Studio Visit: Marcel Dzama

Aug 17, 2018

New York is Stumptown’s second home. For 10 years now we’ve been flying back and forth from Portland, scooped up from the Pacific Ocean and passed back by eastern tailwinds; making homes in Brooklyn, and feverishly talking about all of our favorite places to eat and drink and get in to trouble.

As were were shaping the idea of what our first Brooklyn cafe would look like, it was a no-brainer that we’d want to showcase the neighborhood, make it large enough for people to gather, and highlight some of our favorite artists’ work. Because of course, NY is teeming with creatives, undiscovered visionaries, and megalithic icons, we found ourselves acquainted with the one and only Marcel Dzama. James, Stumptown wunderkind who does everything from manage East Coast operations to run his own record label, connected us. What started out as an ask to hang one of his pieces turned into an incredible conversation that ended with him creating a custom piece for us to permanently live in the cafe.

Last April, long before our Cobble Hill cafe was finished, Marcel generously invited us to visit his studio. It was pouring rain, and we felt like wet dogs entering the Met, but we dried off, shared some Cold Brew, and got to talking.


Stumptown: So what’s it like living in Cobble Hill as an artist? We're so excited to be in this nook of Brooklyn, and while many of us know the neighborhood well, other members of our team are experiencing it for the first time. Do you have any favorite spots to go draw or chill out?

Marcel Dzama: Since having a kid, It’s been very nice living in Cobble Hill. There’s a lot of families and nice restaurants, parks, gardens, farmers market and shops that are all reasonably close, plus my studio is only a few blocks from my home.

S: We really love it here too. You get to travel quite frequently - did you say you were just on the heels of a trip from Morocco?

MD: Yes, Louis Vuitton paid for my family and I to travel all over Morocco - such a beautiful country. Very inspiring. They have a publishing company that puts out books featuring the work of artists traveling the world. They are all very visual. I started working on the drawings in Morocco but I’m still finishing them up now. There are over 120! It should come out sometime next year. I’m also working on a solo show for David Zwirner in Hong Kong in January, as well as a solo show at the contemporary Art Museum in Finland, and another solo show in Düsseldorf Germany, all in the fall of next year. Presently, I’m just about done finishing up a film that stars the hilariously brilliant Amy Sedaris titled A Flower of Evil. After that I’m also working on the soundtrack for that film with members of Arcade Fire. When that is all said and done, I’ll be doing the set designs and costumes for a new ballet choreographed by Emma Portner at New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center.

S: We can’t tell you enough how much it means to us that you found time to create this piece for our cafe. You titled it, “To Rise and To Fall and To Rise and To Fall and To Rise and To Fall Again”. What does this mean to you? As always, your pieces are so detailed and intentional - could you tell us a bit about the symbolism behind the work?

MD: It’s about perseverance against the wrongs of the world. How all things go through waves, you’re on top and then you’re back down and then you get up and start over again.

S: How long did it take for you to complete this project? Originally it was concepted as being just one panel, but then it became a triptych. We were so excited that the piece kept getting larger and larger.

MD: I believe it was about a month and a half in the making. I’m not sure, actually... There are so many layers of drawings in that work and time tends to disappear when I’m painting. I was in Madrid recently and saw the piece “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Bosch - I always enjoyed that work and wanted to try a triptych of my own.


S: Looking around your studio, you have so many different creations adorning the walls and peeking out of shelves. You’ve created this very personal world, and it seems like you keep a lot of your pieces instead of displaying them. Something that stood out was all of your wonderful masks, which you were so nice to let us put on and play with. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

MD: I like to keep most of the costumes that I make for films or videos. Sometimes I’ll reuse them in other films or live performance that I’ll do occasionally. I base most of the costumes from drawings but sometimes I’ll actually draw the costumes that are hanging up in my studio wall. It gives me a feeling of comfort to have that clutter everywhere.

S: It was so rad to see the work of other artists tacked up on the wall too - it feels like good juju from the past. Who are some of the artists you look up to, or feel inspired by?

MD: Right now Goya, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, William Blake and Oskar Schlemmer.


S: Thanks for letting us poke at all of your art supplies - we geek out on materials pretty hard here. Something we noticed was that you had all of these wonderfully ancient bottles of root beer flavoring in your toolbox. How long have you been painting with them?

MD: I discovered the root beer mix a while ago in Fosston, Saskatchewan, in an old co-op general store near my grandfather’s farm. I accidentally spilled it on my sketchbook and I started playing around with it. With the way it dried, I preferred it to the brown water color I had and it left a vanilla root beer smell on everything I made, so I kept incorporating it into my work. I still use it now, so it’s been over 20 years.

S: Thank you so much for hanging with us! We have one last question - what’s your favorite place to have a cup of coffee?

MD: I enjoy making my own coffee early in the morning before any one is up. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans feels like a new start. Sometimes on my way to the studio I’ll stop by Dot & Line, or after dropping off my son from school my wife and I will get coffee and an egg sandwich at Rucola. The new Stumptown location on Pacific will definitely now be part of my morning routine.

Marcel, you’re an amazing artist and human. Visiting your studio was a dream and we’re so stoked to have your work in our cafe. See you ‘round the neighborhood!


Want to see “To Rise and To Fall and To Rise and To Fall and To Rise and To Fall Again” in person?

Come visit Stumptown Cobble Hill,
at 212 B Pacific Street.

Marcel Dzama To Rise and To Fall and To Rise and To Fall and To Rise and To Fall Again, 2018

Watercolor, ink, spray pain, acrylic medium, graphite, and collage on paper

Triptych One part: 36 1/8 x 66 inches 91.8 x 167.6 cm Two parts: 36 x 54 1/2 inches 91.4 x 138.4 cm
© Marcel Dzama

Courtesy: The Artist and David Zwirner