Mark Whalen: "I am Just Here" –

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Mark Whalen’s latest exhibit, “I am Just Here,” presents work from the artist that hinges on unconventional relationships between humans and objects. Running September 17th through November 28th, 2021, at CAC Málaga, Spain, in collaboration with Over the Influence, Whalen’s work sparks a dialogue with the viewer.
A conversation rooted in oddities, Whalen speaks to a world where clear lines are blurred, and one’s relation to an object acts as an extension of form rather than incorporation. Sculpture’s stand front and center molding personifications with interwoven embellishments. Vibrant tones of pinks, blues, and metallics tie sculptures and paintings, striking the viewer with visual stimuli. Whalen informs his work with past drawings unearthing moments that stretch years. Through an intensive process of trial and error, complete composites come to light.
Check out Whalen’s works that are on display at CAC Málaga.

The intersection of the Flower and Fashion District in Downtown Los Angeles situates artist Jonny Negron’s studio. Originally from New York, Negron has called various cities home while inescapably ending up in the city of angels. This enclave for creatives has made LA not only a source of inspiration but an established community that fuels needed connection.
Located on the third floor of an expansive building, I witness Negron’s organic energy and playful demeanor. The high-spirited yet unpredictable artist leads me around his workspace, highlighting curiosities that embellish most of his studio. Scattered around his flat is personality indicators from shelves of vinyl records to books informing his craft. While anime and eroticism have inspired his artistic journey, Negron makes it apparent that history contextualizes themes and ideas that live inside his paintings. Fully informed and style specific, Negron has garnished notoriety for crystalizing humanistic scenes of partying, introspection, and sexuality in a moody and mind imprinting way.
Known for creating comics that cause an audience to double-take, Negron has cemented a reputation for bending realities and forging a multiverse of absurdity. “Grandaddy Purple Erotic Gameshow,” a 2011 comic centering an assassin who’s at the brunt of retribution for previous murders in a seductive and shocking manner, sparked recognition among comics and the art scene, catalyzing his career and the chapters that would come.
In recent years, Negron has mastered his stylistic fusions of alternative comics and Japanese woodblock printing, casting moments of solace for the world of characters he has created while embedded in intentional chaos. His newest collection of work for his upcoming solo exhibition at Chateau Shatto examines nightlife and club culture including newely explored mediums of music and video work. Balancing nuances of darkness and relief, Negron succeeds in dissecting the complexities of one’s life and the depths of experience. Occupying multiple planes of existence, each piece of work feeds into Negron’s representations of life and the varying emotions that accompany it. Color stories mould one’s experience with his paintings, yet details flood each work tugging onto one’s sense of reality. Depicting scenes that appear on another planet carry pieces of truth that speak to the viewer and their relationship with the world.
In an exclusive interview below, a journey marked by decades signifying growth and expression, Negron opens up about inspirations, culture, and themes. 
How has this year been treating you?
My year, it’s been good. It’s been busy. There’s been a lot of, there’s been a lot of production, but I’ve been motivated.
In comparison to last year, how are you feeling currently?
In some ways, this year has been more difficult. I think just because of the uncertainty with our conditions and the complacency in there. I think last year, there was more optimism, but I think as I got beaten by the reality that we’re just inside, you know, and struggling with loneliness and all that kind of stuff. Aside from that, it’s been a great year too. I have had good experiences.
How long have you been in this space?
Two years now.
What draws you to create in Downtown Los Angeles?
I think there’s, there’s so much diversity here, and it’s like, there’s so much visual stimuli just being in the flower district. There’s so many plants and flowers to look at, which is great. And then on the other side, all the fabric streets, that’s another source of inspiration. Just in the fashion, there’s so much style here that I often will see people that I like. I’ll take pictures of them just because I’m inspired by their look. And then, of course, the weather, you know, being from New York. It’s nice to have the more balanced weather.
Can you speak to the process of creating a piece from inspiration to a final product?
