Mark Flood Is Trolling the Art World with 4Chan Filth and Disgusting Memes
The 58-year-old artist has curated a show of Texas-based artists that features some of the web's gnarliest images.
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted
Mark Flood is roughly the same age as my father, but the 58-year-old artist lurks on both 4chan and 8chan more than a seasoned meme enthusiast. Known as a punk-y "artist's artist" due to decades spent toiling in Houston outside the White Cube world, the artist's career took off when he was well into his forties. Today, though, he branches into the same category of buzzy, market-friendly artists like Lucien Smith, Oscar Murillo, and Alex Israel—all at least 20 years his junior.
Call him the art world's Michael Gira—as Flood's gotten older, his practice has gotten better and more fun. From his pretty-but-not-precious lace paintings that originally bolstered his fame, to his canvases that spew bratty verbiage like "Another Painting," Flood is an artist whose mid-career success has served him well.
Despite his recent success, he's all too familiar with what it's like to be ignored by the institutional art world. It's that experience that likely inspired him to start Mark Flood Resents (2014), an experimental show at a DIY space next to Zach Feuer Gallery that featured work from a variety of obscure Houston artists in which nothing was for sale. The room was filled with couches and mattress beds for visitors to hang out on while they looked at art.
His latest exhibition makes it clear Flood has kept his eyes on both the internet and the creatives from his Texan hometown. It's called The Future Is Ow and it's on view at Marlborough Chelsea through February 6. The exhibit takes the same salon-style concept as Resents and ups the ante. There are more mattresses on the floor (plus TVs), more paintings by each artist Flood asked to contribute to the group show, and more piss-takes: The largest work is a 110-inch-by-200-inch painting by Flood in which very NSFW memes (one features a photo of a woman violently biting a man's dick) spell out "YOLO." In a hidden corner of the established gallery, four pieces of printer paper are tacked up on a wall, featuring a fabricated Facebook page for "Mark Flood" that sports a terrifyingly obese, naked man as its profile picture.
"Hell yeah, I'm a troll," Flood told me as we lounged out on the mattresses in Marlborough and looked at works by Houston natives Paul Kremer, Susie Rosmarin, Chris Bexar, and the awe-inspiring El Franco Lee, whose paintings of DJ Screw and hip-hop revisionist history are an exhibition highlight. "I'm attracted to things like memes and the internet because they feel like they're relevant to art. 4chan has just turned me on to some shit," the artist explained. Flood chatted with me about lurking on the web, his new group show, and how he's viewed Picasso as his greatest creative competition since childhood.
VICE: Can we sit on these crazy beds?
Mark Flood: It's funny how little things like this make a difference. It took nerves of steel to do this shit. I want people to have this great experience but I know they're not going to embrace it unless there's a mattress with a cover laying there in front of the art.
What exactly makes this new show different from Mark Flood Resents?
Well, none of the work in Mark Flood Resents was for sale. Things are for sale at this show. I thought of the title and the idea together—The Future Is Ow!, all digital printing. I did this originally in Houston and never would have thought of a show like this for New York, but it ended up being here.
The last time you did this was at that DIY space next to Zach Feuer Gallery, right?
Yeah, and then we moved down to Miami Beach for the art fairs. Nothing was for sale. They were just things for me to waste tons of money on and just do. I highly recommend pouring out money like a severed artery on the hot sands of Miami Beach.
But you get to showcase the homies!
That's true. I do get to showcase the homies. In it's own way, it's totally selfish because it's just what I like to do.
El Franco Lee has a lot of hip-hop references in his work at this show, and one thing I like about hip-hop is that successful artists rep both their city and other artists from their city. You're kind of doing the same thing here.
I think about that all the time, like Lil Wayne repping New Orleans and Drake repping Toronto. Houston has it's own version of that and it's cool for me to do something similar. I'm obsessed with a lot of obscure Houston hip-hop. Candy Red, for example. Slim Thug. Just Brittany. OG Ron C.
What about DJ Screw?
El Franco Lee used to buy his weed from DJ Screw. There's a painting in the back room that has a Screw cassette glued to it. Yes, I love that and I'm Houston-proud about that shit. I listen to chopped and screwed music, mostly. I considered playing it when you entered [Marlborough Gallery]. I routinely take the pop songs I like and then I find the chopped and screwed versions of them. I'm not doing lean or anything. I don't do drugs. Well, I'm a pothead; I just don't smoke anymore.
