Exclusive Interview with Vincent Marcone, People’s Choice Winner,
2019 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize
It wouldn’t be surprising if you’re already quite familiar with My Pet Skeleton’s perennially overcast with a chance of locust plague artistic stylings. Beautiful Bizarre Magazine first pulled up a chair with the gent behind the morose moniker, Vincent Marcone, back in 2015. Given his intriguingly gothic Renaissance man inclinations, we couldn’t resist seeing what he was up to just one year later, in 2016.
Even in today’s Insta-culture of endlessly half-distracted scrolling, an otherworldly portfolio such as Vincent Marcone’s commands the beholder to screech to a sudden stop. Exploring wide-ranging creative vision such as his isn’t meant to be a quick entertainment fix. It demands our mindful gaze while we sip la fée verte in a Pontarlier absinthe glass.
To enter the 2020 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize in any of the four Award categories: INPRNT Traditional Art Award, Yasha Young Projects Sculpture Award, ZBrush Digital Art Award or iCanvas Photography Award, and for your chance to receive global exposure for your work + share in over US$35,000 in cash and prizes, click here.
Manifesting imagery à la My Pet Skeleton is a process of creative surrender. By navigating the mysterious and spooky crannies of his psyche, the Canadian-born graphic artist produces altogether ooky retina spectacles. Darkly beguiling pieces of art that would inspire Morticia to wield her own canvas slashing brushes in creative camaraderie.
For more on Vincent Marcone’s at times disturbing yet disarmingly surreal delights, please join us as we engage in our third conversation with the Juno and two-time Emmy award winning creative.
Interview with Vincent Marcone
Your artistic alter-ego, My Pet Skeleton, is well-known for a vast body of work that depicts grimly fiendish scenes that are occasionally injected with supernatural elements. In spite of that, the perennial Mona Lisa grin of Vincent Marcone suggests that you’re not all doom and gloom.
Hmm…. I often forget that my work can be a little ‘fiendish’ or ‘gloomy’. It’s rarely intentional on my part. It just happens that way, and I’m only reminded when I watch other people react to my work.
Do you still appreciate the far less serious, ooey-gooey gumdrop side of life? Would you mind sharing one unexpected factoid about your chewy center that might surprise our readers?
I love this question and will happily remove my metaphorical black cape and sinister gothic top hat for just a moment. Here goes. Not only do I appreciate the less serious gumdrop side of the tracks, I take residence there quite often. My current obsession is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’ve seen every episode, and can recall an embarrassing amount of Queen’s meme-worthy quips. I love the humour, the vulnerability, and the talent. And I love the strange awkward moments that the editors serve up on a silver platter. In many ways, it brings me back to the craziness of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Admittedly, I like my happy place with a big side of crazy.
What might you want the garden variety book cover judger to understand about creative individuals like yourself?
Artists thrive on support. If you like what we do, spread the word! Join our mailing lists and buy something that you can comfortably afford. The idea of supporting the arts isn’t limited to making a sizable donation to the opera or ballet. Purchasing an artist-made enamel pin, tee shirt design or giclee print also helps.
When did you recognize that your perspective of the world was a little outside of the norm? Can you recall the type of images that you filled your sketchbooks with during that period of time?
The backstories of monsters and magical creatures always interested me. I would scour the school library for any type of fairytale or myth that featured a new monster. Quite unlike me, the other boys in elementary school would compete in games of road hockey. Meanwhile, I spent my time excitedly painted those strange creatures that I had read about.
I remember doing a series of crazy monsters in crayon, which I then smothered in black tempera paint. Of course, the crayon wax naturally repelled the pitch-black pigment, but that process seemed magical to me. The vivid colours against the black made them appear to glow in a muddy midnight sky.
Becoming aware of genuine artistic ability happens in different ways. In your experience, was that lightbulb moment due to inner confidence? Did the praise of others simply just coax it out of you?
My mother and father were very encouraging when I was a child. It brought me joy to see their reaction to the things that I could draw. We lived in the middle of the forest – in the middle of nowhere – where all sorts of exotic wildflowers regularly grew. I would often pick one, study it, and then render out a tiny watercolor version to give to my mother. When I think back on it, I probably did it just to see the look on my mother’s face. She loved those tiny paintings. I think I developed my artistic skill early on, because of that look in her eyes.
