Marcel Dzama: The Course of Human History Personified
Essays by Jason Rosenfeld and Jason Tougaw.
Bats, nurses, Marlene Dietrich, a malevolent figure in a bear suit, two cowboys playing king-of-the-mountain on a rosebush, a group of men placidly eating babies at a makeshift picnic table, while, above them, a tree grows more babies: Marcel Dzama is back. As readers will learn in The Course of Human History Personified, he's a sleepwalker, a sleepdrawer--"I draw during the day, but the ideas come at night." Dzama records his visions in a bedside-table notebook. The finished work, in ink and watercolor, in a limited color scheme, against empty backgrounds, stripped of narrative context, offers many possible interpretations. Its cast of characters is expansive and in each drawing their roles become more complex and defined. Dzama's artistic influences include Blake, Goya, Botticelli and James Ensor and his sources encompass native mythology, Inuit art, Dante's Divine Comedy, medieval paintings and American folklore. The title, The Course of Human History Personified, is borrowed from Dante and recalls the grand artistic and literary cycles of the nineteenth century such as Thomas Cole's 1836 The Course of Empire, where nature plays as large a role as humans. Here nature is personified--imagined characters and trees and beasts assume base human characteristics. If it's a dark view of the world, it's also an entrancing one.