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Marc Prats: Using 'the Weird' as a Radical Force

We had the pleasure of interviewing London-based artist Marc Prats to talk about his artistic journey, the ideas and theories that influence his work and about the themes he explores.

Prats' work often depicts intricately detailed scenes where random characters and objects interact to make interesting compositions. He explores themes to which he feels connected to or moved by, such as anxiety, transhumanism and our relationship with technology. To describe the aesthetic of his work, Prats borrows from the cultural theorist Mark Fisher’s writings on the concept of the ‘weird’.

If I would define my work in one word I’d use ‘weird’. Fisher describes it as a sort of perturbation; a sensation of wrongness or strangeness. It is the feeling that we get when we look at an object and we think “Oh, this doesn't belong here” or when the rules or preconceptions about reality don’t fit or are not valid to assess an object. It makes us question the way we look at things. And ultimately that is what I want to do with my work.

MAD54: How does ‘the weird’ actually come about in your paintings?

MP: I try to look for objects that usually don’t belong together, or strange combinations of scenes and characters. When you are confronted with the strange or the weird there is always some level of anxiety because you are confronted with the new, and it is through the new that you are able to experience new ways of looking at reality, but it can also be scary.

MAD54: Having talked about the weird and the new, is there a particular topic in those areas that you would like further explore?

MP: I am really interested in this idea of addiction to technology. The series that I am going to start have to do with people trying to escape from it.

We have all experienced it, this complete sense of loss or missing out, of stress even, when we find ourselves without our phones. To me personally, this sensation of absolute dependency, and particularly on an inanimate object, is worrying. I am permanently trapped in a loop of contradictions. I am stuck between wanting technology and wanting to escape from it.

Prats’ personal relationship with technology is more complicated than your average millennial’s struggle with an Instagram addiction. Due to a premature birth, he needed the help of technology in order to survive. Bad eyesight is one of the health complications that arose from his early arrival, however, thanks to technology (various operations on his retinas) he can lead a normal life. Regardless of being grateful for technological advances, he still struggles to find a balance between the expectation of being connected 24/7 and the anxiety this connectivity carries with it.

MAD54: Do you think different generations deal with technology dependency in different ways?

MP: Certainly. Us, millennials did not grow up with the internet. We did not have digital technologies or social media growing up. The generation that came after (Gen-Z) grew up with all of that. They were immediately connected. But we have the ability to distance ourselves from technology because we haven’t always known it. We can allow ourselves to take a detox from social media and I think that is also an interesting idea, that we can sort of escape technology at will.

Prats manages to subtly incorporate the theme of technology into his work by the ways in which he uses color and light. He talks about the rare occurrence of neon colors and neon lights in the natural world and how these represent technology in his paintings.

Sometimes when I paint subjects you cannot see the source of light, you can see its effect but you cannot see where it is coming from. This creates a sort of mystery and it operates quite nicely as a metaphor for technology. You cannot see where technology is coming from but you can see its effects.
Marc Prats ‘Dying Embers’
"Dying Embers" 160x100cm (Acrylic on Canvas, 2020)

MAD54: What are some of the other themes that inform your practice?

MP: I have also been exploring the theme of 'cannibalism'. The art world in itself is quite cannibalistic. Artists get inspired by other artists and take bits and pieces from things that were maybe created recently or maybe hundreds of years ago. As people, we also do that, we take bits and pieces from others and we change ourselves. We consume each other, maybe not in the physical sense, but through technology. We become products that are consumed. These ideas of cannibalism and light are themes that I've started to revisit.

Prats knew from an early age that he wanted to become a painter. After finishing high school he was unable to find a program that focused only in painting. As a result, he decided to enroll at Utrecht University to study Liberal Arts, majoring in Art History. He hoped to specialize in painting later in his academic life and continued to paint throughout his studies. He realized that studying art history had given him the tools to talk about great art but he had not had the chance to reflect on his own practice.

MAD54: How would you describe the impact of studying Art History has made in your work?

MP: It equipped me with the desire to understand how things work, to always dig a little deeper, to always remain curious. And this helped my paintings become more profound. However, it also made them a bit rigid. I started treating each composition like an essay, adding symbols here and there, guiding the viewer through the work step by step, without providing the space for them to be creative and interpret the work on their own terms.

Painting has to come from within. It is good to have a general discourse and solid theoretical concepts but you cannot let them dictate your compositions. I think this was a turning point in my practice.

Prats’ realization inspired him to paint full time before starting his MA at the Royal College of Art in London. During this time he began working with commercial galleries.

MAD54: You are currently half way through your studies at Royal College. What has art school given you as an artist?

MP: One of the most inspiring things about going to art school was being surrounded by other artists, some of whom have become close friends of mine, and being able to discuss each other’s practice. There are a lot of conversations going on in the art world right now that are fascinating about how to move forward, the function and role of art.

MAD54: Can you tell us about some controversial discussions about the role of art in today's world?

MP: There are people who think that art these days is not really useful, it doesn't really play a function, it doesn't really bring in any change. It is just a commodity or a pretty picture on the wall and that’s not how I was brought up to look at art or how I was educated. Art has always played a social role but especially in the 19th and 20th century with the avant-garde, where art was really a revolutionary force. It shocked people and it made people think.

'After Hours' 40x50cm (Oil on Canvas, 2020)
Art should make people think. When I make a painting, it will not leave me, or people who view it, indifferent. I don’t work with a specific audience in mind, but I feel that if a painting I make is able to move me, it will also move others.

Prats emphasizes his standpoint that art is still a social force and that he wants his works to move people and make them think. He believes that money, although necessary, should not be a driving force in art making.

MAD54: It is true that a lot of the talk in the art world is about the insane increase in value of paintings, auction sales records and so on. Can you tell us about the other side of the conversation?

MP: There is this scholar, Krzysztof Ziarek, who defines art as a radical force. When you are in the presence of it, it changes social relationships, it alters patterns of thought. In his view, art has to be so radical that it moves away from money, power, gender, the object and the subject. Ziarek talks about how art in the 21st century has lost its revolutionary quality, so present during the avant-garde, and that as a result it has become a commodity. Now, Ziarek’s ideas are very radical in themselves, and I do not think that art can exist without the art world. As an artist, you need to be able to navigate the commercial side of things because ultimately you want your work to be experienced by as many people as possible. Galleries, art fairs and auction houses play an indispensable role in that. But when you as an artist work with sales and exposure in mind, your work is at risk of losing its innovativeness or radical nature that could enable it to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Hopefully the Internet will be a place to make art more democratic and more accessible and reach more people.”

Learn more about Marc Prats on his website and Instagram.

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