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Christian Marclay's artwork calls for viewers to listen with their eyes


Christian Marclay is about as hot as you get in the contemporary art world. And beyond, going mainstream after landing on Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People list in April.

The work that put him on this trajectory is The Clock, a 24-hour video of time-related movie scenes that debuted in London's White Cube gallery in 2010 and became an instant hit, drawing out-the-door crowds as it traveled to museums and galleries around the world. In 2011, he received the prized Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale.

But Marclay, 57, is no overnight celebrity. For more than 30 years, he has built a reputation as an innovative visual artist and composer. About seven years ago, he caught the superb eye of Margaret Miller, the director of the Institute for Research in Art at University of South Florida. Since then, he has made numerous trips to Tampa for collaborations with the Institute's Graphicstudio, an atelier that works with artists to create limited-edition prints and sculptures.

On his most recent visit, he was wrapping up one project with another in process, both using onomatopoeic words from Japanese manga, or comic books, that simulate sound — shoom, for example.

Marclay downplays his fame — "As an artist, you're always somewhat obscure. We're not talking Hollywood" — but is grateful for the financial boost The Clock has provided. He's also ready to move on. Marclay spent three years, almost nonstop, editing about 10,000 movie clips that match real time as the video progresses, an astonishing feat.

"Unlike sitting at a computer screen, printing is very direct and hands-on," he says. "I admire the abstract expressionists and pop artists so right now I'm referencing American '60s art and at the same time referencing Japanese manga culture."

In one series, he "used sounds that are related to the process of painting, wet sounds you might hear when you're painting."

Sound, literal or inferred, is always a part of Marclay's work. In the late 1970s, he used records interactively, manipulating or damaging them to produce irregularities when played. By himself and with other musicians, he performs both his own compositions and improvisations using turntables and old, altered records as his instruments. He has also used records as objects in some of his installation art.

Of these new prints, he says, "I wanted to represent sound graphically. These prints are music to me."

In fact, at Graphicstudio in 2010, he created a 60-foot-long scroll that was an actual musical score using manga sounds that has been performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the University of South Florida.

"I have never been much of a painter," Marclay says, preferring collages at first because he could combine appropriated images to make something new and original, what he calls "plundering." He gravitated to printmaking in part because, like music, it's collaborative.

Another lure of printmaking has been the uniqueness of Graphicstudio, where artists come only by invitation.

"I found I could be very creative and experimental," he says. "Graphicstudio has extremely skilled printers. I could never have made cyanotypes without the skills of the people here. And I could never have made such large ones. It's the collaboration, research. Maybe failing. That's part of the process along the way. I call this my studio away from my studio."

Marclay says of his many visits since 2005 that he almost lives in the studio, having meals brought in and working at all hours with the on-call staff. He doesn't remember ever visiting the beach or sightseeing. Miller says that she can occasionally persuade him to go to a restaurant or exhibition opening. That seems to be pretty much they way he lives most of the time. He and his wife, Lydia Yee, who is the curator of London's Barbican Gallery, willingly make the requisite social appearances without craving a spotlight.

"Everyone's looking for something new," Marclay says. He is, too, but he knows he'll find it on his own.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.

Christian Marclay's artwork calls for viewers to listen with their eyes 07/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 28, 2012 4:33am]
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