Skip to main content

Mario Marzan

Mario Marzan constructs delicate and ambiguous compositions as personal topographies. Based on scattered memories, his drawings and small sculptures suggest a narrative, taking place in a landscape tormented between order and disorder. Through references to the hurricanes that often plague islands and shape the architecture and landscape, Marzan’s work explores ideas of deconstruction and reconstruction. Marzan was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and is currently an Assistant Professor of Art at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his BFA from Bowling Green State University and his MFA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Artist Statement

Like a makeshift tent that eventually becomes dismantled under the duress of weather or time, or a child’s bedroom that physically evolves as s/he matures, history and identity exist in transition. They exist in spaces we construct and deconstruct in order to write and re-write the individual and collective stories that connect us. My work explores the shifting, changing and constantly evolving negotiation of these spaces in relation to individual and cultural identities and histories. From depictions of vast geographic locations and notions of national identity to the intimate rooms of a house under construction, my work seeks to map each place as a fluid site of exchange. As pieces of the visual landscape, such locations are carved out and reconfigured until that landscape’s story is no longer its own, but that of its relationship to its inhabitants.

My work examines hurricanes and their paths as means by which to interpret cultures from the Caribbean, Gulf Basin and US South. As areas affected by similar storm systems, these regions may resultantly share environmental, historical and cultural determinants, raising the question: What patterns emerge when we examine a broader region across national or linguistic borders? While such an approach may be applied to multiple sites, my work focuses on the island of Puerto Rico, where I was born and spent most of my childhood. This site provides an entry point from which to consider similarly affected regions and populations in the US and the fluid boundaries between these geographical areas.

Responding to the constantly shifting landscape and architecture of the island of Puerto Rico, my work depicts alternative realities, invented and inspired by the cycles of deconstruction and reconstruction produced by storms and hurricanes and affecting coastal regions. My work is a response to the changing landscapes of the area, suggesting the storm’s power to alter not just the physical terrain, but also individual psyches and the broader cultures of such affected regions. In referencing the hurricane’s continual transformation of landscapes and mentalities, I hope to provoke certain questions with my work: How do we “map” memories? How is a visual crisis represented? How are cultural, geographical and visual boundaries determined and rewritten? In considering such issues, I aim to bring contemporary issues of everyday life into the gallery space, providing a site where the visual and the cultural merge to challenge the viewers’ understandings of their own communities and those with which they interact.


Izel Vargas

TV Assaults Izel Vargas, Film at 11
William Anthony Nericcio
SDSU, San Diego State University


Izel Vargas has been molested by a television; comics have assaulted him, leaving their inky trace on everything he touches. There’s more: he is a victim of the nefarious workings of xicanosmosis, born between and within the borders of the United States and Mexico, his work shouts of the alchemical magic to be found within and without these bizarre cultural spaces. You look at a work like “Valley Girls Make Me Cry” or a piece like “Things Can Only Go Wrong” and the you can just hear the smarmy gringa/o art historian in the crowd (dub Thurston Howell’s accent from Gilligan’s Island here): “Ahem, ‘smick-smock,’ of course we see the influence of Roy Lichtenstein here.” And said insufferable Art Historian, would be right—but there’s more.

Where Lichtenstein’s comic book inspired paintings evoked a hyper-perfect, hyper-stylized dimension of control and measured cadences, Vargas’s world is much more ephemeral, much more haunted and haunting. Izel Vargas is like some victim of semiotic abuse, the contours of the border have traced his psyche with bizarre hieroglyphs so that when they emerge from his hand onto the canvas, his ciphered scribblings bring back odd voices from the otherside.

Let’s revise the lead here: Vargas Abducted by Aliens (“Illegal,” extra-terrestrial, take your pick). But instead of probing his organs or dissecting his brain, they’ve plunged a syringe into his eyes and like other artists similarly assaulted (Van Gogh comes to mind, Diane Arbus as well), they will never be the same.

You may have seen a film called Poltergeist (1982) back in the day—if you have not, it features an eerie scene where a serene, pretty blonde girl is sucked up into an otherworld, a netherworld on the other side of a T.V. screen (more recently in fiction, Haruki Murakami has treated with this in After Dark).

Izel Vargas, too, has been to these same lands, like some kind of Alicia in Wonderlandia, he has imbibed from strange bottles and fallen down strange orifices (flash your synapses with some shots from Being John Malkovich here, Spike Jonze’s brilliant Borgesian epic) and come back to our world bowdlerized, discombobulated. In this regard his Dora the Explorer fetish is revealed as an exercise in self-portraiture. When she appears in his work, amputated or re-imagined with anime-eyes, she is Izel, wounded, marked, abused, and alive. And like Izel, she is “Mexican,” with the scare quotes, with the scary scare quotes “”—here punctuation works like a scar or a tattoo showing that even living, sentient beings can be touched forever by their facsimiles on the screen, their simulacra in the pages of a comic book and more.

Amputated eyes, signs that reveal the touch of semiotic pathology, emerge as a motif in Vargas’ oeuvre.


I grew up entranced by Warner Brothers cartoons on Saturday mornings in Laredo, Texas; I grew up again with Lorenzo and Sophia, my two children, watching Dora the Explorer, Sponge Bob Squarepants, and the Powerpuff Girls.

I also grew up on the border. So I see things that others may not see and as a critic, I am paid to share the substance of my sightings.

When I look at the uncanny, provocative, comic, violent canvases touched by the eyes and hands of Izel Vargas, the superficial and subterranean workings of Mexican-American border come to life; all the players are there: Jesus, Taco-trucks, La Migra (the border patrol), Santos (saints), los fonnies (comics), elados (popsickles) are all there, clear and recognizable. But they are deformed, deranged, re-visioned, re-purposed, damaged, and perverse.

Izel Vargas canvases come from an othered world, our own and not our own—something more and something else.

Children’s dreams become nightmare and la frontera de la Americas echo round the chambers of our eyes as if retrieved from Edgar Allen Poe and channeled through the corridors of Remedios Varo.

Izel Vargas has been molested by a television; and somehow, we are all the better for it.