Originally published in Metro Times.
Even if he didn’t refer to it as art — or to himself as an artist — Mark Sarmel has always made cool-looking stuff. As for what compels him to create, Sarmel says, “If I’m not making something, I’m not a happy person. I feel lost and I feel like I’m wasting my time. It’s not simply something I do; it’s something that is a way of defining my life.”
Sarmel was first inspired by comic books. He took art classes all through high school, and graduated from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. He continues to be inspired by comics but his interests have spread to fashion magazines, hip hop, samurai movies and mythology. Sarmel ’s art cleverly blends all of these themes, creating images that seem to exist in a world in which mythological characters, as opposed to vapid models and celebrities, grace the pages of glossy magazines.
Metro Times:What inspires your work?
Mark Sarmel :It’s probably easier to say what doesn’t. Everyday it’s something different, a movie or song or a comic book or something someone said or a photo I saw. I look at a lot of fashion magazines and blogs. I read comic books at least once a week. I’m very into Japanese culture and I look at a lot of ukiyo-e prints, mythology and samurai movies. I’m also into rap and hip-hop and I try to mix that into my work as well. The funny thing about inspiration is that it’s not always directly visible in my work, but it often times is a motivating factor for when I’m feeling lazy or stuck or lost.
MT:How did you learn your craft? Are you self taught or did you receive a formal art education, if so where?
Sarmel :My first real teacher was and still is comic books. I remember trying to imitate the big artists of the time. I also took art classes all through high school. As I got older I still learned from comics, but it got to a point where I realized there were a lot of things I was missing. I was moving around a lot and about 12 years ago I found myself in Detroit. I started going to the College for Creative Studies and graduated a few years later. I’m still learning my craft though. It’s a constant process that in my mind is never ending, but that’s a good thing. I mean we should always be learning.
MT:What materials do you prefer to work with and why?
Sarmel :I go back and forth between traditional materials like paint and canvas to the computer and digital printing. I feel pretty comfortable in both realms, but lately I’m trying to paint more and go back to the brush and ink stuff I used to do when I was younger. I dabble in printmaking and working with wood and spray paint. I jump around a lot with my work so I go through phases where I’m using one tool and then I move on and circle around with another medium. Wander around is perhaps a better word.
MT: Do you make art full time or do you have a day job? If so what is your day job and does it, if at all, influence your artwork?
Sarmel :I do have a day job. I work as a designer for Shinola which still allows me to be creative and enjoy my job. It doesn’t visually influence my work that much, but it does influence me in terms of being organized and having a process and understanding the business side of art.
MT: When did you start making art? What compelled you to make it? Is it the same thing that compels you to make art now?
Sarmel :I think, in a way I’ve always made art, but it took me a long time to really allow myself to refer to it as art and it took me an even longer time to refer to myself as an artist. As to what compels me, it’s hard to explain. It’s a very integral part of my “self”. If I’m not making something I’m not a happy person. I feel lost and I feel like I’m wasting my time. It’s not simply something I do it’s something that is a way of defining my life.
MT: Does your artwork have a message or special meaning, or do you just like making shit that looks cool? Or is it somewhere in between? Describe your work.
Sarmel :I think it lies somewhere in between. Sometimes there’s a meaning, but there is indeed a lot of just making shit that looks cool. I’m very interested in creating a mood with my work, but there is also a specific type of image I enjoy making and I think you can see that in my work. My work is becoming more and more about an intersection of a myriad of cultures: Japanese culture, fashion culture, biker culture, hip hop, comics, and probably stuff I’m not fully aware of. As I said earlier it’s not always visible, but it all informs the work in some way.
MT: Do you have any upcoming shows or projects you are working on? Please describe
Sarmel :I’ll have a piece at the Ferndale Public Library in their “The Power of Myth” show which opens on October 12th. I’m working on a piece for a show about Cryptozoolgy at Lift gallery in November. I’ll also have some work at Ltd. Gallery in Seattle for their “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words” show which is also in November.