Q&A with Packing Tape Artist Max Zorn

Maz Zorn on his unique artistic technique

By Lee MergnerMax-Zorn_CMYK_02


ABN: How did you come upon your unique technique of creating art with packing tape?

MZ: It started with the idea to do street art in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has these beautiful old streetlamps, and I saw so much street art in the daytime, but no artist was using city lights and streetlamps as a canvas. I started with little sketches with colored markers on Plexiglas. And one night I put up one of these sketches with a piece of brown packing tape. It was the first time I saw how the packing tape interacts with light and creates the sepia tones that remind us of old photography. I thought that was interesting. The next morning I still had that roll of tape. I started on my kitchen window, unrolling strips, and I cut it with my sushi knife and layered it a little bit. It stuck nastily on the window and it looked pretty ugly, but there was already some potential to be seen.

ABN: How long has this journey been?

MZ: That was about five years ago when I had the idea to do street art. It was not a big thing. I liked it, but it was nothing that I even showed people much. But it got popular in Amsterdam where I live. People would write me emails, asking me, “How do you do this? I don’t understand how this image is made of tape.” At one point, I was just really sick of answering these questions because I really couldn’t satisfy anybody with my answers. So I filmed myself making a little artwork on my window and put the video up on YouTube. I was gone for a week to surf, and I came back to something like 3,000 emails, and I thought I must have been spammed. I didn’t even read them. But then I thought I should check that video, and maybe I’ll have 20 or 30 clicks on it. I had over 100,000 in the first week and on up to over a million soon after. People asked me for artwork, and people asked me to events, and I was totally not ready for it. But it was the moment when I had to decide, “Do I take that chance, and do I start working and diving into that crazy pool and start swimming?” I decided to do that. I had all day to develop techniques. Every day of the week, I was taping. It gave me the chance to develop myself and my skills with that medium, which is great.

ABN: How long was the original video in real time?

MZ: I think the actual process was something like five hours. I took some breaks, drank some coffee. It was nothing planned out. It was the key to transport what [my art is] made of to the public that was not even so interested in art. YouTube isn’t necessarily for art lovers. But that was the bridge to the audience.

ABN: Here at the show, you’ve been handing people a piece of tape and asking them to place it on a canvas.

MZ: It’s a dangerous game, I’ll tell you, because they can drop them in weird places.

ABN: But you’re able to work around it?

MZ: Sometimes when the day is over, I do peel some pieces off that are really in places I can’t use them. Other than that, I can usually cut them to make them part of the artwork. Most of the time, it works.

ABN: What do you get from that interaction?

MZ: It was born first out of necessity to have people understand what these works are made of. We had them at exhibitions, and people liked it, but there was no understanding between the artwork and the audience. So, I thought, “All right, I have to just show it.” I didn’t like it at the beginning. It was like a math teacher looking over your shoulder when you’re taking a test—like I was being observed and not in a good way. But it’s something I pulled through with, and now I really love it. It’s a cool thing to show people the process to an artwork, not only the finished result. Art in the making is what fascinates me.

ABN: How do you deal with the business side of being an artist?

MZ: I have a manager. She takes care of the business side, but she’s an artist in spirit, so we don’t fight often about things. We have very clear ideas about what we want to do. It’s a gut feeling. If we don’t want to do something, we don’t do it. It’s not about the money so much. We have enough money for the both of us to keep going and do what we both like.

ABN: Do you do a lot of art shows?

MZ: I did about six this year and one or two solo exhibitions. It’s a lot of work to show, but I enjoy the attention, and it’s very fulfilling to connect with the audience.


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