Was there a specific event in your life that inspired you to give your artistic career every bit of your heart and soul? Has an unflappable drive to succeed always illuminated your path?
I decided to take my art seriously when I realized that I HATED what I was studying at university. I should have been cramming for biology and chemistry classes. Instead, I found myself drawing and painting. I remember thinking, “Why am I doing this???”. I decided at that point to focus on developing my creative skills. It occurred to me that everything else had been a grand distraction. My art was suffering for it.
For you, does feeling personally fulfilled revolve around the act of creating?
Yes. To be honest, I’m not always drawing or painting, but I’m always working on something creative – developing a song, directing a short film, etc. I’m in a constant state of manifesting something or making something. If I’m not, I feel like I’m lacking purpose.
When did it occur to you that you had become a legitimately professional artist?
During my third year of design school, I entered an illustration competition and won. I opened Applied Arts Magazine and found my own work published alongside some incredible artists. There was something about seeing my work in a glossy magazine that fortified the notion of me being a professional artist.
What is one of the most divine things about being a professional artist? In contrast, what aspect of your profession leaves a lot to be desired?
Making your own rules is divine as both an artist and an entrepreneur. On the flip side, constantly working by yourself can be a little lonely and even depressing. I’ve now started to invite other artists to work with me at my studio, which has been a fantastic way to stay invigorated.
At what point in your career did you happily spiral downward into the My Pet Skeleton abyss aesthetic?
I developed my style and aesthetic fairly quickly…I couldn’t really escape it. Once I focused on it and accepted it as something that was uniquely mine, I melted into it.
Did the structure of a formal art program like the one you completed at Conestoga College hamper or ignite your individuality?
It ignited it. Definitely. Conestoga provided me with the tools to appreciate the fundamentals of composition and design. I had all of this creative energy as a young artist but I needed some structure to hone it. My professors challenged me. In my third year, they allowed me to pursue and develop my illustration style on my own terms, which is something they didn’t do for every design student. I guess they saw something in me and I definitely needed that time to develop it.
In this day and age, being able to make a living as a creative is no longer about how many — it’s about how supportive. As Amanda Palmer put it, it’s the art of the ask.
Your band, Johnny Hollow, released its debut album back in 2003. Your quartet is still going strong with the release of 2019’s The Old Gods of New Berlin. Johnny Hollow’s visual branding has your instantly recognizable artistic fingerprint all over it. How did it first occur to you – wayyy back in pre-Kardashian society – to use your art as a constantly evolving visual elevator pitch for your other creative endeavors?
Quite simply, I used the strongest asset I have in my bag of tricks to help the band, which just so happens to be my art. The best way to lure people into the world that you are creating is to blend unique design with eye-catching visuals. Our albums are often crafted around a defined concept, so creating a visual experience to go with it is key. I’ve designed album covers, strange online flash games and weird projections for our live shows. All of those components make the world that we are envisioning really come alive.
Our fans have often told us that our visual branding complements our music in a rather uncanny way, which, of course, I’m always happy to hear. I’m very proud to work with my bandmates, who happen to be extremely talented, classically trained musicians. They set the bar very high bar, which I try to match – caliber-wise – with my art.
Four years ago, you told us that you’re “not much of a romantic”. Embedding a secret dedication to your spouse in the tree branches of the art on the final page of your Aurora Award-winning graphic novel, The Lady Paranorma, is just about as swoon-worthy as it gets. You also peppered each of the 74 pages of your book with a winged representation of your union. That easily trumps John Cusack blaring Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes from his boombox.
First off, HOW DARE YOU CALL OUT MY “TOUGH STOIC EXTERIOR”! [Clutches pearls]. Secondly, since the cat has been dragged out of the bag and catapulted into space, you might find it interesting to learn that I also designed a matching forearm tattoo of those red cardinals for my husband after my book was published. There! Happy???
Your beautifully illustrated graphic novel was a natural extension of your hauntingly touching 2011 film of the same name, the latter of which garnered you Best Animated Short at the New Orleans Film Festival. Securing Peter Murphy’s golden vocal cords for your film’s narration must have felt like you won the Academy Award of the underworld, though. How did that actually come about?
