Department M Parodies the Classic Comic Strip [Interview]
Inspired by the classic comic strip, Daniel Marin creates pop art-inspired compositions that parody tropes in Western media. Working under the pseudonym Department M, Marin combines a melange of styles and mediums to produce his wildly inventive works.
“I started out doodling,” he confesses in his artist statement, “trying to emulate my idols who dominated comic book art in the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Supplementing his drawing skills with a smidge of self-taught graphic design, Marin sought to embrace as many styles as possible–a scattershot aesthetic recognizable in the works of pop-art giants like Roy Lichtenstein.
Borrowing from magazine, comics, and advertisements, Marin builds his layered compositions from a combination of hand-cut stencils, freehand painting, silkscreen, and collage. He is careful about the images he chooses, tweaking the composition to suit a new narrative for a new era. “Ever since discovering vintage American comic books from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s via online archives, I have been in awe of the messages and themes that were not only deemed acceptable in that era, but that they were reinforced in a medium targeting children and young adults,” he explains. “Misogyny, chauvinism, and a generalized exclusion of any diversity can be seen throughout a range of stories.”
Marin uses the images he sees as most problematic: from soapy teen dramas and the Wild West to space adventures and WWII propaganda, the artist admits these images aren’t hard to find. The aim, Marin says, is to give these two-dimensional characters a second crack at life—to let them finally sit in the driver’s seat. “Like all journeys,” the artist notes in his work statement, “the trip itself is the purpose, not the destination.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Daniel Marin discusses the unique problem-solving technique he picked up from engineers, why he sold psychic kits for a summer, and how his philosophy of fun shows up in his mixed-media works.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
DM: Corita Kent. Her body of work—the aesthetic and messaging—has consistently inspired and influenced me since I first learned about her, but it's her personal life as both an artist, and at one time as a religious sister, that is one of the most intriguing stories for me. Her perspective on art and her approach to pop art and the mission that guided her work feel unique to me—so a chance at having dinner to ask her 1,000 questions would be a dream.
What are you trying to express with your art?
DM: In a word, “connection.” Diving into the colors and figures, there is definitely inspiration behind everything I create, but I don't focus on making it clear or obvious. The underlying objective of my work is to create narratives using texture and figurative and abstract elements that an observer can use to piece together their own interpretation of what the piece in front of them is presenting. I personally feel like discourse in society has been on a downward trend—both in person and via social media—with people seemingly becoming unwilling to hear out someone's story or perspective on life if it doesn't have enough spectacle to stand out, or if it doesn't align with their own views. And with resources like the internet at your disposal 24/7, your ability to jump to a conclusion has become instantaneous because information stands ready to be provided to you based on what you're searching, confusing answers with facts and robbing you of the experience of figuring things out for yourself. My work aims to spark that natural curiosity in you that forces the questions, "What does this mean?" or "What are they trying to say?,” offering up a composition with just enough information for you to draw a conclusion that is personal, shifting the questions toward "What does this mean to me?" or "What are they saying to me?”
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
DM: Best advice I've ever received came in the form of a quote that you'd likely see up on a motivational poster or on Pinterest these days: "Comparison is the thief of joy." No idea where it comes from, but it was shared with me by someone who truly walked the walk in celebrating the success of others. Having had a reference like that to lean on, I feel like I've been able to focus on my journey and its ups and downs, and the learnings gifted throughout each milestone rather than wasting my time wondering why I'm not at certain level of success or development like others in the art world or in any other track. This has helped me remain present in the joy I get out of creating and being an artist.
The worst advice I ever received was to never pursue anything artistic because it meant living a life of uncertainty and probable destitution. Being the son of Cuban immigrants (or “exiles” as they put it), the arts were seen as a luxury not worthy of pursuit over establishing financial security through whatever menial job was available, along with studying business-focused fields for longer term success. While understandable, this mindset and reinforcement growing up made me shun any creative pursuit until I was old enough to realize that regardless of what making art could produce for me, producing art made me happy.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
DM: In the many “day jobs” I've had over the years, one blessing was to be able to work with engineers. Their approach to creating, building, and problem-solving is primarily focused on identifying a desired result and working backward from there to map out how to achieve it. It can be tedious, and for a non-linear thinker like myself it feels counter intuitive, but by adapting this methodology I have been able to structure the time I am given each day to be able to focus on my work, my family and myself.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
DM: Happiness without ever being satisfied. Sure, commercial success as an artist is an excellent validation of your work, and the means that come with it are desirable, but I feel that kind of success tends to come with a feeling of accomplishment that can sometimes impact creativity or even the desire to continue creating. For artists who are able to reach a state where they feel content with the work they have created and whatever notoriety has come with it but still maintain the urge to continue to grow, to try new things and explore the boundaries of their technique or creativity, I feel that is a form of success that can be enjoyed for a lifetime as an artist.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
DM: One summer in high school I took a job as a telemarketer. It was the late ‘90s, which was the height of the telemarketing era. I had to call households and try to get them to complete surveys with me, in some cases sell magazine subscriptions, and—the worst of it—take orders selling magic kits for a psychic hotline. I had never heard people scream "F*CK YOU!" at me so much in a day, and the people buying the magic kits were clearly being scammed by the "psychics" by directing them to buy $100 kits to resolve their financial issues. It was gut wrenching for me and I barely lasted the summer, but it taught me a little bit about myself and how I had no interest in ever making a life based on taking advantage of others in a less fortunate situation than mine.
If you had to pick one, would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist? Why?
DM: I'm a big believer in working hard and having fun doing it. Otherwise what's the point? Historical significance is definitely what all artists and creators should strive for—to have made something to be enjoyed and recognized by the generations that come after you—but in many instances it comes with the circumstance of irrelevance while the artist is alive. Commercial success, on the other hand, provides some sense of continued momentum during an artist's life span during which they can enjoy the connection they've made with audiences and have the means to explore and push toward new boundaries with their work.
How does your geographical location affect your work and/or success?
DM: I've had the good fortune to have been able to travel around the world, garnering exposure to different cultures, languages, values and ways of living. I've also moved around a bit, primarily in the last five to six years, giving me an opportunity to connect with distinct communities. Throughout all of it, the aesthetic, environment, and vibe of each location has always offered up some kind of element—be it colors, textures, signage, or even what makes for an art canvas— that I obsess over and somehow integrate into my next piece.