I Talked to the Artist Who Sold Me a $150 Mystery Box Full of Weird Junk
All photos courtesy of Mark DeLong


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I Talked to the Artist Who Sold Me a $150 Mystery Box Full of Weird Junk

Vancouver artist Mark DeLong also works in chewing gum, among other things, so we wanted to find out more about his sense of wit.

Two years ago I came across Mark DeLong's Instagram account. At the time he was posting photos of his paintings along with homemade videos, found and candid photos, and ephemera that generally adhered to his unique wit. Mark was also occasionally posting photos of mystery boxes that he was selling for $150. I decided to buy one of these boxes, and I can remember saying to my wife "I wonder if he'll send me one of his ceramic pieces?" He did not. When I opened the box I found: one autographed, expired Cliff bar; one patch of a smiling worm emerging from an apple; three stink bombs; one empty almond and coconut bar wrapper; one altered Fabricland club card made out in my name; six Burger King coupons—each autographed and numbered as multiples. It was a unique experience to feel duped and invited into a joke at the same time. Instantly I became a fan and wanted to know him better, so I invited him to do this interview.


VICE: When did you first start making art?
Mark DeLong: I drew this Frankenstein head pretty well in high school, it filled the whole page—very cool. A guy in my neighbourhood could draw the Megadeth guy, also Iron Maiden's Eddie without tracing. That was magic to me. I drew mostly ghoulish things, couple dragons, I've never been very technically skilled in art making, hooks instead of hands kinda guy, hands in the pockets, everyone standing in puddles. Never got the hang of the figurative or realism. I draw lots of people, rough-looking characters. There was a time where I couldn't bear to draw people because they looked so horrible but eventually settled or maybe got better, new standards. I made little sexy books in elementary school. Naked girls on motorcycles, grabbing their boobs or whatever, popular with the fellas. Wish I still had them but definitely destroyed them. At that same time my friends and I were making fingerboards out of cardboard using cutout graphics from skate mags. I don't actually remember anyone else doing it but myself though, that was a very long time ago. No trucks or wheels just the decks that was a lot of fun—the 80s.

How do you choose your next medium? Your next project?
I've been working on the same for or five things forever, developing and updating. Paintings, gum, textiles, drawing and video. I jump back and forth, picking up where I left off or working through new ideas that crop up in between. Gum has heaps of potential, super exciting but kind of a pain in the ass. I've imagined doing whole cement blocks but I haven't found the time. Better in the summer, winter here now.


I really dig that work. Are you documenting them? I've seen some posted online, but is there more going on than just that?
Yes, quite a few, I take picture with my phone. The gum changes with weather; in the heavy rain they go white and on a hot day all black and then everything in between. The process is like this: soak the gum for a day or two, dry out, roll out, slice it in strips. Place on wax paper, turtle wax it, transfer to sidewalk. Throw some dirt over it and let foot traffic pound it into the ground, or cars or whatever. A new sidewalk on at a busy corner, might last 20 years, that's a pretty good deal. None have been removed yet, so beat that captain spray can. I began with a gum stamper that presses a star shaped design into existing gum spots, works well, not great, looks like a pimp's cane and I almost got into a fight while walking with the cane.  A guy almost ran me over in the summer. He didn't think he did, but I said "Easy pal," or something, and he came at me like I was nuts, but I knew I had the cane and how it may have looked. Can't win 'em all I guess.

I have this book called Souls Grown Deep about self-taught artists in the South, and I was looking at it this morning before talking to you. There's an artist named Eldren Bailey, and he had these cement symbols he built into the ground around his house, and they were like the different signs for playing card suits. It reminded me a lot of your gum stamps and some of the large tapestries you've made. I guess this is a really round about way of asking if you view yourself as an outsider in the art world? Where do you see your work?
I don't know really, some place in between. I share in the outsider scene and maybe even contribute, but i'm no expert. There's outsider when someone covers the house in hubcaps or carves wood, whatever, and then the outsider where someone has mental health issues which prevents them from pursuing any kind of career. Then the crusaders come in and hold the work up high at art fairs etc. It's great that the work is being seen, but for the next 10-20 years I doubt that the art world will be able to resist incorporating the outsider art aesthetic to the inside. It's happening now, lets get ready for alien art already! There's a sense of freedom and a love for creation that exists in the outsider world and it's very attractive.


Who are some of your influences and who would you recommend looking at today?
I like a little bit of everything, mostly TV shows, M*A*S*H, Only Fools and Horses, Deadwood, and Black Books. I live off that stuff. Art wise, Brian Bellot, Jesse Greenberg, and his resin work, I love resin. Jamien Juliano-Villani, wonderful painter. Joe Bradley, Joe Grillo, Andy Warhol, Brent Butt, Joey Haley, Jason Mclean. I like music too, a real jazz hound and rock, punk rock too.

When you're choosing to try something new are you drawn to stuff that you can finish quickly and move on?
Sometimes, it depends on the time I have. I don't mind spending 12 hours—even 24 hours—making one thing, but I prefer it to be done quickly, yes. I watched a segment earlier about Edwardian girls and women making lace and how it took 225 hours to make a small doily.

There's this idea of labour being involved. I watched a documentary on Julia Louis-Dreyfus' father —Elaine from Seinfeld . Apparently he was a big art collector and was really drawn to art works that he said were really worked on.He saw intrinsic value in this labour aesthetic.
I love Elaine. Time spent has no value in serious art making; just like poor old technical skill. Vision is most important, always has been, always will be.

Mark DeLong's work will be published in a book by & Pens Press in the spring.