I really appreciate you describing the film as “haunting” because that was what I was trying to evoke in the production of both the film short and the graphic novel. I didn’t want it to be “scary” nor fixed with a typical happily ever after. I wanted the in-between. So, with that in mind, when my producer asked me who I’d like to narrate the short, without hesitation I said, “Peter Murphy!” I had been listening to him in my formative years and knew his discography inside and out. No one does “haunting” quite like Peter.
As it turns out, the stars were in perfect alignment for us. Just as the animation for The Lady Paranorma was finished, Peter was doing a concert in an adjacent city. My producer reached out to his people. Armed with the completed animation, we asked if Peter would come to the studio to perform the piece the following day of his tour. I think having the animation finished really worked in our favour, because Peter had a chance to see what he was getting involved in. To our delight, he said yes!
Being a Peter Murphy superfan is one thing, but finding yourself in the position of directing him while he narrates your own poem is mind-blowing. He did a fantastic job and surpassed all of our expectations when we worked with him.
Your lanky and shadowy Peter Murphy-esque homage, entitled His Scarlet Voice, is so seductively goth. That image seems perfectly emblematic of your overall artistic flavor. Did Sir Murphy offer you any thoughts about his digital doppleganger?
Thank you! I painted that piece a week after working with Peter. To be honest, I don’t think I have ever shown it to him directly. It felt strange to send it to Peter after asking him to contribute to my film. Painting it was more for me than for him. It was a way of marking an incredible experience. The piece currently hangs in a big bulky antique frame in my living room.
Ever since I can remember, my dreams have been littered with dystopian backdrops and I find them kind of beautiful. I know that sounds strange, but for some reason I find them almost comforting in an odd way.
Environmental flourishes spring forth from so many of your artworks. Examples include the industrial pollution-tainted background of Lost and Found, the burning treetops in Jinn, the wind turbines accenting Nothing Can Stop Ileana and the swarming jellyfish in Celestine. Are you an eco-crusader? To add credence to my hypothesis, just a few months ago you directed an e-waste-centric stop motion animated short film called Moonwalk for Boston based hard rock band Hand of the Tribe that has SAVE OUR BLOODY FLIPPING PLANET!!! written all over it.
Ever since I can remember, my dreams have been littered with dystopian backdrops and I find them kind of beautiful. I know that sounds strange, but for some reason I find them almost comforting in an odd way. You may notice though, that they are almost always far away in my work, and I think that has something to do with it… like, I can decide to avoid them by not travelling to them. Or that their presence is both a warning and an opportunity to change them. It really depends on the piece that you are referring too. There’s a unique story behind each one of those paintings.
This is NOT the case with Moonwalk. It is far from comforting. In this music video, we are IN the environment. We are a PART of the electronic landfill and there is no getting away from it. This piece is absolutely a direct message and warning about the state of our world. Hand of the Tribe specifically asked me to make a music video that spotlights our environmental crisis. I decided to craft a kind of surreal fairytale that was inspired by one of the world’s most toxic landscapes, an electronic landfill in Africa known as Agbogbloshie.
The region hosts an incredible community of people who are able to make ends meet with their tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit. It does come at a cost, however. The land and air are polluted by the burning of noxious plastics and rubber. Various precious metals are harvested from the mounds of electronic garbage and sold. In order to financially support their families, people end up poisoning themselves when they retrieve valuable materials from the e-waste. If you Google Agbogbloshie, the pictures look like an apocalyptic sci-fi movie scene. It doesn’t look real…but it is.
In your artistic practice or in your day-to-day life, have you made a conscious effort in recent years to be greener?
Yes. My husband and I take our impact seriously. We recycle. We no longer eat meat in our home. We have one vehicle between the two of us and it’s a hybrid. I wouldn’t consider ourselves “eco-crusaders”, but we are just trying to make some better decisions. We still make mistakes, but we care about treading a greener path.
Which of the many album covers that you’ve designed are your personal favorite and why?
My cover for Jakalope has a lot of fond memories attached to it. I even created an entire online flash game to go with the album design. In the end of a very taxing production, I won a Juno for the work. A Juno is basically the Canadian version of A Grammy Award, so to be acknowledged by my country’s music industry was a wonderful experience.
