Walking the Line between Op Art and Pop Art

Artist and sculptor Marcos Marin blends the figurative and the abstract into ingenious optical illusions that reach new dimensions. Known for using grids, pixilation and inventive lines to reveal portraits of celebrities and political figures, he speaks for a generation by producing work that is a testament to our fame-hungry times.

Marcos Marin was born in Brazil in 1967 and seemed destined to explore a life of creativity like his parents, an influential movie producer and a singer, before him. At an early age, Marcos showed an interest in music and began taking classical piano lessons at the Music Conservatory in São Paulo. Eventually, his studies brought him to France, where he began to seek a new outlet for his creativity: painting.

Victor Vasarely’s art intrigued Marin and undoubtedly left a mark on the young painter, who was still searching for his own style. In 1990, Marin had the opportunity to meet his idol at the Cité des Arts in Paris, an event that would inspire him to thoroughly explore the depths of optical art. During his formative years as a painter, Marcos developed his own arresting visual style within the boundaries of Vasarely’s recognised art movement; the three-dimensional shadows and colour techniques in Marin’s work producing lifelike human images that seemed to live and breathe. In his early twenties, Marin won several awards for his artwork, including the prestigious FIAT Columbus award.

A deeper look at Marin’s paintings reveals the analogous influence of pop art. Emerging in the Fifties and flourishing into the Sixties, pop art drew inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture, like pop music, films and advertising. Likewise, Marin’s iconic portraits often feature current celebrities and pop icons such as Luis Figo, Robert DeNiro and Barack Obama, whom he imbues with an emotional presence by generating a visual surprise to the viewer with trompe l’oeil effects that alter the viewer’s perception of a familiar subject. In this way, a child of the Sixties, Marin reflects and projects the past onto an increasingly disparate and digital future. More literally, his portraits can be interpreted as paying homage to Andy Warhol, who is also featured in one of Marin’s portraits. Marin says, “My paintings do not define a time, but perpetuate a moment of glory that brings about an enchanted perspective.”

During the Nineties, Marin dedicated a lot of time to improving cultural relationships between France and his native country of Brazil. At the beginning of the new millennium, Marcos moved to the United States where his career as an artist gained momentum. In 2003, his first sculpture was displayed at the Arte Americas art fair. Only a year later in 2004, during Art Basel he was invited by Delphine Pastor to come to Monaco, where he now lives, and exhibit his work there. This invitation changed the course of Marin’s career. Over the next several years, he was commissioned to paint the portrait of Grace of Monaco for the Nouveau Musée de Monaco and to create a public monument to Prince Rainier III, which stands at the entrance to the Fontvieille Circus.

Marin’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums from Moscow to California. He remains one of the most influential artists of his generation and, at fifty years of age, is in his artistic prime, continuing to masterfully walk the line between op art and pop art.

We took the opportunity to speak with Marcos about his influences, his artistic style and what’s coming next:

Who do you believe left a more profound influence on your work, Victor Vasarely or Andy Warhol?

It’s almost impossible to say, but I think it is Andy Warhol because his iconographic subjects are just so powerful. This is my sincere approach as well, to honour people with art! Vasarely gave me an artistic identity inside the Op Art movement. Afterwards, of course, my identity and my patterns evolved to become exclusive, so that my signature is recognisable instantly. But the references to the icons remain forever, like Warhol’s creations.

Your work is both figurative and abstract, and optical illusions are an essential part of it. How do you define a picture and does the meaning of the picture play a large role in your work as a painter?

Yes! The primary picture gives me the challenge and suggests ideas for a specific optical illusion, sometimes very close to abstraction or hidden in the complexity of the art piece. I love to do abstractions too: geometrics and objects. But taking a picture and working from that is the way. In a portrait, I try to feel the personality of the person and translate that in a way that corresponds with its intensity.

How does your work reflect how you see yourself as an artist?

Some portraits really represent what I understand. In those portraits I see perfection or full accomplishment in art and that gives me that sensation of, “ok, I’m an artist for real”. I'm very picky with myself as an artist and I see when something has a strong “opera prima”, or excellence! And of course we become part of the art piece, the creation!

Tell us about some of your favourite works.

The portrait of Picasso, the Marilyn Monroe in very large lines, the oval portrait of Hitchcock and of course the endless beauty of Grace in a full body image sculpture that became a landmark for Monaco are probably the most impressive pieces I have created. I love it when someone says, “this is a Marcos Marin,” before they say the name of the person depicted.

Tell us more about your next project?

I’m working now on a very special project. It’s an exhibition for the Naples National Archaeological Museum in Italy. The exhibition is about Magna Grécia (Great Greece) and my pieces – monumental sculptures – ‘paraphrase’ the most important sculptures of Greco-Roman gods in the original Farnese Collection (displayed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum and the British Museum). My co-exhibitor is the late Gianni Versace, who incorporated Magna Grécia elements into his most iconic creations. Gianni Versace is represented by Tony Caravano, who owns one of the largest collections of Versace Magna Grécia items in the world. The exhibition is curated by Sabina Albano.


© courtesy of Marcos Marin

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