11 Aug
No, not if it's the playfully subversive street art of Mark Jenkins

We first became aware of the work of Mark Jenkins during a recent Los Angeles gallery show, where his absurd human-like characters dominated the room. Raised in the scintillating art Mecca of Fairfax, VA, it probably wasn’t too obvious to Jenkins as a child that he’d wind up a renowned artist. But despite his rising star, he has no formal artistic training whatsoever — although, admittedly, his particular brand of street art doesn’t require many formal skills taught in a class room. What is required is creativity, a bit of subversiveness, a dark sense of humor and a pervasive desire to mess with the public at hand. “The suburbs didn’t inspire me much, not while I was there at least,” explains Jenkins of his youth growing up in the suburbs of Washington DC. “I didn’t make art in grade school or high school. Looking back I really didn’t do too much of anything these years; I was pretty generic I guess.” Well, he’s made up for it by now. By strategically placing fully clothed, human-like sculptures in cities around the world, the contextual environments he creates range from the playfully absurd to the downright threatening. Bodies floating in pools, young women passed out in their trays at a food court, hoodied bodies lying under a row of bikes as if run over, armed ski-masked gangsters loitering on benches. While some might make you turn your head and laugh (the person sleeping in a bed parked at a meter), others might compel the more naive to run for the nearest bomb squad…well I guess he’s doing something right. Read the interview below to find out what exactly makes Mark tick…

So what was the inspiration for the Tape Sculpture series? Do you remember the moment the inspiration struck?
I was interested in doing small art projects. I’d met some installion artists in Rio de Janeiro who were doing this sort of stuff and it seemed fun. I decided to try and make a cast of a tin foil ball by wrapping the tape in reverse and it worked. Then I started trying other stuff, like myself but it didn’t work because I couldn’t reach around to do the upper body. I asked a hooker who wanted to hang out (there are a lot in Rio on the beaches) if I could wrap her up but she said no. But in the end I found other models.

What are you trying to convey?
I don’t know that I’ve every really tried to convey anything. It’s just not how I look at it. I like to explore things. I like the surreal world. I like the idea of being a channel for my ideas to happen. But it does consume me…way too much actually. But most friends I have who are artists are the same way.

Hit the Jump to continue reading the interview with Mark Jenkins, plus two more additional galleries of his work…

“People have called the cops, freaked out…But then some that don’t look dead at all have prompted bomb squads. I think maybe some people just like to call the cops.”

Sometimes the pieces are hilariously absurd, but other times they are pretty disturbing — it’s almost as if the figures could be dead. Has anyone ever freaked out at one of your pieces, thought it was a real person, and called the cops?
Sometimes they do look a bit dead. People have called the cops, freaked out, etc. But then some that don’t look dead at all have prompted bomb squads. I think maybe some people just like to call the cops.

The Floater, complete with bear-headed viewer above…

Do you feel any guilt at causing anxiety or fear in strangers? Or is this the raison d’etre of the project?
This is a really tough question. No. I’m not trying to freak people out. Sometimes I think it could happen and it doesn’t exactly stop me. I’m just seeing something in my head that I want to make and then I make it. But for me it’s more than trying to make dead people. And, you know, it’s hard to make people that look alive. Dead, sleeping, waiting…I can do this. But I think I do it in a way that bridges over to the surreal. That’s what I’m after. The dead guy in the water (The Floater) had colorful ballons coming out of his back trying to save him with a pink bear-headed girl sculpture on the bridge above watching, hoping he would be saved. I didn’t think a rescue diver would arrive to do the job. That they did…do I feel guilt? Maybe, yes, but it did add another layer to this scene, some action, a plot. And it might sound off, but it did give them a good practice exercise. I would only really truly feel bad if there was another nearly dead guy in another river who could have been saved…but then again most people floating face down in the river, balloons or no balloons, are probably dead. Maybe I’m overthinking this one…let’s move on….

The unexpected rescue of The Floater via emergency diver…

The pieces seem to be spread out in various cities across the world — London, Seol, North Carolina — does this mean you’d consider yourself a “street artist”?

How does a city influence what piece you put there?
I don’t think the work is city specific. These could have happened in any city.

Can you tell us briefly the technical aspect of your sculptures? Are the sculptures mannequins, or are they made of tape as the title implies?
They’re made from tape. They’re tape casts of people, often myself.

The inflatable little people/animal sculptures — is this a separate project?
They’re made from tape too. I have a DIY up at Tape Sculpture that will step you through it if you’d like to have a go at it.

I love the three gangsters in Sao Paolo. Is this a commentary on the violence of the city? Did anyone call the police on this piece? Is it legal (permitted), and is it still up?
It was legal, permitted, so was the girl in the cafeteria although that one had to be removed because people complained it was ruining their appetite. But sure this one is about violence. It was inspired by The Warriors — a movie I watched as a kid. There is this convention for all these gangs to come together but then the head of the convetion gets killed by this one gang and then they pin it on this gang, the Warriors. Great film. But anyway, the Warriors have to fight all these gangs. One of them is thisbaseball gang that wears face paint kind of like the band Kiss, but even worse. They actually sucked shit at fighting. My guys would go through them and all the other gangs in the movie like butter. But since this is web….you guys can link to it right? See for yourself.

“Warriors…Come out and Plaaaay!”

Yeah, those Furies really were pussies. So who are your design and/or art heroes?
People who paint horses.

And what’s next for you?
Sweden. I’m teaching at a school for a week.

OK last question: if you were lost in a supermarket, in what aisle would we find you in?
You wouldn’t. I stopped doing these sorts of drugs awhile ago.

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