I do remember royally fucking up my acceptance speech on camera in a very embarrassing way. I created a new vocabulary word! “Imprestive”. I actually said, “Thank you to Jakalope and the ‘IMPRESTIVE” roster of musicians that created this amazing album.” To this day my friends still taunt me with my made-up word.
Regarding album covers designed by your fellow artistic contemporaries, which stand out to you?
I adore the following album covers:
Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame by Brian Griffin
Inspiral Carpets’ Revenge of the Goldfish by Sandy Skoglund
Massive Attack’s Mezzanine by Tom Kingston
David Bowie’s Heathen by Jonathan Barnbrook
Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion by HR Giger
Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell by Richard Corben
Stabbing Westward’s Darkest Days by David McKean
Are there a few imagination-stirring, pop-culture gems that you think are worth recommending to our readers?
ANYTHING done by the Brothers Quay is nothing short of mind-altering. Their short films are incredible and worth investigating on YouTube. Chris Cunningham’s music videos are genius, and I don’t use the term lightly. His collaborations with Aphex Twin, in particular, are unparalleled.
Congratulations on winning Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’s 2019 People’s Choice Award for your digital collage Nothing Can Stop Ileana! The cover of your band’s concept EP, The Old Gods of New Berlin, is emblazoned with your prize-winning heroine, plus a tune about her is located inside. The lyric “scoundrels and monsters cannot break her stride…she’s not afraid” seems to be reflective of the empowered female sentiment that our culture is finally embracing. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. Yes! It was intentional, and I’m thrilled you picked up on it. The giant/phantom thingy in the painting is meant to symbolize a kind of ghost of the patriarch. Ileana lures him in for a fatal blow using the weapon she’s concealing. In many ways, the piece is inspired by the David and Goliath allegory.
Unfortunately, I feel that we still have a long way to go before equality becomes a reality. Why don’t we see more woman presidents and prime ministers and politicians? They comprise 50% of our population, and yet their presence on the world stage is paltry at best. It’s ridiculous.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize. What was the process like for you? Did it meet your expectations?
It didn’t meet my expectations, because quite frankly, I didn’t expect to win the People’s Choice Award! When I was notified, I found myself re-reading the e-mail a few times to make sure I was digesting the information correctly. I was flabbergasted! To be acknowledged directly by the voting community was amazing.
Why did you enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
I have been following Beautiful Bizarre Magazine for a good while. I love how Beautiful Bizarre pulls together a group of artists that don’t quite have a comfortable place in the fine art world. At least, this is my perception. Throughout the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some attention for my work on this website. I thought it would be a good opportunity to put some of my latest art out there for the ever-expanding Beautiful Bizarre audience.
What do you feel you have gained from this experience?
There have been a few things that I have gained. My work has been introduced to new group of fans through Beautiful Bizarre. My Instagram account received a nice traffic boost due to the voting support of my followers. More importantly, entering the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize provided me with an opportunity to re-engage with my own audience. By asking my fans to vote for my work within the competition, I’ve been reminded of how supportive my own fan base is. I’ve paid closer attention to my own tribe thanks to that. In this day and age, being able to make a living as a creative is no longer about how many – it’s about how supportive. As Amanda Palmer put it, it’s the art of the ask.
Would you recommend the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize and encourage others to enter? If so, why?
Absolutely! By taking part in the art prize, you are getting a good sense of what other artists are doing throughout this competition, which is inspiring. You give yourself a reason to stir up your own fanbase and give them the chance to root for you.
Finally, what creativity lightning bolts have made your heart and soul sing out:
…as a thirteen-year-old?
As a thirteen-year-old, nature was what inspired me. I would spend most of my time finding plants and creatures that lived in the forest that surrounded my home.
…as a thirty-year-old?
As a thirty-year-old, incorporating my art and aesthetic into the works of other musicians really inspired me. I loved crafting visual narratives to complement audible artistry. The process was exciting, whether I was working on the visual aesthetic for my own band Johnny Hollow or I was creating album covers and music videos for other bands.
…as the professional artist you are today?
As the artist I am today? One word…collaboration. I have an amazing new project lined up. I will be working together with an imprestive, yes, IMPRESTIVE! roster of visual artists. Seriously, it’s a great line up. Beautiful Bizarre will be the first to know about this project as soon as I’m allowed to share.
And by the way, I feel like this question was just a sly way for you to make me admit that I’m in my 40s. 🙂