I have never considered myself political or had much social commentary, but in hindsight, all my work was political and social commentary.
Born, bred and still residing in Southern New Jersey with an art/film studio in Philadelphia, PA, artist Marc Brodzik’s portrait paintings reflect the people who surround him in life; everyday people, often the working class and the more disenfranchised, homeless/street people in our society. Painted not only on canvases but wood, signs and product packaging, Brodzik’s work often focuses on the common man and woman as well as the effect consumerism has had on America and its citizens.
You mainly focus on painting the portraits of Philadelphia locals. How do you choose your subjects? What is it about the people whose portraits you paint that draws you to them?It’s not that I just paint Philadelphians to be specific — I like to paint the people in my life that catch my attention. Maybe they have an interesting face or an awkward smile, or they have a face that just tells a story. I have never considered myself a portrait painter. I only recently started painting portraits because that felt right. Currently I am “painting for the sake of painting.” It’s what keeps me sane and happy. When I paint, I feel I am doing what my soul needs to do, and lately the portraits speak to that spirit.
Your portraits are painted on backdrops of cardboard, wheat pasted posters, wood and street signs. Why do you use these types of canvases?
My earlier work was based on my obsession with consumerism and how it shapes our society. My more recent work features found signs, cereal boxes, various products, and are a direct and more literal approach. In the earlier works I recreated the signage and products. Placing a portrait directly on these products started as me just being lazy, but as it turned out, it was the first step away from my focus on consumerism and toward a focus just on the faces, the consumer, the American, my neighbor.
For some of your works, you use cardboard signs purchased from the homeless or other people out on the street, and then paint their portraits on their signs. What is the significance of painting the portrait of a person on a sign they made?
The portraits of the homeless, the desperate or addicted panhandlers, were another step away from the consumerism thing. The signs were their advertisements, with catchwords or phrases to grab your attention. These individuals are the collateral damage of consumerism. When your downfall takes you to a place where you must advertise your desperate condition that, is human tragedy. Putting these individuals on their signage, like a realtor ad on a bus stop or an athlete on a Wheaties box, it’s all the same to me. And to immortalize the forgotten, the kicked aside and weak, feels like my duty.
What is the backstory behind your portrait of Mary Ann, “The Rose Lady”?
The Rose Lady’s name was Mary Ann. She sold roses under the Ben Franklin Bridge overpass by the Delaware River — for more than 20 years. I would see her every day, and would occasionally buy her flowers, even though I hate roses. Every day I would speak with Mary Ann as long as one cycle of the traffic light. She did not hesitate to pour her heart out to strangers — her smile was infectious, and so were her tears. She stood next to a sign which read “fresh roses $6” that was as weathered and disheveled as she was.
During my 8-9-year departure from painting while I took on film making, driving by Mary Ann every day I would have a brief thought: “I really have to paint her portrait on the sign.” It was like chocolate and peanut butter; I could just see it. One day she had a new sign — the old one was off to the side so I grabbed it.
The portrait of Mary Ann on her sign was my first painting in almost a decade. It just flowed out of me. About a year later Mary Ann disappeared, discarded like her old sign. Her health had declined and times are hard under the bridge, and she was replaced by another flower seller. Her portrait hangs in my house, and I still get to see her beautiful smile every day, because I followed through and made her immortal on her sign.
You also paint common consumer products such as SOS, Vaseline, a pack of Marlboros, and a Kellogg’s Corn Pops cereal box… You often pair these paintings with portraits you have painted. Why?
That series of pairings was the simple idea of putting two things I like together. I love faces and I love bold, colorful packaging. I was also intrigued with the idea of doing product still lifes.
What are some of the social and/or political commentary you want to come through in your paintings?
I like to think I am very much grounded. I have never considered myself political or had much social commentary, but in hindsight, all my work was political and social commentary. I never realized how much my conscience spilled into my work until I could step back and see it all together. When my website first went live and I saw the plight of the common man played out in my art, I was like, “Fuck, am I political? I’m political.”
Do you show your subjects their finished portraits? If so, what kind of reactions have you gotten?
“Wow, you’re a good painter, “like they’re surprised. I don’t come across like your typical artist, I think, so most subjects don’t know what to expect or what it is I really do, they just think I am some crazy biker. But my work is pretty life-like, if not naturalistic, I think I’ve got the whole technique thing down.
You recently finished a series of kid portrait paintings. What made you decide to delve into painting children’s portraits?
I’m a father and constantly surrounded by children. You start to look at them, and wonder what they will be like when they grow up. The first portrait was a friend of my son’s, a kid with a very mature attitude who seems like an old soul. I imagined him as a businessman in an ill-fitting suit, carrying a tattered briefcase, tired from a hard day selling insurance to douchebags.
I got this image every time I saw him, so one day I just asked his mom, “Can I paint your kid? “ Of course I couldn’t paint some other kid and not paint my own, and before you know it there were a dozen of these children portraits.
Are there certain portraits you have done that are particularly meaningful to you?
My kids, of course. But they’re all meaningful to me. Not to be all corny and shit, but they come out of me, I feel connected to all the work I do. When you love what you do, and there is no expectation, and you are working in that kind of pure space, that’s where real art lives. You put weeks into something that’s a small piece of your life.
First you want to hold on to it as long as possible, and then you want it out from in front of you. I always love my newest work, and the glimmer fades from the early stuff, though I can still appreciate where my head was.
