You might not know Marc Wagner, but you’ve probably seen his work. The Sioux Falls artist is co-creator of Skullmore, a zine named for his toxic waste-colored rendition of the famous mountain (complete with skeletal presidential visages), stickers of which have become something of a subversive, tongue-in-cheek phenomenon. Wagner joins us for a conversation over bagels and coffee about what it all means.
How did your love of art begin?
Marc Wagner: My parents have been really supportive, so I’ve been drawing since I was four consistently.
How has your style evolved? Your style is really fun and cartoony. Did you go through a realist phase?
MW: It’s been pretty consistent. I did some realist stuff. I painted in high school for a couple years, but I just like the speed at which I can draw, as opposed to the layers of paint drying. It’s always been this cartoony thing, it’s just gotten better and my lines are more refined. It’s something I’ve stuck with.
Some of your zines and cartoons have rather cryptic phrases or messages. What are you trying to get across to the viewer?
MW: I got really interested in psychology in college, so I’ll just draw without thinking too much, unless there’s a goal in mind. It’s just about discovering things inside my subconscious. The phrases will be ones that have stuck out to me. Maybe it’s a song lyric or something I heard in a TV show. Something that just stuck in my brain and at that moment, it seemed appropriate.
I think those drawings and phrases are very subjective, and I welcome people to look for their own interpretation, rather than give a definitive answer. Particularly with Mount Skullmore. I don’t have a particular message behind it, because I think it’s more impactful that way. Some people think it’s just a fun play on Mount Rushmore. Some people get much more political with it. I don’t think any of them are incorrect. All of those were my intention, so I like to leave things intentionally vague.
You’re a foster parent. How has being around kids impacted your art?
MW: Hanging out with them has kind of resparked that childlike wonder that went away for a while. Getting to introduce them to things from the past – we’ve been watching a lot of Looney Toons and Duck Tales – cartoons that I used to love. It’s fun to see how images impact people. I just introduced the 3-year-old to Wonder Woman the other day. To her, it’s the coolest thing in the world, because she didn’t know there was a girl superhero who was tough as nails, but also kind. It’s interesting to see things from a different perspective.
Who are some local artists who have been big influences for you?
MW: My buddy Les Cotton, who is the guy I make the Skullmore zine with, we are extremely competitive with each other in a very friendly way. I’ll send him a drawing I’m working on and he’ll try to top that. We’re always trying to one-up each other. We keep each other from getting too stale or safe.
Amy Jarding, who’s another friend of mine, has been great to watch, because she didn’t go to school for art. But she’s been doing these amazing things. I’m finding that it’s really interesting watching her be uninhibited. She doesn’t have to worry about the things we were taught to never do, because it doesn’t really matter.
It’s great to see what Zach DeBoer’s been doing with Exposure, of course. Just the way he supports other people. The list can go on and on.