Art Studio Frequencies Music

Artist Calvin Marcus Makes Disquieting Paintings. The Music That Fuels Them Might Surprise You

Calvin Marcus-art-studio-art-basel-2023

An artist’s studio is a haven—a sounding board for ideas good and bad, a companion on dark days and inspired ones. These spaces play occasional host to curators, collectors, and friends, but in the day-to-day hum of creation, they wrap their protective arms around their artists, enveloping them. CULTURED asked six makers whose work spans the disciplines of architecture, performance, painting, and sculpture to reflect on their relationship to music, and share the sounds that keep them company in the studio.

The words “surreal” and “absurd” are thrown around when Calvin Marcus’s name comes up. But the San Francisco-born, Los Angeles-based artist tends more towards the deadpan and discomforting. His deceptively nonchalant paintings, forays into sculpture, and screen-printed works dilate the longer you observe them. This week, a work of Marcus’s will be included in Clearing’s first Art Basel booth, and the artist will continue to develop his Tuscan TOMATO Residency with the gallery’s Brussels director, Lodovico Corsini. In the midst of these varied projects and practices lies a deep connection to music, which offers the artist both a contemporary catalyst and a time machine.

How does it feel to show at Basel this year?

Basel always has great shows on during the fair, and people seem to send great work so I am happy to be a part of it all. I’ll have a painting in Clearing’s booth. It’s their first time at the main fair. I did a solo booth with Clearing a few years ago at Liste [Art Fair], which was the last time I actually went to Basel, floated the Rhine, and did the whole thing. Haven’t been back since, but maybe this year’s the year to visit again.

What's your favorite way to listen to music?

My studio has wooden floors and a large wooden ceiling, so the acoustics are really nice; it’s the best place to listen to music. It sounds so good and big to be in there with my favorite music of the moment. 

What sounds do you associate with LA?

Cars accelerating. There are also a lot of birds in my neighborhood. Every time I’m on the phone with someone walking my dog around, the person on the line always comments on how loud the birds are.

First sonic memory?

My uncle swimming across a lake on a family camping trip we went on as kids. I still hear his voice and the sound of the water around him. 

Favorite sound?

The sound of a skateboard passing by gives me great nostalgia. I’ve been skateboarding since I was 12—less now, but I still love the sound of the hard wheels and loud bearings. It sounds like a snake striking perpetually.

What’s the best studio soundtrack?

I get really obsessed with albums and listen to them over and over again for months. Lately, it's been Hail to the Thief by Radiohead & Brian Wilson, Smile by the Beach Boys—the whole thing is incredible especially this song: “Child is the Father of The Man.”

What sounds have influenced the work that will be on display at Basel?

The sound of soft wind going through branches of plants and trees and grass, familiar background sounds.

What’s happening for you this summer after Basel?

I’m going to a friend's wedding in Austria. I might see the horse race in Siena. I’m going to work on setting up the TOMATO Residency in Tuscany I founded with my dear friend Lodovico Corsini. Eventually, I’ll end up back in California to sleep under some stars on a camping trip somewhere. I have a bunch of work to do in the next six months, so my summer break will be brief. Getting enough days at the beach swimming is important.

What song or album represents where you’re at in your life right now?

Trans-Europe Express by Kraftwerk!