Martial Artist: The Collage Work Of Mark Patrick Harrington
Brooklyn-based artist Mark Patrick Harrington makes vibrant post-modern collages that combine elements of surrealism with vintage smut and classic Americana to create futuristic landscapes that critique and recontextualize American consumerist themes. Cell Vision correspondent Samantha Singh spoke with the artist about the origins of his aesthetic and the relationship of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to both his life and artwork.
Merging concepts and symbols through paper and paste, Brooklyn-based artist Mark Patrick Harrington creates surreal, whimsical, and thought-provoking collages out of images from the 1960s and ‘70s. His vivid works incorporate futuristic fantasies with polite society, advancements in science with the era’s liberated sense of sexuality. The results are stunning and intricate pieces, both retrospective of American consumerist values and refreshing in their newly coagulated forms.
Before moving to New York City in 2010, Harrington grew up about an hour upstate in Rockland County and attended university in Baltimore, majoring in Film Studies. In NYC, he began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a disciplined, grappling-oriented martial art. Prior to shutdowns due to the spreading threat of the Coronavirus, Harrington was in the midst of planning an art installation at Clockwork Jiu Jitsu, a studio located in lower Manhattan’s NoHo. His work has been featured in group exhibits around New York City and beyond, and in 2019, his first solo exhibition, Something American, debuted at Human Nature, a boutique barbershop in the Lower East Side owned and run by Anwar Isaacs, another member of the BJJ community.
I spoke to Harrington about his collages, the relation between visual and martial arts, and the lasting importance of lessons imparted by this historic year as it comes to a close.
CELL VISION: When did you start collaging?
MARK HARRINGTON: I had always played around with photoshopping and found-footage edits. I didn’t view it as art or collage. It was just something I did at work or at home to amuse myself. In 2017, I left my staff job as a video editor and suddenly found myself with a lot of extra time between freelance gigs. It was around this time that the paper collages started.
"I really enjoy paper collage. I think the process of discovering images in books or magazines provides me with a better understanding of what that image represents. From there, I can decide how to manipulate the meaning of that image."
"My inspiration comes from the past. American pop culture, music, history, and mythology. Specifically, the ‘60s and ‘70s. During that time, people took a step back and thought about new ways of doing things. Ideas that were previously seen as radical became possible."
CELL VISION: What is your approach to collaging now? Do you primarily work digitally or with paper? Are there any themes you find yourself returning to, consciously or otherwise?
MARK HARRINGTON: I really enjoy paper collage. I think the process of discovering images in books or magazines provides me with a better understanding of what that image represents. From there, I can decide how to manipulate the meaning of that image. That said, I’ve been doing some large work recently that requires a digital approach. I’ll scan in paper clippings at higher resolutions and arrange them in Photoshop to create wall-sized prints. Since I started working with paper, I’ve rarely incorporated web images.
CELL VISION: Where do you look for inspiration?
MARK HARRINGTON: Since I work primarily with vintage materials, my inspiration comes from the past. American pop culture, music, history, and mythology. Specifically, the ‘60s and ‘70s. During that time, people took a step back and thought about new ways of doing things. Ideas that were previously seen as radical became possible. Shifts in society sparked a new imagination of what the future would/could look like. I think it’s interesting to look at how we’ve measured up to that vision of the future.
CELL VISION: What do you wish to accomplish through your art?
MARK HARRINGTON: It’s tough to say. I think looking at the past in a new setting allows us to reexamine old technologies and systems and compare them with the present. What is the same? What have we changed? How has that worked out for us?
"Jiu Jitsu also forces you into close contact with people of all different backgrounds. There are lawyers, contractors, retail managers, musicians, actors, line cooks, bankers, Uber drivers, etc. Any sort of financial or social currency is thrown away once that class starts, and the only thing that matters is how good you are. It connects us with something more honest and human than what the outside world provides."
CELL VISION: Have you been involved in BJJ for long?
MARK HARRINGTON: I started Jiu Jitsu in 2014. I had been training Muay Thai pretty religiously at the time and decided to try one of the two BJJ night classes the academy offered. I was instantly addicted. A few weeks later, I signed up at Clockwork Jiu Jitsu and started training 5-6 days a week. I started teaching 7am classes there in 2019.
CELL VISION: How do you feel you’ve changed since starting Jiu Jitsu?
MARK HARRINGTON: Jiu Jitsu is a complex system of interlocking techniques and concepts. I’ve never seen someone walk in and understand it immediately. It takes years of getting flattened by others before you start to see real improvement. It requires you to examine the ways that you use your body instinctually and ask, “Are these movements effective?” If they are not, you replace them with new movements which are then tested and refined in the same way. Over time, you end up with a stockpile of successful techniques, but you always understand there is more to learn. I try to apply that model to all other aspects of my life.
Jiu Jitsu also forces you into close contact with people of all different backgrounds. There are lawyers, contractors, retail managers, musicians, actors, line cooks, bankers, Uber drivers, etc. Any sort of financial or social currency is thrown away once that class starts, and the only thing that matters is how good you are. It connects us with something more honest and human than what the outside world provides. It’s through that connection that I’ve been able to meet and talk with people who have influenced my life for the better.