Your paintings are very realistic. Do you paint from a photograph? Do you always use oil paint? What other mediums do you use in your portraits?
I didn’t go to a traditional art school. I went to the Art Institute for advertising. It’s more of a trade school than a traditional art school. So I can’t “work from life,” that takes years and years of training and I appreciate artists that who can do it. I wish I had the patience and the training. I am basically a self-taught painter. I saw how Maxfield Parrish did his paintings, with techniques called underpainting and glazing, and it just took off for me. I paint with acrylics — back in the day primarily on wood, now mostly on canvas, as well as the occasional found object or package.
You have painted billboards, are a wood worker, and attended vocational school as well as the Art Institute of Philadelphia. You are also a filmmaker and create content in the digital space with your own production company, Woodshop Films. Even with all your experience, you have said you never truly considered yourself an actual, legitimate artist until 2009, when you won a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and were accepted into and completed a two-month residency at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. What advice do you have to those artists out there who struggle with self-doubt about their creative abilities?
I graduated from the Art Institute in ’87 and painted billboards till ‘89 when printing took my job. I went to night school and learned cabinet making, and worked in wood shops till the early 90’s, when I discovered set and scenery building, at which, with my painting and building skills, I excelled. Until 1998 I never really made art, I didn’t know what it was. I told myself that I wasn’t good enough to be an illustrator, and I refused to work in the vapid, brainwashing advertising business.
For 6-7 years, I built sets for music videos and commercials, and was pretty miserable. In 1998, while tripping on mushrooms on a camping trip, I had a vision of creating billboard-sized 3-D artwork. It was like something that was stored up inside of me was released, and I started cranking them out. In 1999 I did a thing called Landmark Education, a self-help seminar series, and it absolutely changed my life. I could get out of my own way, stop telling myself that I wasn’t good enough, “I’m white trash,” “I didn’t go to the right art school.”…
I figured out what it meant to be an artist, and how to have the rest of the world see me that way. I started doing what a real artist does, making art every day. In ‘99 I created a street campaign called GODCO. Its main themes were manipulating billboards, guerilla art, and wheat pasting the whole city, promoting nothing but the awareness of advertising, and how you are a target. “Buy Now, Pay Later.”
In 2000 I created a GODCO competitor, Golden Fluffy, with a logo of The Golden Calf, the false idol of materialism. I partnered with an ad agency the biggest scumbag ad agency in Philadelphia, to take Golden Fluffy to the masses. I created a product line of crap merchandise, and eventually a store downtown, selling overpriced, overly packaged poorly made products to the masses.
Next was Cube, an acrylic polymer placebo to make your hair grow, make your breasts expand, make your waistline shrink, and make your erections longer and firmer. With Cube I brought my art to a whole new level, incorporating film, video, and this new thing called digital media. Post-Cube I started focusing primarily on filmmaking and my painting went to the back burner….
Three years ago I started painting again, not for any purpose but to paint, speak to that spirit, paint what makes me feel good. That’s where I am today, just painting portraits of the beautiful people that surround me and make up my life So to embellish on the whole self-doubt and struggling artist thing, I have this whole conversation about how it’s a tragedy that art is not supported and music is not supported. The whole starving artist and for musicians to have to keep their day job thing, it’s one of the biggest tragedies of art. It’s why most people quit at a really young age. They were conditioned in this society that you can’t do it. When in reality it takes years and decades to really master your craft and that a real musician or a real artist, painter, dancer really don’t get good at their craft until they’re in their 40’s or 50’s. What I would love to tell other artists is don’t listen to anybody, just do what you love doing, don’t quit. Make art like your life depends on it. Because it does.
For more than twenty years, artist Marc Brodzik has leveraged his unique talent and artistic vision to create awareness and foster dialogue around complex cultural issues. Brodzik earned a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, after which he worked a number of assignments with local advertising agencies and film and broadcast production companies. His dissatisfaction with this work — combined with the “hard knock” life experiences of his youth — propelled Brodzik to reflect the world he saw through visual art, from a genesis of one-off statements through large-scale, three-dimensional paintings depicting the insidiousness of the corporate advertising machine. His artistic mission continued to evolve and mature, through the creation and execution of multimedia campaigns mirroring the strategy of the large corporations he was working to expose.Manipulation of consumer media outlets and guerilla marketing techniques drove consumers to special events that celebrated Brodzik’s dummy corporations and their “products,” in an orgy of exploitation that forced participants to examine the effects of advertising on their everyday lives. As a natural progression of his artistic evolution, Brodzik employed skills learned through years of work with film production companies to launch his own film career. Brodzik began with directing and production of numerous music videos and commercial spots, and has added several documentary shorts and a full-length feature documentary to his extensive folio. Through compelling character studies of individuals on the fringe, mirrored in the dark naturalism of his acrylic portraits, Brodzik’s films celebrate the uniqueness of the individual, while uncovering those shared characteristics that connect us all.Brodzik is currently captain of the pirate ship Scrapple.tv, a studio located in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia. Scrapple takes an inside out look at current events, news and culture, covering Philadelphia and the surrounding area. His painting, The Oracle, is on permanent display at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.Brodzik is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships – including a Pew Fellowship as well as a residency at the prestigious MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He resides with his family in Collingswood, NJ.