Meana Kasi • Verge Magazine • September, 2000

Todd Marrone is an artist I met online several months ago while we were both selling artwork on eBay. Upon developing an e-mail rapport, I’ve had the honor of getting to know a little more about this man and his artwork. It is always amazing to see such talent in a person you just know is going places.

Verge: Your website is incredible, very reflective of the witty, cartoonish style of your work. How long have you had your site up and what led you to go online? Did you design the site yourself?

Todd Marrone: “Thank you, I’ve had my site up for about 3 years now and have had close to 15,000 visitors. I am a self-taught web designer so what you see is the product of a lot of trial and error.

The Internet originally appealed to me because it seemed like a great place for an artist to solicit feedback. When I first began painting, I was a somewhat unsure of myself because it was a relatively new medium for me. My site began as a modestly designed collection of 21 paintings and my e-mail address. I’d {instant message} people on AOL that had the word art in their profile and ask them their opinion of my work. For the most part, the public reaction was very positive and my efforts even resulted in a few sales.

The feedback gave me the confidence to continue working on both my art production and my site design. I’ve been adding to and refining the site ever since.”

Verge: Your art is very illustrative and conveys a sense of personality and attitude. Has this always been your style?

“Like most artists, I think my work is the result of my collective visual influences. I grew up in the 1980’s, immersed in 80’s pop culture, video games, comic books and cartoon images. I believe that resulted in my tendencies towards bold colors, thick black outlines and iconic stylization. It’s a visual vocabulary that is very familiar to me.

I also find it very difficult to return to a piece of artwork once I leave it, consequently most of my pieces are almost entirely completed in one session. Art, to me, is like a time capsule. It’s what I was thinking and feeling at that moment. The illustrative style gives me the ability to conceive and execute my work before my specific motivation changes or subsides.

I agree that my work is rich in attitude. If a Monet landscape is the visual equivalent to a serene orchestral movement, my paintings are a loud, bouncy rhythm that makes some people stand up and dance and gives other people a headache. I enjoy the creative process and have a tremendous amount of fun when I’m working. I think that comes across in my paintings and drawings.”

Verge: I understand you are an art teacher in the Philadelphia area, teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. How has this experience further developed you as an artist?

“Being an art teacher has helped my artistic development immensely. First of all, my students’ enthusiasm and artwork are constant inspirations to me. I often work in my classroom alongside of my students. Their feedback and ideas have a direct result on many of my artistic decisions. I find myself to be more productive because I am in an environment where I am surrounded by art production.

Furthermore, because my curriculum has a large art history component, I am constantly researching and presenting the work of famous artists and art movements. I believe this encourages diversity in my own work.
Lastly, having another career allows me to be far less buyer conscience when creating. I don’t have to count on my art sales as my main source of income which results in quite a bit of artistic freedom. I paint and draw what I want when I want even if it’s not completely marketable or living room friendly.”

Verge: Undeniably, you have a very unique and bold style in your own work. Art students are often told to lose their personal styles in order to learn general artistic skills. How do you feel about that theory? Has your personal style ever hindered you in teaching art to others?

“That’s an interesting question. Fundamentals are important, learning to manipulate materials moves an artist from the conceptual stage to the execution stage. While I do spend a lot of time and energy helping students build their skills, I believe that the most joyful aspect of the art experience is the creative process and this is the cornerstone of my program. I attempt to balance traditional technical instruction with the passion and excitement of bringing ideas to life.

I feel that it’s my job to give students a positive and fun art experience in addition to improving their rendering skills. In many cases, this may be my students’ last organized art experience so it’s important that they enjoy themselves. Students who like art turn into adults who appreciate art and ultimately legislators who support the arts.”

Verge: You have recently begun to sell merchandise with your artwork printed on it (T-shirts, mugs, mousepads, etc). What has the public’s response been to this and do you feel it’s a worthwhile investment for other artists to try as well?

“Although the products that you mentioned have only been available for a few weeks, the response has been fantastic. I felt that the decision to offer relatively cheap consumer items with my images made sense because many of my most adamant fans are young adults. They certainly aren’t able to shell out a few hundred dollars for a painting so the merchandise is a way for me to make my work available to another audience.”

Verge: In painting, you have learned to encompass the same linear, illustrative style of your drawings into your work. This is often a real challenge for most artists that you’ve made work so well for yourself. Are there other styles of art you would like to learn or have tried to master, but been unable to?