CELL VISION: I noticed that in April, just before the world descended into COVIDian chaos, you announced a collaboration with Clockwork Jiu Jitsu that included a merch line designed by you and was originally intended to manifest as a pop-up art installation. Unfortunately, the pop-up wasn’t able to take place because of the shutdowns, but can you tell us about the intention behind the project?
MARK HARRINGTON: With the success of the UFC and other MMA organizations, I feel like the martial artist has been painted as brash, unintelligent, and very “bro.” This gets amped up the more these larger organizations rely on Pro-Wrestling tactics to sell pay-per-views to the Monday-Night-Football crowd. That’s not my personal experience. Some of the most intelligent, empathetic, and introspective people I know are from the fight community. Violence is human. We choose to metabolize that violence in a constructive atmosphere to understand ourselves and become better people. It’s that culture of self exploration that drew me to Jiu Jitsu and ultimately inspired the collaboration. I'm grateful to [studio owner] Josh [Griffiths] and the rest of the Clockwork folks for offering me a venue to express this.
"I feel like the martial artist has been painted as brash, unintelligent, and very “bro.” That’s not my personal experience. Some of the most intelligent, empathetic, and introspective people I know are from the fight community."
CELL VISION: How would you define the intersection between visual and martial arts?
MARK HARRINGTON: I think both serve as forms of individual expression using a set of standard tools. In Jiu Jitsu, a technique is taught a specific way, but we have to tweak and alter that technique to better suit our physical attributes and strengths. This creates a style. Every once in a while, someone creates a new technique/tool that opens up a new realm of possibility. I feel like art operates in a similar way.
CELL VISION: I saw that you created a cool mix for the Clockwork collaboration entitled “Positive Mental Attitude,” which featured tracks by artists including Lou Reed and CAN alongside hardcore punk bands like Egg Hunt and Turnstile. Are you involved in the NYC music scene at all?
MARK HARRINGTON: I’m not involved in the music scene, but music is mandatory when I’m working and will often steer the direction of whatever it is that I’m working on. “Positive Mental Attitude, April 2020” was originally the playlist for the pop-up Clockwork event that never happened. It’s a collection of some of the stuff I was listening to last year while putting everything together.
CELL VISION: 2020 has been quite a tumultuous year, from the emergence of a global pandemic and the ensuing shuttering of life as we know it to the unjust killing of George Floyd and the resulting uprisings across this country and the world. How have you been handling it?
MARK HARRINGTON: While the events that led us here are beyond horrible, I think this perfect storm has the potential for real change. COVID put everyone on the sidelines and gave us no choice but to look at what we are/have been doing in this country. Systemic racism and police brutality are a wound that we’ve been ignoring forever. The process of cleaning it out is going to be painful for all parties, but if we don’t do it now, we die. Deep introspection, re-education, conversation, and informed action seem like good places to start.
"Systemic racism and police brutality are a wound that we’ve been ignoring forever. The process of cleaning it out is going to be painful for all parties, but if we don’t do it now, we die."
MARK HARRINGTON: It’s almost a total cliche at this point to talk about how wild of a year it has been, but as it draws to a close, I can’t help but feel that it’s been unfortunately necessary. Adversity is a window into reality. It punches through the bullshit and shows us who we are. It shows us who the people around us are. With everything out in the open, we can begin to make adjustments and fix things, starting with ourselves and then moving outward.
"Outside of our individual work, we should be asking ourselves how we can serve. How can I boost up the person next to me? How can I collaborate with a local business to help them out? Do I have anything in my toolbox that can help someone else do something great?"
CELL VISION: What do you consider the role of the artist in this time, when the flaws of our government and society are so exposed?
MARK HARRINGTON: Some artists are going to make work that addresses those flaws in a very direct way. I think that’s very necessary. Other artists may not feel that is their lane, and that’s okay too. There is a place for both.
Outside of our individual work, we should be asking ourselves how we can serve. How can I boost up the person next to me? How can I collaborate with a local business to help them out? Do I have anything in my toolbox that can help someone else do something great? We should be constantly looking to add new people to our circles with diverse skill sets, voices, and perspectives.
In a time where many major institutions have failed, it’s vital that we build and strengthen our local (and online) communities so that we can take care of ourselves. I feel like art can be a connection point that makes people want to participate in that process.
CELL VISION: Are you working on anything right now? What’s next for you creatively?
MARK HARRINGTON: Piling up some new work. Some on paper, some not. Probably some more video. When the time is right, I’ll show it, but [I’m] not going to rush it. Maybe some album art here and there along with the second issue of Stimulus Check (the quarterly newsletter).
CELL VISION: What are your hopes for the upcoming year?
MARK HARRINGTON: I hope that we can get a handle on this virus and that these small businesses can recover. I hope that I can safely train at a fully packed gym full of smiling faces again. I hope that I can sit in a bar without a mask and have a drink one day. Aside from that, I hope that we never go back to normal.
"I hope that we can get a handle on this virus and that these small businesses can recover... Aside from that, I hope that we never go back to normal."
CELL VISION: Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
MARK HARRINGTON: Stay fit, eat well, and take care of your brain. Allow yourself to make mistakes and get better. Allow other people to do the same.
You can view more of Mark Patrick Harrington's work via his website or Instagram via the links below.