Artist Watch: Marcel Dzama

Unapologetic Brooklyn based interdisciplinary artist Marcel Dzama’s work spans a significant expanse of practices and forms.  His work collected by the David Zwirner gallery includes film, sculpture, costume design, watercolors and more, but his primary focus has been on etchings and drawings.  When speaking about his projects and experiments in different mediums he shared “I’ve been drawing since I can remember, drawing is the basis of all my work. Even in my films I will do a storyboard before I do the script, when making sculptures I will first draw them. After a while I felt like my drawings were nothing new, but after changing up my mediums, I’ve come back to drawing with all of this new information to work with” (“The Process: The Most Incredible Thing”). I find it really interesting that Dzama would highlight this relationship between the fundamental nature of drawing, and its ability to be refined to something exemplary.

Dzama in New York City Ballet's Art Series

Dzama in New York City Ballet's Art Series

Born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1974 Dzama received his BFA from the University of Manitoba in ’97.  While in school Dzama founded an art society called the Royal Art Lodge.  Throughout his career his work has been heavily influenced by his roles and surroundings. One of Dzama's pieces created shortly after moving to New York is an excellent example of this. He represented his major life transition in this piece title "You Gotta Make Room For The New Ones". The piece speaks to the dying or killing off of the things that lie in the past. On the piece Dzama said "When big shifts happen in my life, I get rid of all the old ideas." This piece speaks to his personal life, but is also a larger abstract social commentary in a way as is the case with much of his work.  Another instance of his works being tied to his stage in life lie in the effects that Dzama's becoming a father had on his work. On this The Guardian wrote "the life change shows in the new drawings included in Puppets, Pawns and Prophets, as his London is called. There's a levity to them: more dancing, fewer guns."

"You Gotta Make Room For The New Ones" - David Zwirner Collection

"You Gotta Make Room For The New Ones" - David Zwirner Collection

Dzama's work has very strong narrative elements, something that has been incredibly attractive to many of his collaborators.  Dzama’s collaborators include director Spike Jonze, dancer and choreographer Justin Peck of the NYC Ballet, Kim Gordon and many more.  One of his latest projects was his design work for Justin Peck's new ballet The Most Incredible Thing based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale.  Dzama's costume design reflects this whimsical component of the piece, but the costumes also have a very psychedelic and in some cases eerie appeal to them. I was initially attracted to Dzama's work because of his design for Peck's ballet. Images of his flamboyant, but somehow still tasteful costumes caught my eye.  I have had an interest  in stage and costume design for a while as I was surrounded by the world of ballet at home. My sister is a classical ballet dancer who lives and breaths dance. I am frequently inspired to sketch and interpret visually the choreography that I watch her dance. I have a connection to and understanding of the gravity of the work that the dancers commit. Listening to dancers speak about the experience of dancing a piece provides an additional lens through which to interpret the aesthetic quality of their movement. For these reasons I appreciate the practical and aesthetic considerations that go into costume design, although I don't have experience in this area specifically. Often it is the music for me that inspires the look that I envision clothing the dancers.  The experience of watching dance for an audience is of course a sonic one, but is also heavily reliant on its visual stimuli and therefore the costumes enhancing the movement and story is very important. I feel that Dzama understands this. His costumes tie in many elements from the story of the ballet, including one of its centerpieces - the clock. I also really enjoy that Dzama took the opportunity to tell a bit of his own story through his costumes. He modeled many of the figures and the style after a chess board and its figurines with a handmade look. He also made use in a very intelligent way of red and blue as a opponents in his designs. These approaches together create very captivating visuals and enhance the story in my opinion. In addition to costuming the entire ballet this project also included the creation of multiple large scale moving sculptures to be exhibited during the performance. 

The Most Incredible Thing  Promotional Poster - NYC Ballet

The Most Incredible Thing Promotional Poster - NYC Ballet

Photo By Barbara Anastacio, behind the scenes at  The Most Incredible Thing   - NYC Ballet

Photo By Barbara Anastacio, behind the scenes at The Most Incredible Thing  - NYC Ballet

Photo Courtesy of NYC Ballet

Photo Courtesy of NYC Ballet

I introduced Marcel Dzama as unapologetic. Viewing his work will convey why I chose this introduction. He expressed in an interview with The Guardian that "I try not to censor myself at all." What we might hear from a statement like this is that his work is crude and at time for the sole purpose of being crude. However, from the work that I have seen, I feel that what Dzama is expressing is that he strives not to conform his creativity. I admire this, that he runs with whatever comes out and molds and shapes it to be compelling from that place. 



Heyward, Anna. "Behind the Scenes at This Season’s Most-Talked-About New Ballet." The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Feb. 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

Hoby, Hermione. "Cult Artist Marcel Dzama: 'I Try Not to Censor Myself'" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

"Marcel Dzama - Artists Talk with Alia Shawkat and Lance Bangs - The Artist's Studio - MOCAtv." YouTube. YouTube, 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

"Marcel Dzama » David Zwirner." David Zwirner Marcel Dzama Comments. David Zwimer, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

"Marcel Dzama's Most Incredible Thing | The Process | The Creators Project." The Creators Project. The Creators Project, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.


Meredith GeeComment