“Because my background is in drawing, linear painting comes very naturally to me. I think it’s just a matter of the primacy of technique. Paintings don’t feel finished to me until they have been outlined, it’s almost a compulsion. Consequently, it’s very uncomfortable for me paint values as masses. When I first began painting, that was tremendously frustrating but when I accepted and embraced my linear tendency, painting became much more enjoyable, and in my opinion, more successful.”

Verge: What inspires you when creating your artwork?

“I am inspired to create by almost anything, from a song on the radio to an advertisement for cheese to something funny that a student might say in class. The visual artists that have had the greatest impact on my style would have to be Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Egon Schiele and a Spanish artist by the name of Picasso.”

Verge: How do you promote yourself as an artist?

“I enjoy sharing my work with people, that is my main promotional motivation. I try to attack it from a number of different angles including, web promotion, flyers, stickers, posters and actually getting my original work out where the public can see it. While I do show and sell work from galleries, I enjoy showing work in local restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores. Even though people don’t go to dinner with the intention of buying artwork, a lot more eyeballs come across your work at a popular eatery than in an art gallery. I’d recommend any artist who is considering showing their work to try a local coffee shop or eatery. It’s usually very easy to get your stuff up, store owners love to decorate their walls for free and it makes for great exposure.

I believe that cross referencing a collection is also important. On my website, I post information concerning the location of my current shows so that local art enthusiasts can check it out in person. At my shows I have signs and business cards referring to my website so that interested viewers can check out my entire collection.”

Verge: Incredibly, you began selling your original art at comic book conventions at age 15. Did you receive positive reinforcement from this experience?

“Yeah, I guess I was officially a professional artist at the age of 15. Although my work at that time was simply sketches of popular comic book heroes priced at $20, selling artwork was an fantastic feeling. It was very flattering that kids my own age would chose to spend their allowance on my work, especially when their were so many other enticing things for kids to blow their cash on at those conventions.”

Verge: Where and how do you sell your work now? How successful has selling the artwork been?

“As I mentioned, I sell my work from a variety of places including galleries, coffee houses, and restaurants, book stores and online. My work sells surprisingly well, approximately 80% of my output is sold within a one year period. I’m always curious as to the deco of the room where people hang my work. My stuff is anything but subtle, I imagine the buyers of my work to have pretty eccentric taste.

There is certainly a larger market for more traditional, pretty artwork but there are also a lot more people producing that kind of stuff. In other words, if someone sees a beautiful landscaper painting that they think might look good above their couch their is no urgency to buy it because they will probably run into a similar painting at another gallery. On the other hand, I believe that my work is unique enough to stand out from the pack. If someone falls in love with one of my pieces, they have to react. They’d be hard pressed to find a crazy painting of an old bingo player somewhere else.”

Verge: Your artistic talents surfaced at a very young age. Describe the support you received from your family in pursuing art.

“My parents would beat the crap out of me every time they caught me drawing so I had to secretly draw in a closet with a flashlight so I wouldn’t be punished. Just kidding.

My family has always been tremendously supportive. My mom and dad aren’t very artistic but they have great senses of humor that I think I bring to my work.

My father’s cousin, Anthony Lasalle, started showing and selling his paintings when I was in college. His success really motivated me to get my work out to the public. He helped me arrange many of my earlier shows and his passion and incredibly prolific output continue to inspire me.”

Verge: In college you chose to major in Art Education rather than Studio Art. What influenced you to make this decision?

“I found myself at a crossroads in college. I was interested in fine art, commercial design and art education and initially had a difficult time choosing a career path. The reason I eventually decided to major in Art Education is because that was the only one that required a certification. I figured I could do design work and fine art no matter what my degree was so the decision kept my possibilities open.

I think I made the right choice because I am very currently active in all three of those artistic areas.”

Verge: What are your future goals in terms of your art and your career?

“In a recent graduate course, I was asked to describe what I felt would be my masterpiece. That’s not an easy question to answer. I originally began thinking about my masterpiece as a noun. Would it be a painting or a drawing, maybe even an installation or show? Then it dawned on me that my masterpiece would be a verb. I jotted down the sentence “I will change the way people think about art.” While that’s a pretty lofty goal, it’s one that I can pursue both through my art production AND my art instruction. It seemed to fit.

