MARC LEPSON has been part of the downtown art scene in New York City since the early 1990’s, beginning with his work as artist and Master Printer at the Lower East Side Printshop. Lepson’s work first came to national attention as part of the activist group, ad hoc artists, staging public performances (Our Grief is not a Cry for War) in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in Lower Manhattan. In the decade that followed, his strident political prints and evocative installations were shown at Miyako Yoshinaga gallery NY and showcased at The Brooklyn Museum. He has exhibited internationally in Vienna, Berlin, Stockholm, and Reykjavic. Lepson’s current practice centers on large scale oil paintings and monoprints that investigate social constructions of masculinity and the violent underpinnings of American society.
He has received a Pollock-Krasner Grant and his work has appeared in Art on Paper and Art in America.
Who can kill without being regarded as a murderer? What institutions are considered so pure they are above the law?
My work uses the visual language of painted portraiture, street photography, and scientific documentation to viscerally illuminate the violent underpinnings of masculinity and contemporary American society. Through isolation and abstraction, subjects are treated as icons and become allegorical, forcing the contemplation of specific, ritualized human gesture in order to provoke empathy, dialogue, thought, and action. American mythology has a long history of portraying ‘benevolent’ violence as a means of heroic self-creation, protection, and regeneration. It begins with Christopher Columbus and continues through the myth of the frontiersman, General Custer’s last stand, the pop-culture heroics in film, Cormac McCarthy novels, and contemporary first-person shooter games where avatars can dance while committing atrocities.
I focus particularly on institutions—the state, the corporation, the nuclear family—In which men use other men as tools of oppression, and bodies of all genders, all genus, are objectified and made other. My work seeks to demystify institutional hierarchy, putting the body, both human and animal, in the position of subject; pointing to common existential experiences of bare life. This is perhaps most prevalent in my recent work which examines species dominance and the relentless momentum of the Anthropocene era. In this work small moments tied to human necessity, joy, tradition, and clinical curiosity are stripped down and shaken loose from the language of benevolence that has historically defined them.
By visually revealing individual gestures of the desire to dominate, and institutional, nationalist zeal for exclusion and exceptionalism, I go to the heart of what the philosopher Georgio Agamben describes as Homo Sacer—examining the bodies of those condemned; deemed outside the law, outside protection, deprived of rights and functions. This examination of violence committed with impunity, or committed with institutional sanction is, I believe, the most essential work of our current era. As the descendant of migrant refugees, I am not willing to turn my back on the bodies that are green-lit for destruction. As an American, I am not willing to turn my back on my own complicity in western exceptionalism. My work is forged in this tension, of what it means to be a victim and a perpetrator. My concern is to subvert the glorification of violence through rationality, beauty, and poetic attention to the smallest lucid detail.