Marc Dennis - Unparalleled Hyper-Realist & Modern Master
Marc Dennis is one of the greatest artists of our time. A hyper-realist on a wicked upward trajectory, coming off the most successful show of his career. He is inspired by the moment - these evolving moments that we are living in, the happiness, and the new possibilities that life is bringing to the table once again.
Jamie Agoglia: Great things are happening in the studio, how so?!
Marc Dennis: I’m coming off of a very successful show at Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach, and we, all artists, work really hard to build up a show, and then we’re never really sure what happens when the work leaves the studio, especially during the pandemic. I got very little feedback because I had very few viewers in my studio. I didn’t know how the reaction was going to be and I always want to make sure and even though I can’t be prepared for that I will embrace it either way, and the show did really well, and it made me really happy. And because of that, I was inspired to get back in the studio and begin exploring how I could take those paintings to the next level. I always think as an artist “what’s the next level?” In other words, when I’m working on something, I’m always thinking about the next painting even before that painting I’m working on is completed.
So here I am, taking it to the next level, and it’s like a new dawning! It’s very exciting as I don’t know where these are gonna go but inspiration guides me so I look at that like sunshine.
Well said in correlation with the sunshine coming through the window and what great timing for you to have had the successful show at Gavlak down in Palm Beach, congratulations by the way. It’s such a unique time we’re in, with economists looking at this time as somewhat of a reflection of the roaring 20’s with art, luxury real estate, home and design, and the affluent have had a moment to take a step back, appreciate life, appreciate what matters to them most. And one of those key ingredients is art from leading exceptional artists such as yourself. I would think that would also give you this underlying accelerated sense of inspiration.
There‘s no doubt. New York, and I’m in this little enclave referred to as a “cultural hamlet,” between the two bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, this area known as Dumbo, which is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, it’s PACKED with tourists! There are people out, most of the streets are closed for outdoor seating. They’re out there, and everybody seems pretty damned happy! What’s best naturally as an artist, for me, it motivates me. Happiness motivates me. It’s been a hellish past year and a half for most countries, most people. I can’t speak for anyone but myself and my kids, but it was rough. As an artist, you’re isolated. I go in my studio and I was on sort of a double or meta-lockdown, very isolated. Now there are dividends to benefit from and that is of course restaurants opening, cafes opening, etc. For me, I can look out my studio window and I can see people milling around and talking, and it’s definitely motivating! Hopefully it motivates people across the board and we continue to do the right thing.
Very well said in respect to happiness being a motivation for you. When was the last time you did a show prior to Gavlak?
I had a solo show with Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art in Houston, Texas titled, “Paradise Lost,” from January 30 to March 6 in 2020. I also had a painting of mine titled, “Billionaires are People Too” made into a billboard as part of The Billboard Creative project installed on Melrose Avenue in downtown Los Angeles and is up indefinitely. In 2019 I had a solo show of four paintings at the Core Club in New York City from January 3 to March 30. In 2018 I had a solo show at Cris Worley Fine Arts in Dallas, Texas from November 2 to December 30; and an exhibition at SOCO Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina. 2018 was a loaded year, as I was also selected for the Armory Art Fair VIP Studio Tour. And last but not least I was invited to be the artist at a Sip & Sketch sponsored by Art News & Art in America, at the Armory Art Fair in the Publications Lounge on Pier 94, in New York City. It’s been a fun ride.
So this was a significant one for you?
This was the biggest show of my life.
Wow! Congratulations, Marc! So does that, along with happiness, inspire you to do more shows? As you are in the studio working on new paintings, are you analyzing them thinking as to how each one will work in the next potential show?
