Mastering The EVERLAST-ing Art Of Mark Dean Veca

My master class on the style and work of Mark Dean Veca began with an invitation to cocktails and dinner at his home, in Altadena. The introductions to Veca and his wife Lauren came through two of my friends who have one of his massive paintings hanging in their living room.  Immediately upon arrival on the night of my art lesson, Mrs. Veca got right down to business and suggested martinis, which of course we all agreed to out of respect. She led us all in to her kitchen, which showcases an original wall to wall Mark Dean Veca mural floor. As I hypnotized myself while attempting to decipher the under foot mural, Mrs. Veca lined up martini glasses while we all we made clever conversation then she slipped a frosty bottle of Kettle One from the freezer and free poured vodka straight in to the glasses and flung twists of lemon on top. Martinis served!  We all fell in love with Mr. and Mrs. Veca before the first clink of glasses. And, immediately learned my first lesson on the art of Mark Dean Veca before I even asked my first question.

Veca credits his commitment to hard work, a passion for the iconic images of his upbringing and his family life as the reasons he keeps inspired and charged for the never-ending challenges of an artistic career. A little bit of poetry helps, too!

If you’ve ever driven North on Lincoln Avenue in Pasadena, then you know the work of Mark Dean Veca. His signature serpentine-intestinal-muscle wrought style covers the upper story of the gallery in black and yellow the mural, you can’t miss it. But, please don’t crash while you rubber neck to get a good look, just pull over!

According to Western Project’s curators, “Veca’s paintings are indeed icons; not ironic, but psychedelic celebrations. FENDER is enveloped by a surging purple ooze (or is it haze?), while BREAKFAST BURRITO is a crazy trip down the street at sunrise; both seemingly familiar visual sensations. And what’s that funk of adolescent testosterone wafting around the paintings? His deft and masterful drawing skills give the works a tremendous gravity and visionary exactness; think Keith Haring, R. Crumb, and Warhol. It is an un-academic rigor compounded by immaculate craftsmanship.”

Born in Shreveport, LA, but raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, words and images of that environment infuse Veca’s work. “Particular street signs and logos started to jump out at me as perfect combinations of subject matter and composition. I’m not picking words or images at random, but those that I find have some kind of resonance personally as well as universally, be they mundane or iconic, and are redolent of my 1970’s California upbringing,” he said.

Tweety Bird, the Tasmanian Devil, Popeye, neighborhood signage like LIQUOR MART and global names FENDER, Zildjian, Primus, Nike and EVERLAST all show up in his paintings and murals. Think of it all as an homage to the “brown smog atmosphere from the 1970’s in LA, along with the pop culture explosion of the era” with the super charged speed and hyper colored edges of today.

“For years now I’ve been interested in the negative space in and around letter-forms, particularly logos in a certain script, like the Fender logo,” he said. “When I see these spaces I get an urge or compulsion to define and articulate them, to make them the figure, not the ground.”

His works also include massive full-scale installations at museums and galleries, which are sadly temporary and disappear all to quickly to make way for another artist. His latest exhibit, Mark Dean Veca: EVERLAST, opens at Western Project on October 18th, and unveils seven new paintings and twelve works on paper.

Although our hostess kept us enveloped in a decadent martini and wine fog, from cocktail time through dinner and during the tour of Veca’s studio, I did manage to get down to some business of my own. Like a good student I tried to appear clever by asking convoluted questions and the artist graciously answered them, even when I repeated myself more than twice… Here’s our Q & A:

Effie Magazine  How is going with your book? What’s been the response?

Mark Dean Veca  The response to the book has been great! Everyone seems to love it. It’s been nice to see it on the shelves in Museum stores.

EM  What was that process like?

MDV  Putting the book together was more intense than I expected it to be — gathering images of work going back to 1992 and then trying to edit it down to only the best and most important pieces, while telling the story of my career for the past twenty years. We went through so many versions until it was distilled down to the final cut. I was a great experience in the end: to review that chunk of time and examine the evolution – a process that would never have happened without the book project as an impetus.

EM  You have a very distinct serpentine/intestinal style, how and when did that start?

MDV  That started in the mid/late 1990’s, literally with a serpent. My work has always been more organic than geometric, and always reliant on a heavy cartoonal line. I did paintings of snakes and intestinal forms for a while there as a way of exploring those organic forms and filling the canvas with overlapping, intertwined flesh.

EM  Do you have a favorite piece?

MDV  I have a few favorites, and they change from time to time. Often it has more to do with the way a work reminds me of a particular time and place it was made, of good memories I associate with it.

EM  When you go into a blank exhibit space what’s the first thing you do or think of?

MDV  When I go on a site visit at a museum I try to let the architectural environment reveal an idea to me, to dictate a course of action. I want the work to be truly site-specific as opposed to forcing a preconceived notion on a space arbitrarily.

EM  When one of your exhibits is over and the facility strikes down an installation and paints all over you work, how is that for you? Does it make you crazy, sad? Or are you used to it?

MDV  The first time it was truly depressing. The second one, I had to paint over myself, which seemed to add insult to injury. I got used to it after a while, and it really is part of the beauty of temporary works in that it’s like a live performance — if you miss it, it’s gone forever except for documentation, like photos and video. But that never truly captures it. It has to be experienced in the moment.

EM  Your home is like another canvas for your work, how much does your upbringing and family life influence your work? Or, does is it all come to you in a vision?

MDV  My 1970’s Bay Area upbringing has informed much of my work. Something about the pop culture of that era continually fascinates me. The underground comics’ scene, psychedelic rock posters, head shops and skateboarding were all influences on my esthetic. I still draw from the world around me which includes my family and the imagery they bring to the table.

EM  What has been your greatest moment as an artist?

MDV  It’s impossible to pick one, but I can say that when I put the finishing touches on some absurd over-the-top monumental installation and finally get to step back and take it all in, to see my vision come to life, I get a huge hysterical rush of accomplishment and satisfaction.

EM  What’s the theme for the new exhibit?

MDV  There’s no hard and fast theme per se this time — I wanted the freedom to make work that didn’t necessarily have to fit in a certain box. There are mostly paintings that use text — logos and signage from everyday life, for example — as a structure upon which to improvise. There’s definitely a flavor of the aforementioned 70’s/psychedelic/rock ‘n’ roll to the work.

EM  How do you keep yourself inspired?

MDV  I keep myself inspired by continuing to work. Inspiration comes from work, it’s a never-ending cycle.

EM  Any words of wisdom for aspiring artists?

MDV  I would tell them to read Charles Bukowski’s poem, “Roll the Dice”:

If you’re going to try,
go all the way.
Otherwise, don’t even start.
This could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.
It could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
It could mean freezing on a
park bench.
It could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
it could mean mockery,
Isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test
of your endurance,
of how much you really want to do it.
And you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.
If you’re going to try,
go all the way.
There is no other feeling like that.
You will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with fire.
You will ride life
straight to perfect laughter,
it’s the only good fight there is.

Do you want to get your hands on some Mark Dean Veca artwork? Paintings, drawings, prints and his book, Mark Dean Veca: 20 years will be available during the exhibit at Western Project through November 29th. For more information, visit

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