Dzama leaves no splotch of paint or commercial graphic without personality, rendering, for instance, an umbrella, sun, and a package printed on the side of a box as sad, happy, and solemn. His own creations appear on the verge of breath, baring incisors or gasping in permanent shock. Crowning the top of one bookcase are two masks, one a long-necked, lipsticked caterpillar, the other a buggy-eyed face dribbling a daub of blood from its lips. Over a female mannequin’s torso rests the head of a bleating goat, haired in cobalt blue, two medallions dangling around its breasts.
Dzama shares with Duchamp an affinity for chess, a longtime motif in his painted and film work, and a box labeled “wooden chess set blue + red” is shelved near a despondent Uncle Sam who points from the top of a box of puppets. I mention seeing a photo of Duchamp playing chess with a nude Eve Babitz “...who dated Steve Martin!” Dzama says, gamely gesturing at a photo of Martin hanging on a nearby wall.
NPR is playing on a radio tucked within a stack of CDs, and as I pass by it, I am careful to avoid stepping on the socked feet of Young Sun Han, a fellow artist and Dzama’s sometime assistant, who is crouched in a cat pose over one of Marcel's drafts—a drawing outlined on a poster-sized cut of construction paper—helping with the laborious task of brushing it full with inky black strokes. The intricate work nods at Hieronymous Bosch, portraying an environment of surreal creatures and figures; I observe as Han colors in the polka-dotted bodysuit of a woman who gleefully pinches the end of a thread that dangles a rabbit. Dzama tells me that the work is meant for an upcoming show at the Galleri Magnus Karlsson, in Stockholm, later Instagramming it with the title Revolution Blues.
In the center of the room is a diorama created for a new large-scale work in progress, a wooden assemblage of platforms, staircases, Noguchi-like sculptures, and a plump performer, in front of a toothpick-thin lattice grille. He declines to answer my questions about what he intends to do with it when it’s finished. “That’s taken me way too long,” he says, giving it a sweep of the eyes, “but that’s all I can say about it.”
Michael Barron is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.
All photographs by Ike Edeani
For believers in the old religion, as they delicately applied gilt to paintings of serene angels, it had been a simple matter: beauty was a sign of grace. Beauty and truth and goodness were one.
Curtis was keen to chat but incredibly sleepy, having played poker and read a dense biography of Stalin into the wee hours. A cappuccino and a slice of custard