Mark Flood remains Houston’s foremost punk in the art world

Of all the Houston artists who have earned international fame, Mark Flood may be the most mysterious. Although he has been a leading figure of the city’s art scene since the 1980s, thanks to his painting, music and writing, Flood hasn’t exactly stepped into the limelight. Sometimes it feels like he has done everything to avoid that, from avoiding pressure to switching between multiple names and skipping their own openings.

The artist has a new show this weekend, a homecoming of sorts: Mark Flood: A guide for naked investors, which opens on Friday the 3rd. March at Reeves Art + Design. The question is, will the real Mark Flood even be there? He has a reputation for sending surrogates in his place. They will claim to be Flood, and not spoil the character even when it is obvious they are not the real deal. At the opening of ART STARS at the Zack Feuer Gallery in New York in 2012, Flood held an event where 10 men sat at a table for a press conference, each identified by a placard in front of them that read “Mark Flood.”

Flood first gained local fame as the leader of an industrial punk band, Culturcide, which he founded in 1979. His stage name was Perry Webb. At the same time as writing and playing creepy, uncomfortable punk songs, he began painting under the name John Peters. Flood has also had other pseudonyms. How do you create a name when you never settle on one? Mark Flood has made it.

The art in his new exhibition is mostly taken from the internet, but printed and painted on large canvases, usually with some graffiti-like alterations. “I’ve done screen art, but I still believe in wall art because I think it will last as long as there are walls,” Flood says in an interview with the Chron conducted, at his insistence, by email. “There’s going to be something above the couch, above the bed. I want it to be a Mark Flood!”

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John Peters is his real name – or at least the one he was given at birth, in 1957. By the early ’80s, he had dropped out of Rice University and started making music inspired by industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle. If you listened to college radio in 1986, you may have heard “They Aren’t the World,” a tongue-in-cheek spoof in which Flood/Webb/Peters and his Culturcide bandmates Dan Workman and Ralf Armin laid down new lyrics (” There comes a time/when rock stars beg for money/and that’s how the world will come together as one”) over the original recording of “We Are the World.” Naturally, the album on which it appears, Sticky souvenirs from pre-revolutionary Americais long out of print, thanks to its blatant copyright infringement, making it a collector’s item at this point.

The song was an early example of Flood’s devotion to a defunct group of French radicals, the Situationists, whose heyday was in the 1960s. One of the practices they advocated was “détournement”, where an original work is altered in some way, creating an opposite meaning from the original. Détournement is similar to satire or parody, but it uses the original in a much less altered way. “I was heavily influenced by the Situationists of the 80s,” writes Flood. “But I was also inspired by toasters of reggae, like U-Roy, who sang over mixes of other people’s music.”

"Looking for Cat" by Mark Flood, part of the artist's new exhibition, Mark Flood: A Guide for Nude Investors

“Seeker Cat” by Mark Flood, part of the artist’s new exhibition, Mark Flood: A guide for naked investors

Mark Flood

While playing with Culturcide, Flood developed as a painter, under his given name. He worked from a studio at the Commerce Street Artists Warehouse, where he became an important part of Houston’s vibrant underground art scene. His artwork, like his music, was caustic and designed to offend. For example his exhibition from 1989 Imperatives at GVG Gallery showed works with words painted on them such as “EAT HUMAN MEAT”, “DESTRUCT YOUR BODY” and “WISH SUICIDE”. After the exhibition, the police raided a house, suspected of drug trafficking, and found the painting “EAT HUMAN FLESH” there. This led local authorities and TV news to speculate that they had discovered a satanic cult. There was great publicity for Flood, whose next exhibition on Commerce Street was mobbed by nearly a thousand people—almost unheard of for a show by an experimental artist.

By 1992, Flood had stopped using the name John Peters professionally. He mostly produced artwork as Mark Flood, although he also called himself John Klonos or Susan Faber. And he wrote for various art publications, including Art in America, Artforum, and the Houston online journal Glasstire under alternative pen names such as Clark Flood.

In the early 2000s, Flood developed a new painting technique where lace fabric or doilies are soaked in paint and arranged on a canvas. The lace would be lifted, leaving a highly decorative painted impression, often against a contrasting background colour. Unlike Flood’s damaging earlier paintings, these lace creations were quite beautiful, and they brought him new popularity. Suddenly there was an artist whose work had only been seen in experimental and non-commercial art venues in commercial galleries in New York, Los Angeles, London and Berlin.

“I love the art world and the people in it,” Flood insists. “I experience my art as an invitation for all of us art lovers to laugh at ourselves.” That goal is evident in the songs and videos Flood produces for his exhibitions. Take, for example, one he cut for his Berlin exhibition in 2010 Bitch moves: In classic Culturcide mode, it destroys Bob Segar’s “Night Moves” with lyrics like, “I decided to let some nice rich people buy my art/but I couldn’t figure out how to make them pay their share. ” Other texts would be unsuitable for publication here.

To ART STARSFlood remixed video from Bravo TV show Artwork: The Next Great Artist. The resulting piece, called “LET’S START YOUR CHALK,” makes the critics who appeared on that program appear unbearably cruel. It is in keeping with the dim, dyspeptic view he has been given by critics elsewhere. Glass tire column, Flood compared art critics to David Cronenberg’s monster The fly“the half man/half insect [that] vomits its acidic digestive juices on the leg of a helpless man.”

"Stolen technical flag" by Mark Flood, part of the artist's new exhibition, Mark Flood: A Guide for Nude Investors

“Stolen Tech Flag” by Mark Flood, part of the artist’s new exhibition, Mark Flood: A guide for naked investors

Mark Flood

Needless to say, Flood’s relationship with the art world is complicated, perhaps especially since he has been embraced by it. His Glass tire column heaped scorn on artistic institutions and their bureaucracies. Reading it makes one skeptical of writing about Flood—and skeptical of his claims to love the art world.

A guide for naked investors is his first solo show in Houston in several years. It’s a huge body of work that showcases a lot of work he’s produced over the past decade. Flood’s source material is a combination of news photos, celebrity photos, advertisements, internet memes and pornography. Some of the paintings are abstractions painstakingly created by looking very carefully at computer images – so carefully that a small number of blown-up individual pixels make up the entire image.

You could say there are two Mark Floods. On the one hand, there is the artist who creates beautiful lace paintings; on the other, the mastermind behind Culturcide and creator of hard, angry artwork—the kind that mostly makes up A guide for naked investors. But of course there really are many Mark Floods, with different names and practices: the painter, the writer, the musician, the punk, the satirist, the champion of the art world, the Puckish critic of the art world and its absurdities. Whether any of them will be there in person tomorrow is anyone’s guess.

Mark Flood: A guide for naked investors runs March 3 through March 25 at Reeves Art + Design. For more information, please visit the gallery’s website.

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