In the Studio: Mark Drew

Thanks for taking some time to talk. Are you still living in Tokyo? What inspired you to move there?

Yes, coming up to 7 years now. Before moving here I’d spent five years setting up and co-directing a gallery in Sydney (China Heights), and we were doing very regular shows. I was making zines and artwork before the gallery, but during that initial gallery period I really didn’t have time to develop much of my own work. Mostly just focused on keeping it going and helping produce other people's exhibitions. Spaces owned and run by artists don’t usually last so long, Ed (my gallery partner) and I had both given up jobs to do it, and really were set on making it happen. It’s still running now, nearly 13 years later. When things were solid enough (after around 200 events), I felt it was time to spend a year on myself. Which turned into several, then a couple more…

Tokyo has a certain appeal for me – Firstly it’s very quiet and pleasant, once you work it out. Secondly, I’m Australian and the artwork I mostly make is to do with an outsiders view of aspects of American culture. Japan has a lot of that going on too, fondness of vintage Americana and Hamburger shops. Kind of getting it wrong sometimes, myself included, but being able to reference 90s rap with rose colored glasses. I grew up with this music, but want to keep that teenage sense about it, rather than be too directly influenced by reality or the current scene. 

"I’ve been surrounded by both things nearly my whole life. Peanuts from birth, and hip-hop culture from when I was old enough to want to hear certain music twice."

Your show in SF just wrapped up. What's it been like seeing the response to Deez Nuts over the past few years? Watching it grow from a zine into a full blown gallery exhibit?

I’ve made a lot of different hip-hop themed artwork in the last 15 years or so, I’m happy that this and the cassette tape works caught on in their own way – they're both satisfying series’ for me to make.  

Why Peanuts comics and why classic hip-hop? Where did that idea first come from? Was it just funny seeing the two juxtaposed like that? 

I’ve been surrounded by both things nearly my whole life. Peanuts from birth, and hip-hop culture when I was old enough to want to hear certain music twice. RUN D.M.C specifically in this case. The classic rap that I like is based on sampled breaks and drums, and often references the past with verbal samples or interpolation. So firstly I liked the combining of two (fairly personal) seemingly unrelated things in the same manner of the music I like, and secondly these characters are so genuine – to me there is a sense of humor in the work, but it’s believable and not a “joke” as such. The series doesn’t work for me if I switch in other characters. 

"The small box of tapes you had just meant so much. I want to make artwork about that."

You’ve just had a slightly different exhibition in Tokyo. Can you tell us a little bit about it? 

I was offered the use of Shin Okishima’s space in Shibuya, which is quite small and allowed me to make a concept based installation rather than present a full body of work. I mentioned sampling earlier – and recently was thinking about self sampling, after hearing Premier cut in Guru’s own voice on a Gang Starr track. So this show was using Gravediggaz lines in the same format of the work of mine most people know, the Protect Your Neck phone call set. 

USA 92 highlights your time touring the west coast with your family and being less than thrilled with the idea of sightseeing. What did going back through that diary remind you about yourself? Who were you listening to at that point?

The concept of that book was mine and my sisters actual diaries from the trip, her as a 12 year old girl and me as a 14 year old boy. I don’t think it says so much about us specifically as people, rather our two “characters” could be understood by anyone growing up in that era.

My wardrobe is more or less the same, 25 years later. Actually there is nothing I listened to then that doesn’t still get time these days. Ice T, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and Beastie Boys being the main four, then moving into KRS-One, D.I.T.C and everything else. 

Your Tape Stacks series spans across different genres but remains rooted in the 80's and 90's. What appeals to you so much about that point in your life?

I really like working with nostalgia. Initially it started with painting my brothers and sister’s collections, mixing in my parent’s albums, similar to a family car trip, and then seeing other people relate to the combinations too. Music wasn’t unlimited back then, and we didn’t know or care what certain entertainers had for lunch.

All you knew was the product, some liner notes, and an occasional (outdated) interview. Not being able to “keep up” with the lead singer was really a great thing. So as a 15 year old in that era, the small box of tapes you had just meant so much. I want to make artwork about that. 

Follow Mark Drew on Instagram and check out his latest work over at Making Ends


Thomas McDermott