Absolutely. I think there’s an amalgam of sources where there might be an idea, but then sometimes, for example, there’s a piece that I wanted to depict a bartender, but I didn’t quite have the composition in mind. I had the overall theme in mind, but then one day, I was at a bar, and I saw a particular bartender who just had a striking look and the bar itself. It was a nice bar. I referenced that. I was like, “okay, this is what I want to use.” Sometimes that’ll happen where I’m thinking of an outfit or a color that a figure should be wearing and, if I see a person on the street, maybe that day I’m like, “Okay, that’s the inspiration.” But then I refer to different compositions of masterworks or ancient works that I think kind of contain the theme that I’m looking to convey.
Your work presents absurdities in a really intriguing way. What inspired that approach?
I think it’s always been there to a degree. I always gravitated towards art that is unique, you know, something that doesn’t remind me of anything else. And even when I was younger and I would see work like this that I fundamentally didn’t like, but it stuck with me, and it stayed there as something that was different. I had to realize I was like, “this is actually great.” If I’m able to remember it, and it’s so like, it’s making me feel away. Maybe I didn’t want to feel that way, though, but that makes it, that makes it strong. And I think one artist who drew me into absurdity more was David Lynch and his films. Because when I first saw his films, I first saw Blue Velvet, and I fucking hated it. I thought it was horrible, horrible. But then, over time, I think as I matured a little bit, something clicked. I was like, “this is brilliant.” I started to want to incorporate these ideas in my work. Erotic manga as well. I mean, there’s R. Crumb. I feel like that’s definitely an influence that was there.
A lot of your paintings, as you say, have consistent themes of anime and eroticism throughout. What sparked the interest of those explorations?
Well, I think anime also challenged me as a kid because with American cartoons, the cartoons are strictly or they were more strictly for children. The content is like PG; you don’t see sex, you don’t see extreme graphic violence. The manga and anime I was exposed to, it challenged that. I was like, “what? this doesn’t seem right.” And I remember the first time I saw the cover of a hentai VHS at the video store that I would go to. I remember being mind blown because this is a cartoon. It looked like Sailor Moon but with huge breasts. It burned a hole in my brain. I was so young. I didn’t quite understand what I was looking for. I was like, “I shouldn’t be looking at this.” This is like Playboy, this stuff that I didn’t know about yet. I think just drawing back to using classical references; there’s so much erotic and nude imagery with fine art. And I think that’s where the influence came in also as like a critique in a sense, of porn or what’s considered decent or indecent. Till this day, women aren’t allowed to show their bare breasts, and it’s arbitrary. It’s stupid. I think it’s the way it’s fetishized because it’s censored. If it wasn’t so censored and it was just normalized as like, “this is our natural body; we’re mammals,” I don’t think it would be fetishized the way it is.
You capture women in a very distinct way. Your depictions are of curvier women and often sexual, yet they appear absent of the male gaze. Have you thought about that absence or how you portray women?
I think it’s a transmutation or critique of the male gaze. I think about Venus a lot, especially Venus of Willendorf and this depiction of the maternal, like the female form. And these aspects of motherhood, like big belly, large breasts. That’s part of why I emphasize that type of body because I guess there’s these sort of religious or cold references that are underneath a lot of these images.
Do you think your Puerto Rican roots or the culture out of New York and other places you’ve lived have influenced a lot of your work?
Yeah, I think even in terms of figuration, that’s another aspect. There’s a lot more body positivity, but I think that there was certainly a lack of it only ten years ago in fashion. It made me want to depict this more and also just being from a culture where there’s curvier and thicker people. I remember just being a kid and the women around me always seeming to be unhappy with their physique, like always trying to obtain a standard that’s not attainable. I think it’s beautiful now that I see real women who look like what I was depicting, but back then, I felt like there was an absence of that. Now there’s so many more plus-size models.
What are a few moments you cherish or look back on and acknowledge their importance?
I’m always grateful to be able to pursue what I do. And I think, looking back, the times that I struggled and the times when I told myself to give up or pursue something else. I persevered to continue doing what I do, and I’m happy that people enjoy and encourage me to keep doing it. And it’s my life. I’ve always been doing it. I’ve been drawing since I was little.
It’s exciting to watch your journey. I have witnessed tremendous growth. And like you say, you love the evolution aspect of your work. Where do you see yourself in the near future?
