Death Becomes Him: The Art of Marc Seguin

NYAB interviews artist Marc Seguin in his Brooklyn studio amidst his dark, sometimes humorous paintings that incorporate delicate strokes, taxidermied animals and Vatican-issued pope portraits.

In Interviews by Amanda Scigaj 2008-10-29 print

Marc Seguin has a large collection of taxidermied animals. Instead of displaying them as a trophy of a human victory, a coyote attacks a beauty queen. A flock of crows come together as one, larger than life, in flight. Replicas of Vatican-issued depictions of popes are over ten feet high, tarred and feathered. Recently, NYAB visited Seguin in his Brooklyn studio to discuss his new work for an upcoming show at the Charest-Weinberg Gallery in Miami, as well as religion and working in New York City.

Marc Seguin at work in his Brooklyn studio.

So tell me about this piece we’re standing in front of here, with the birds.

It’s called Astral Death. Do you want to know when it was made? Or why?

Why did you decide to use this specific amount of birds, and what’s the story behind it?

Well, it came from the news that I read about that skull, that diamond skull that Damien Hirst was selling at auction, which became jewelry; not art, in my judgment. So I just said, “Okay, diamonds.” The general idea comes from using diamonds, but obviously I don’t have 80 million dollars, and it was much more meaningful to use fake diamonds. It fit well and I saw the diamonds and I thought they looked like eyes. I thought I would make a bird. It could have just been a painted bird, black with wings and diamonds, but then it became a bird made with thousands of live ones. And I said, “Why not use real birds?” because I had access to real crows, so that’s what I did.

I went through literally, thousands of images of crows before I found one that suited the pose I wanted. You don’t know if it’s coming, attacking, or preying down on something. I made sketches, and [thought] “How many birds? Where do I start? When do I stop? Sixty-nine? Seventy-two?” Seventy-two made sense because of the Quran, because of the dark-eyed number of virgins someone is promised. If you should blow yourself up you go to heaven, you get 72 dark-eyed virgins. That statement is so out of this world. How can anyone believe this today? Still? I mean it’s crazy.

But now they’re fake diamond-eyed virgins instead of dark-eyed virgins.

You also use coyotes and wolves in your work. Do you think your background growing up in Canada and being a hunter had any influence in that?

It could, but I see a stronger link with Joseph Beuys using coyotes in the performance piece in New York in ’74—I Like America and America Likes Me. So I made a series where humans interact with stuffed coyotes called “i love america and america love me.” It’s more that city and coyote each have a very specific meaning, or symbol, [for example] of being impossible to domesticate. We as humans kind of invaded nature, or coyote’s space. The use of coyote became very, very easy as well, because I found them everywhere, even like 25 minutes from here in Brooklyn. On the highway; they’re here. So the use of these animals could happen. I’m urban and I would’ve used a lot more squirrels and pigeons, but the coyotes made sense because they’re predators and they’re mean.

Marc Seguin, ''i love america and america love me,'' 2008.

And would you say crows are predators as well?

They are—and probably the most intelligent animal. It’s proven. They have funeral rituals as well. When one of them dies, they circle around the dead crow in a perfect circle and scream and talk and fly up into circles. it’s well documented.

So you use two predators, coyotes and crows, and then you use butterflies for the painting with skulls. What made use decide to use them as opposed to more predatory animals?

Well it’s referencing a lot more the history of painting. Skulls are usually used in a painting to say that life has an end; it’s ephemeral. In Crucifixion scenes there’s always a skull. Or in historical paintings, like a Caravaggio, there’s always a skull meaning en nature mort, maybe with flies. In the end all was going to rot or disappear. The butterflies are that as well because it’s a caterpillar and then supposedly it dies and becomes this beautiful thing. And there’s a heart [shape to the butterflies] and there’s a contrast that was very challenging. A beautiful butterfly, a beautiful object with these skulls, this pile of skulls, which are a symbol of death.

But you also mentioned that these taxidermied animals will last longer than the paintings themselves. Do you use a taxidermist? How does the process happen, from finding these coyotes off the 87 to being a part of one of your works?

First of all I have to find them in the winter. I cannot find them if they’re killed in the summer or fall because they all smell, and they’re full, and stuff is coming out, and I have to pick them up with a shovel [laughs]. If I grab them by the tail and they come in one piece, then they’re perfect. Then I take them to the taxidermist, who treats them like our coats. It’s hide, its leather, and leather lasts forever. So I think they will outlast the paint, natural pigment, or canvas.

