BY SAM DESTEFANO
Thumbing through prints at Alto Gallery one night, I stumbled upon a Mario Zoots. Though I didn’t understand the significance of his work in the moment, the piece spoke to me. Everyone around me chimed in about how this find was so special. I tightened my hold on this new treasure and later took a deep dive into his fascinating work. March is the Month of Photography, so it is fitting we share his art with you here.
It’s been a wild journey from writing my name on freight trains and walls to showing in galleries and museums while also being included in some of the state’s most important art collections. For me, it’s all tied together and part of my larger expression as a creative individual. It all belongs. It’s the Gestalt theory ya know? Gestalt theory emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its parts. That’s also how I frame the collage works I create. It’s not about each individual piece of collage I create but rather, the entire body of work.
You’ve said that, “Collage inherently involves nothing less than altering existence.” This is a concept that appeals to us on so many levels. Can you tell us more about this idea?
When I say that phrase in my statement, I’m thinking a lot about the alchemical process of transformation. In collage I take popular media, in the form of books and magazines, deconstruct and rebuild the images in new ways and re-present them to the internet. I steal the energy of objects that catch my attention and turn them into something else that suits my aesthetic. I find that redirecting the focal points and reconstructing the compositions allows me to re-imagine existence. It’s the transfer of energy.
It all starts with the hunt. Looking in book shops, thrift stores, estate sales, ebay or your parents basement, there is good material everywhere. I work in many different mediums, but to me they all fit into the philosophy of what collage is or could be. I like to break the rules and can at this point call anything I make a collage. Everything is a collage. In my sculptures I find scrap pieces of metal, weld them together, it’s collage. I excavate layers of magazine pages from the cover down creating a in-depth carving into the magazine, it’s a collage. I enlarge croppings of small photos, print them really large, to me, it’s a collage. These processes may have other names too, like Ready Mades, Appropriation, DeCollage or Assemblage. They all belong as methods to create collage.
Beyond your own body of work, you’ve collaborated with your partner Amber Cobb with “Hardly Soft.” Tell us more.
Hardly Soft has been such a fun project to do over the last few years! We have no one to answer to. We can do whatever we want and that is really liberating. Amber is my greatest collaborator in art and in life. Hardly Soft is this space where entrepreneurship and art meet for us. We can create merch, design sculptures and curate exhibitions, the possibilities are endless. The project is a fun space to be silly, edgy and ambitious. Amber is an intellectual who has taught me so much about myself and the art world. I’m so lucky to be able to work with her.
How has the pandemic changed the way you think about your identity as an artist?
The pandemic has really pushed me to move into the next phase of my career. All last year I worked on tightening up the whole process of creation for myself and my studio. I tried to stay positive and make even more work than I was previously, and it happened. I’m looking forward to a time when we can all safely get together again and celebrate creativity. I took the art shows and art parties for granted for so long. I miss everyone in the art community so much!
You have a strong voice in the Denver art scene. We would imagine that working with other artists is somewhat of a survival technique. What can you tell us about the current climate for Denver artists?
It’s important to support each other in the small community we have. I can’t speak to the current climate of all Denver artists, but I know that for myself, I’ve been missing having studio visits with friends, curators, and collectors. I miss the IRL dialogue of the art world, nowadays it’s a lot of fire emojis in the DM’s. I am optimistic that we will make it through this next year and then we will have a renaissance of shows, parties and critique.
We loved the project you worked on with Denver Collage Club and Mark Sink, where your work was projected on the DF Clocktower. How was this received and is it still up for us to see?
The Denver Collage Club projection on the DF Clocktower was so fun to be a part of! That project was facilitated by Night Lights Denver and the incredible Mark Sink. That curated collection of collage work was only exhibited during the month of January. A new Denver artist or group of artists will be exhibiting in that way each month on the tower downtown, so keep your eyes open if you are on 16th Street this summer. I feel like this project was very empowering to our collective of collage artists. We had big names projected on that tower like Mark Sink showing work right next to young emerging artists who were showing their work for the first time. The Denver Collage Club has been such a joy to be part of. Although the clocktower project is over we are having an exhibition at Alto Gallery in North Denver for Month of Photography. The Denver Collage Club will present Thought Objects: Being, Essence and Notion during the month of March at Alto gallery. If you enjoy collage, this show is not to be missed.
When people ask me as an artist, what is my medium? I always answer, Extra Large. And by this I mean I’m always up for weird collaborations, uncomfortable visits and last minute trips to the middle of nowhere. As an artist I try to cast a large net into the world.
You have a show up this month at one of our favorite local spots, Alto Gallery. What else can we expect to see from you in the future?
This is my only planned exhibit this year, so far. The project I’m working on right now is www.newcollection.com. To learn more, follow @newcollectionhq on instagram.
Thank you for sharing your art with us, Mario! For more information about Mario Zoots, visit him at mariozoots.com.