Then I crossed out the last couple words of the sentence and changed my masterpiece to “I will change the way people think.” That’s even loftier but in the immortal words of Casey Kasem, “shoot for the moon because even if you miss, you’ll be among the stars.” At least I think he said that. Maybe it was the guy on Reading Rainbow.”

Verge: What artists have you looked up to for guidance in your artwork?

“As I mentioned Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele have had a tremendous impact on my work but Picasso is my idol. Not only do I enjoy his images but I admire his confidence and his constant pursuit to broaden the definition of fine art. Picasso made it acceptable to create artwork that is not beautiful. If you had to paint a portrait of “modern art” it better be short and bald with a cigarette hanging out of its mouth.”

Verge: What are some challenges you’ve faced over the years?

“I guess the most difficult thing that I run into is the pseudo-intellectual, art-snob viewpoint that my work is immature. Some people have actually told me to “get serious” about art. As if artwork has to be serious, stuffy or boring to be important or worthwhile.

I have to occasionally remind myself that all artwork is not for all people and it’s actually just as flattering to have people hate your work as it is for people to love it. In fact work has to be pretty powerful to move someone to actually comment negatively and isn’t powerful artwork good artwork?”

Verge: You’ve sold a bit of work on eBay and have attracted an international following via eBay. Many artists scoff at the thought of selling online because they feel it is impersonal, and that your work will sell for much less than its worth. How do you feel about these thoughts?

“There is a large subculture of art enthusiasts who browse and buy work from eBay. If someone has a pair of eyes and the interest to look at artwork than I’m willing to show them mine. I’ve gotten quite a bit of international attention due my eBay postings and frequently sell work that isn’t posted and for the original asking price due to the link back to my page.

It’s a strong marketing tool, I scoff at the scoffers.”

Verge: What is your favorite piece of art and why?

“Guernica, by Picasso. I think it’s the most powerful, socially important and emotionally saturated two-dimensional piece ever created.”

Verge: What is your favorite piece of art that you created and why?

“I usually like my most recent creation the best, it is the one that is the freshest and best epitomizes who I am and what I am thinking at that time.”

Verge: How would you describe your own artwork?

“My work is an amalgam of popular culture, traditional abstraction and cartoon silliness.”

Verge: Of what personal accomplishment are you most proud?

“Nothing makes me more proud than when a previous student returns and tells me that they took art as an elective in high school because of their experience in my classroom. I get a real kick turning kids on to art.”

Verge: If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?

“Before or after taxes? I guess I’d love to begin an art center. A cross between a studio space where artists could meet, work and collaborate, classrooms where kids and adults could take art courses and a gallery space where everybody could exhibit work. I’m not sure if a million dollars would pay the bills though.”

Verge: Do you have any goals or dreams you’d like to share with us?

“I have a reoccurring dream that mannequins come to life and chase me around, I’d hardly consider that a goal though.”

Verge: Your other artistic interests include writing, directing school plays, and piloting a computer graphics program. Do you see yourself moving deeper into these or any other areas in the future?

“I enjoy the creative process, regardless of the medium. I do intend to continue writing, I have a notebook full of stand-up comedy material and I’ve created a manuscript for a children’s book that I intend to illustrate. I also have ideas for play and movie scripts that I’d love to flesh out.

Someday, I hope to learn to read and write music, I play a few instruments badly but I think I could really get into songwriting and performing. I also recently taught myself to juggle, that should make me more marketable as professional artist, don’t you think?”

Verge: What hobbies do you enjoy?

“Embarrassingly, I’ve retained most of my adolescent hobbies such as video games, bike riding and comic books. In addition I exercise regularly, love music, film and theater and buy a new art book just about every other day.”

Verge: You are still quite young. But at 26, you have already developed quite a following and are sure to go far with your art career. Are you happy with where you are in life presently and do you foresee a bright future for yourself?

“Yes, I’m pretty pleased with my life and accomplishments but the “things I want to do” category is much larger than the “things I’ve done” category.”

Verge: What is your favorite place you’ve visited and why?

“I traveled across the country with my girlfriend, that was a fantastic adventure. So I guess the answer to your question is the United States of America.”

Verge: In your opinion, what is the most important invention of the 20th century?

“The camera, it single handedly gave artists the freedom to abstract. If it weren’t for the camera, we’d all still be painting portraits.”

Verge: What are a few facts about you, your work, or your life that most people don’t know and would never guess?

“I was a guest on the Jerry Springer Show and my segment surprisingly escalated into a fist fight.”

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