That’s definitely part of it. We’re already discussing future exhibitions. But what’s most important now, on my so-called creative docket, is preparing paintings, getting them done, for the art fairs which are now back. I will be represented with Gavlak Gallery in the Armory Show, and I’m super excited to finish the paintings that I’m currently working on, so she can select from which ones will be the most potent for the Armory. Basel, the Armory, Frieze, these are all like little exhibitions in and of themselves. Hopefully they’re well attended and everybody’s happy to be back! There’s usually a year between these shows and there’s a lot of work to prepare. I have a solo exhibition at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts - it’s in the wonderful paradise known as “The Berkshires,” where I lived for 14 summers. The exhibition was arranged by Joanne Cassullo, whom the gallery is named after, and Joanne is also a Trustee at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
I would think that with respect to the attendance at the art fairs it’s going to be unlike anything ever before, really. With everything that we missed out on being able to do last year, and now entering a time where possibilities are opening up again, I think gives people that moment to reflect, be present, and think about what’s most important in one’s life. And with art being one of those elements that is the most important, I would think that the attendance and also the energy behind them is going to be absolutely sensational! That must be really exciting and motivating and inspiring!
Yeah, I’m with ya, and I hope so! I would think people are pumped not only to see art but to also see each other again.
How exciting to not only be an artist at this time, but to be an artist such as yourself! One of the greatest artists on the planet, at this time, in your career, in your life. I still have trouble looking at most of your paintings and really comprehending how they’re paintings, and how an individual, you, can paint them. They’re literally better than photographs, if you could take a photograph of what you paint in reality.
First of all, I’m humbled, and I just gotta make it clear that you said that, I didn’t!
I did say it! In my humble opinion, it’s a fact. To look at the flowers, the birds, the people, whatever it might be, the intricacy...what was it first like when you realized you could paint how you paint?!
When I was a kid, a teenager, high school, I always wanted people to walk up behind me if I was drawing or painting, and be able recognize exactly what it was they were looking at. I always wanted to hear “Oh my God, that looks exactly like chipmunk,” or “...that looks exactly like that plant.” Or that lizard or whatever it was I was drawing, whatever it was, I always fed off of what people could identify and immediately recognize. From then on I just wanted to continue honing my skills and making sure that I always got the details right, I was very much a naturalist, a zoologist underneath it all, I got really good at identifying one species to another. Always the details that signified the differences between different species. So details really matter to me. To get details right you need to really understand the form, the structure, the color, and that just comes with not perfecting so to speak but just drawing a lot and painting a lot, and the more I did it, the more my skill honed and the more tight or oriented I got towards detail. When I had a show at Hirschl & Adler Modern 2008, someone asked me, “So what do you call this style? Is it photo-realism?” No it’s not photo-realism because the photo-realist painters to the best of my understanding, never violated the photograph from which they were working. I told this person I don’t just paint from a photo, I paint from hundreds of photos, and I violate the photo, I don’t paint it the way I see it. I take a lot of liberties to create these very interesting and complex compositions of whatever it might be, and she said “So what do you call that style?” I said I don’t know and I started getting into trying to explain it and she said “Wow, you’re really hyper! Maybe it’s just hyper-realism.” And I thought she meant it because she thought I was hyper, maybe she did (laughs), I don’t know, but it became known as hyper-realism, and I evidently wasn’t the only person doing it. Maybe the term was coined prior, I don’t know but I had never heard it before. From then on, I’m now known as a hyper-realist.
That’s a great story! So then when was it that you realized that this is what you were going to do, that this was your passion, that you could monetize this, “I’m all in,” when was that?
To be honest, (laughs) I’m still trying to figure it out. Life is good in that sense. My career’s on a wicked upward trajectory, but it’s always a game of cat and mouse in one’s own sensibility, I have my own doubts, everything has to come together for me to recognize that something is successful. I have to feel it, I have to think about it in a positive way. It’s like cooking. Everything’s gotta be just right for me to say “ok, it’s working.” Right now, that’s happening for me in my career. But I never knew I was going to be an artist, I never chose the art career as a conscious decision as a kid or in high school or college. Art chose me. It’s just something I did, and I was really good at it. I was very into it. I worked super hard. I just never stopped. It was just such a passion. So I knew, if this is what being an artist is all about, then I think I can do this! One thing led to another. You stay positive. You work really, really, really hard. I can’t stress it enough, how many hours one needs to be in the studio to make effective paintings. A lot of determination. Never burning bridges, and always staying focused.
Marc Dennis is represented with Gavlak Gallery,
Palm Beach & Los Angeles
The full interview with Marc Dennis can be heard at ElevatedMagazines.com/podcast