Mostly known for his pen-and-ink drawings, Marcel Dzama started broadening his practice in the 2010s to include film (“Une danse des bouffons”, 2013), photography, collage, painting, and even slideshows. A keen music fan, and inspired by the Dada movement and the Surrealists, the artist has created many important album covers, and contributed to the art direction of Arcade Fire’s short film “Scenes from the Suburbs” (2011). Fairly early on, Dzama developed his own visual language, easily recognizable thanks to motifs borrowed from vernacular culture and children’s stories. In elliptical compositions in which dream elements rub shoulders with carnival monsters in a combination of tenderness and cruelty, the artist profoundly questions human behavior. In the space where the border between reality and the unconscious is blurred, each sheet of paper forms an enigma that the artist submits for our consideration.
On blank A4 sheets of paper—left that way as an allusion to the whiteness of the Canadian winter—Dzama traces delicately outlined images in pen and ink that create a stark contrast with the page, on which the context or background is never specified. The dominant shades of ochre, red, and brown are often achieved using natural pigments like root beer, for instance, from which the Canadian artist derives the blood red of his drawings. In this way popular culture is embedded in the very materiality of the drawing, along the lines of Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha. Dzama’s compositions are isolated fragments of a personal mythology or unfinished dreams, and seem like so many little scenes staged by a Surrealist, in which our childhood fears and our most primitive impulses play out, reflecting the failures and flaws of the contemporary world.
In the series of drawings for Baloise, Dzama uses the relationship between humans and animals to address our connection to violence, whether this is inflicted on humans, on their bodies, or on animals. Cigarette smoke, for instance, takes the form of a small sanctimonious dog barking in the guilty party’s ear, while another dog, sporting ten legs, brings a handgun instead of a stick to his master. Elsewhere, a man instructs a bear to get to work if it wants to eat, and a crocodile threatens to pull the plug on a television showing a Western. In this universe and its deliberately offbeat timeframe—one of the drawings features a cassette tape changing into a cat, while others picture men whose style harks back to the 1960s—Dzama concisely revisits the significant themes of the contemporary world, through a play of relational tensions and transgressions of roles, which point up both the latent violence and the connections of domination that govern our society.
Julie Enckell Julliard
Further works by Marcel Dzama in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0766, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 35.5 x 28 cm
Inv. no. 0769, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 31.8 x 25.4 cm
Inv. no. 0771, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 35.3 x 27.9 cm
Inv. no. 0772, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 35.5 x 27.8 cm
Inv. no. 0773, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 35.5 x 28 cm
Inv. no. 0774, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 35.5 x 27.9 cm
Inv. no. 0775, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 35.5 x 27.8 cm
Inv. no. 0776, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 32 x 25.5 cm
Inv. no. 0777, Untitled, 2000, Ink, watercolor, and root beer on paper, 35.5 x 28 cm