. I wound up dating a girl who’s dad was best friends with the chief of police.
D: SOUNDS LIKE TROUBLE!
MD: (LAUGHS) I never started a fight, I never taunted, or
bullied anyone. I was always the guy who got picked on (big mistake for just about all the fools who did it ). I had longhair, and looked rather mellow. I looked like a half-breed apache.
D: SO 21. YOU MOVE TO BROOKLYN AFTER GRADUATING FROM WHERE?
MD: I got my BFA from Tyler School of Art near Philly.
I moved to Green point to be exact. In a big old building on
the Newtown Creek with a few buddies. We fixed up a really crazy industrial massive loft, like 3400 sq ft. We did all labor, landlord paid for all supplies and a free year rent.
D: HAD YOU BEEN TO NYC BEFORE?
MD: Only a few times while in HS. And of course during
college I went in a lot. I visited galleries and museums constantly. In both Philly and NYC.
D: WHAT DID YOU DO FOR WORK WHEN YOU GOT TO
MD: I did some freelance illustration jobs, sold some paintings, but mostly construction. I worked on detailing, spackling, painting, etc. for hotels and private apts. in Manhattan.
D: SO WHEN DID YOU EAT YOUR FIRST INSECT?
MD: I ate lots of moths at a party once in high school. Five
bucks each. We were drunk. Then I ate a cockroach in Italy
during my junior year abroad in Tyler (college). It was on
my plate. It must’ve fallen off the grill. I ate it. The waitress
flipped out - she thought I was nuts, but gave me a free
meal. Then I think I ate another bug or two during college
and then no and then for another few years.
D: AT WHAT POINT DID YOU START TO EXPLORE IT AS A PART OF YOUR DIET?
MD: It wasn’t until 2006 that I took it seriously and realized
it was productive, with respect to the environmental impact
of livestock, ie cattle, pigs, etc. Eating bugs, it seemed, was
one of the many solutions to the massive problems we face
when it comes to water supply shortages, water pollution
and methane gasses. I baked a cricket pie for a pie social
and it sold out fast. People were curious and they were excited
about being able to tell others they ate bugs. It was
shortly thereafter I began some heavy research and in 2008
I founded Insects Are Food.
D: I KNOW THAT YOU HAVE A WIFE & A DAUGHTER -
HOW DID THEY ADAPT TO INSECTS IN THE KITCHEN?
MD: The crickets are usually kept out of sight but they can
be heard! It’s a pretty chirping sound though. And to have
crickets chirping in ones Brooklyn apartment makes for a
more romantic environment, a kind of warm feel… The wax worms
and other bugs are quiet and are usually refrigerated
or put in the freezer shortly after they are brought home or
D: BACK TO YOUR PAINTINGS, WHAT WERE YOU
WORKING ON RIGHT OUT OF SCHOOL, WHEN YOU
FIRST MOVED TO NY?
MD: I was painting fairly large canvases, 5ft x 5ft, or 6 ft x
6 ft of a variety of images that often fell into a kind of tic tac-
toe pattern. Each object or thing in its respective place
on the canvas was intended to mean something individually
as well as in a group. The images ranged from frogs and
toads to apples and plums to hearts and stars. The paintings
looked like a kind of game board. They were very colorful
and painted with lots of precision and detail. I really miss
those paintings. I liked them a lot. I have them rolled up in
a big tube in my upstate studio. It’s cool to look back over
all my years and see that I was very much attracted to, almost
locked into nature. I’ve been painting bugs, birds, bees, and other creatures since I was a kid.
D: HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE WORK YOU’RE
DOING NOW WITH THE WORK YOU WERE DOING
WHEN YOU FIRST GOT TO NYC?
MD: Many of my images are taken from direct observation. I have beetle specimens in my studio. I work from taxidermy mounts, etc. I choose to work from nature now, just as I did then. In fact it hasn’t stopped. I included humans in the work have along with animals, during grad school (‘93), but all of the work on some level was about detail. I guess it’s true what is said about the devil being in the details. I think the only difference was that back in the day, my objective as a painter was to simply strike the eye and seduce the mind, without
clear intentions. Today my intentions are to make hyper-naturalistic,
highly detailed and obsessively delineated paintings
that explore the subversive potential of beauty distilling
something otherworldly from within the realm of nature. I’m
very clear on that.
I still aim to provoke, but now I know I go into each work carefully balancing the grotesque with the beautiful. Death
with life. Brevity with gravitas. I used to be on the fence
about taking a stance regarding beauty, but I jumped off the
fence seven or so years ago, and now stand firmly in the
garden of earthly delights. I now know there is a very thin
line between most things. I paint that space. (LAUGHS)
D: ARE YOU WORKING ON ANYTHING NEW RIGHT
MD: I’m working on a series of both large and small paintings
of meat, flowers, skulls and toys.
D: WHO ARE SOME ARTISTS THAT INSPIRE YOU?
MD: Caravaggio, (The Calling of St Matthew and his Conversion
of St. Paul), many paintings by Rubens, and Rembrandt,
Pieter Claesz, Goya, Manet’s small flower studies,
Arshile Gorky’s Summation at MoMA, DeKooning, Chaim
Soutine, George Bellows. Man, the list goes on! Richter’s
Betty, Warhol’s Mao, Koons, especially his stainless steel
balloon dogs and rabbit, Matthew Barney’s, Cremaster Cycle.
I also liked Damien Hirst’s tiger shark in thetank. I forget the
title, but it was really a killer piece, no pun intended. And ofcourse, how can I forget Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased DeKooning
drawing. Brilliant. Maybe one of the best pieces of 20th century art.
D: YOU SEEM TO BE INSPIRED BY A NUMBER OF POP
ARTISTS. DO YOU LISTEN TO POP MUSIC?
MD: I was listening to Lady Gaga recently, and really liked
one song in particular that put me in a groove through a
painting. I don’t remember the name but she mentioned love, disease. She says, “Row row rowowowo!”