That’s a good question, but I just think in terms of growth, it’s always been intentional. And I think in order for growth to be possible, there has to be growth from within you. You can’t just preach it. I think a lot of my work is experiential. And so there’s some darkness in my work that does come from life experience, but there’s also a lot of those experiences that came from a desire to tell a story or be able to relate to people and tell stories about pain that I think everyone goes through. And then there’s that something that threatens to take you over, which I think I’ve struggled with. But as I progress and keep working on myself, I know that maintaining a positive outlook is what will sustain me. And I try not to worry about the future too much. I think just being in the present and enjoying the simpler things have been really rewarding.
Can you speak to your solo exhibition coming up?
The solo show is coming up in November with Chateau Shatto, and I’m planning to feature about six larger works that continue with the themes that I’ve recently been working with of nightlife and dancing. I’m planning to do some kind of imagery of people clubbing. I’m also planning to introduce some video pieces that I made, which I’m excited about. And the video pieces will also include original music. So it’s been a bit of an undertaking just balancing these three things, but I really love all of them. And I access a different mindset for each one. Do you know? Music is a very different form of expression, but I love it. In some ways making music is my favorite, just because it’s the most immediate, like you make a sound, and everyone hears it and enjoys it. And then the video, it’s almost like a video diary. A lot of the images and a lot of the video is from my iPhone, and they are from my experiences.
Well, thank you for sitting down with me.
Is that it? Cool! I feel good about that. 
Maryland-based rapper and producer IDK is living up to his acronym “Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge,” as he teams up with No Label, a nonprofit dedicated to amplifying underrepresented voices. Co-founders Marcelo HD and Miles Weddle knew something big was coming after a conversation with IDK about his frustration with the lack of accessibility to knowledge for the next generation of creatives.
IDK and No Label’s brain baby, “No Label Academy” was born to make it attainable for BIPOC youth to have a future in the music industry. The rapper has lived twice as much life than most 29 years olds as he found himself incarcerated at the vulnerable age of 17. During his sentencing, he worked towards manifesting the career he has today. While it is already difficult to “make it” in the music industry, the rapper-turned educator is extending his knowledge with a 10-day course on the music business and also touching on topics like mental health and financial literacy, at none other than Havard University, as a top-tier scholar should.
The student’s guest speakers include other artists, producers, DJs, and businessmen such as Virgil Abloh, Katonya Breaux, Charlie Heat, TDE’s Punch, Zane Lowe, Reggie Saunders, and more. There won’t be tests but rather memorable exercises to ensure the experience. After completing the program, students will receive even more open doors with internship , job opportunities, and possibly a record deal. This is only the beginning as IDK wants to make this a nationwide program.
IDK isn’t letting anything get in the way of giving BIPOC youth the opportunities to succeed. “If I start with Harvard, I’ll be able to do stuff easily at Howard. I’ll be able to go to Yale. I’d be able to go to pretty much any school. To a lot of people, the idea of Harvard is impossible — just like the idea of being an artist and having a career in music is impossible,” he says.
Worthless studios is excited to announce the release of their first two publications, ‘FREE FILM: USA’ and ‘FREE FILM: JUNE 2020.’
Both of these publications have cataloged our country, expanding to the world for the last two years in radically different but important ways. These books are just the beginning of what it looks like to democratize the documentation of our ever-shifting realities. 
For this project, artist Neil Hamamoto and founder of ‘Not-for-profit worthless studios,’ embarked on a cross country road trip in an Airstream-turned-darkroom with the FREE FILM team. He titled the project “FREE FILM: USA,” distributing nearly 1,600 rolls of 35mm film to image-makers in 18 cities throughout the year of 2019. The product  — over 40,000 images revealing varying perceptions and documentations of this country’s culture. 
Fast forward a year later, as Americans took to the streets in mass to protest the injustices of America’s police system in wake of the killing of George Floyd amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Worthless studios initiated FREE FILM: JUNE 2020. This second iteration intends to empower artists by showcasing a collection of hundreds of rolls of film from photographers from around the globe documenting protests, natural disasters, the pandemic, and moments in between. FREE FILM: JUNE 2020 was born from a collaborative effort between Brooklyn-based street photographer Andre D. Wagner and worthless studios, as well as 30 other photographers in the editing and curation of these images for the project. 
You can Pre-Oder the FREE FILM BOOK SET here, as it’s printed in full bleed with exclusive behind-the-scenes documentation of the project. 
Please confirm that you are at least 18 years old.