Why'd you stop smoking?
I lost my sense of smell. I couldn't stop crying. My life was falling apart. [Laughs]
What have you noticed about Houston artists as of late, versus New York artists?
New York artists probably have to suffer more. New York is more competitive, harder to live in, more expensive, etc. But Houston is easy to live in, zero competition, nobody has any ambition. People in Houston don't even know this world exists, really. At the same time, I always made my work for the world stage, even when I was totally obscure.
Did you actually have the goal of being on the world stage?
Since I was a little child, like four or five, I remember being competitive with Picasso when he was oppressively big. Picasso was a motherfucker. I felt the same way about Jasper Johns. That's what you do when you're an artist. You have these people who are huge, and you're nothing. By the time you get there, you already know what it means. But I still appreciate it.
How do you feel about your career now?
I like it and I'm used to being successful. I'm used to having money. I like what I can do for other people. I try not to take it for granted, to take care of business. At the same time, the pace of it all is a bit much for my 58-year-old mind. It's a lot.
Since I was a little child, like four or five, I remember being competitive with Picasso when he was oppressively big. Picasso was a motherfucker. — Mark Flood
Will you tell me a little bit more about El Franco Lee?
His father was the Harris County Commissioner and he died the day before yesterday. It's tragic. He was very popular and beloved in his community. El Franco Lee is very super private, he's very good looking, he's young—late twenties. He's very friendly, polite. He has a nice house. We became buddies over the years.
He has this one image of a bank robbery that's incredible, but it felt wrong for me to own it. It felt bigger than me; owning it would be like owning "Starry Night." I just had this weird feeling that I had never felt so strongly before. I'm not sure how well I understand him, but I told him this show wasn't going to help him remain in obscurity. You can't be this great and hide out. It's not going to work.
How did you find some of the memes in this painting behind us that says "YOLO"?
You already know how I found them. I made those memes and I love this painting. Meme generator.
What are your internet search habits like? Are you a Reddit man, a 4chan-type of guy?
No, I hate Reddit. I'm 4chan, and even 8chan. 4chan is super boring now. 8chan is where it's at. I've been doing this for a long time. I'm on that every day. The image of the woman biting that guy's dick comes from 8chan.
When did you start getting interested in meme culture and virality?
I'm attracted to those things because they feel like they're relevant to art. I kind of think it's my job. I kept seeing references to 4chan and other image hosting sites and I felt that it was something I should be going to and interacting with. I went to [4chan] stone cold, like I do a lot of things. No one guided me, no had to show me how to use it. I just started going there and lurked, as they call it, and I lurked a long fucking time. I still lurk. But I'm glad I did that because it's exactly the thing I like. An edge. A leading edge because so much shit comes out of there. 4chan has just turned me on to some shit. It sounds crazy because it might not seem like I'm that guy. I wouldn't be that guy, but I worked at a museum, they put a computer at my desk, and I had to start learning how to use it.
There are some pretty gnarly internet images included in this exhibition.
I hate Facebook, and so I made this horrid Facebook thing that is so nasty. Paul Kremer, who's also included in this show, helped me make these fake profiles: Mark Flood; Mary Flood; Mike Lude; Mina Lude. They're all naked and covered with shit.
When me and Kremer were making them, we couldn't stop laughing because he has a teenaged son and every time his soon came into the room we'd hide the computer screen like we were little kids. The images make me laugh so hard but most people find them disgusting.
Would you call yourself a troll?
Hell yeah, I'm a troll. I absolutely would. I'm pretty benevolent for a troll. There are all these people in the art world who really are trolls who think they're so great and they're not. But I try not to be negative towards specific people.
I really like art that's funny.
I've always said that and feel the same. Marcel Duchamp's "The Large Glass" is funny. Andy Warhol's work is funny. I don't see how people could look at this new work here and not laugh. These make fun of stuff like applying for grants, which is something I hope to never do again. The pieces reference art fairs and how I don't want to kiss those motherfuckers' asses. They can all go to hell.
What would be the ideal reaction from someone coming into this exhibition?
Well, you know art casts a long shadow into the future. Just to inspire young people, even though that's a cliché. But I do feel that way. I like it that young people like my work. They get it. I think if young people were all rich, I'd be a billionaire.
The Future Is Ow is on view at Marlborough Chelsea through February 6, for more information visit the gallery website here.
Follow Zach on Twitter.