In the series “i love america and america love me,” you tend to feature the animals prominently while the actual human figures are more ghostly part of the painting. Is there a specific rhyme or reason for this?

Yes because I want to show that the humans are interacting with something that already exists. They’re secondary to the meaning and the subject. They might even be disturbing what the animals are doing.

Do you find that there’s a little bit of humor in them?

Yes, a lot. A guy wrote an essay saying how it represented the devil or something bad—it’s his reading, but I find them funny. There’s one where the guy is dancing with the coyote, or the one that’s falling on the coyotes mating. Of course they’re funny, but there’s a tragic humor there as well.

Marc Seguin, ''Infallibility,'' 2008

In addition to the road kill series you have the pope series. Is there a correlation between the two of them besides the material that you use?

Maybe. I’m really too close to all these series to reflect on it, or it’s for people like you to find a link. I’m sure it makes sense somewhere, with the use of the use of the symbol of the crow, with the idea of infallibility of the pope in the Roman Catholic Church. There’s questions there, because in that way it addresses serious issues.

Serious issues being what?

Infallibility, or the fact that we’re living in this era where we can’t question what the Roman Catholic church does, but we can question what the Quran says or what the Muslim people do, or the Buddhists or what the Chinese do, but we never question ourselves. Dogma is a very dangerous thing. They’re supposed to stand for modesty, poverty, and whatever, and here they are—posing like peacocks. They’re blown up as these big statues, presenting themselves as bigger than life, or more important than their subjects.

And here they’re tarred and feathered.

They’re tarred and feathered because it was a way, back in the old days, to tell when somebody was wrong. They’d turn them out of the city and they could be recognized for months or years, because they were tarred and feathered.

And do you think being raised Catholic, or being raised with religion is behind the idea to do the pope pieces?

Well, it gives me a lot more credibility in criticizing it. I was raised with these guys. I thought they had God’s phone number. That’s what we’re told; they talk to him. But they’re really men, and its a corporation where you need to speak seven languages and they climb the ladder just like in any corporation. That’s what they are and they tried to hide it from us for years, for centuries—but not anymore. Infallibility is a very, very dangerous concept.

With respect to how long Catholicism has been around, infallibility is a fairly new concept.

Yes, it is. It’s been what? Two-hundred seventy-nine popes in history and [infallibility] has been a concept for the last eleven or twelve popes. So why now? Why that?

Marc Seguin at work in his Brooklyn studio.

You’ve been working out of Montreal for some time and, from what I understand, you’ve been working out of this studio here in New York for just over a year.

I like what I do. I have respect for what I chose to do and I needed to push myself to do something else. When you are in a closed circuit, you have a tendency to believe what you do is great—until you meet the real world. So coming here was a challenge. I came here to see more meaningful art. I’m not sure if I’ve seen meaningful art yet, but all this [in the studio] was made here and it’s a shift in what I’ve been doing for years, so the city did something to me.

Tell me more about the shift in direction.

It’s much less tragic; it’s a lot more focused. I did some pretty graphically violent stuff before. I think now it’s a lot more thought out, because I have time. All the images a very constructed in my head before I start. The wolf is there and not an inch lower.

It also gives me other opportunities, great galleries, great essay writers. I’ve encountered great historians and critics here. I think the ratio is probably the same everywhere, but since there’s more people, there’s more intelligent people as well.

There have been several people who have written essays about your work. How do you feel about people writing their own opinions and interpretations of your work?

If it’s intelligent, it’s fine. It’s perfect—that’s why the work’s out there. It’s open to discussion.

MORE INFO
Marc’s website

Amanda Scigaj

Amanda Scigaj. Amanda Scigaj grew up in Buffalo, New York certain that football ruined her childhood. Since moving to Brooklyn in 2007 she helped build DIY venue Bodega, ran art shows, and became music editor for libertine publication Chief Magazine. She currently splits her time between the production department of a publishing company, and as a freelance writer. In her free time she likes to record hunt, learn random factual information, and is really trying to finish that Robert Moses biography. » See other writings

Comments

About NYABlog

NYABlog's writers and video reporters deliver regular reviews, features and interviews to stimulate discussion about all sides of New York's creative scene.

The views expressed on NYABlog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of their employers, or NY Art Beat.

All content on this site is © their respective owner(s).
New York Art Beat (2008) - About - Contact - Privacy - Terms of Use