One of the best known artists of the last quarter century, a “pop-surrealist” as he would prefer to be called, Mark Kostabi is no stranger to controversy. Forever connected in the zeitgeist to Andy Warhol, the images we have grown up with have been informed by his characteristic graphic style.

 Since his rise to superstardom in the 1980s, Kostabi has enjoyed a diverse career in the arts. From painting to music to cable TV show host, he even wrote an advice column for a period of time. During my sit down interview with the artist, Kostabi describes how since designing the Bloomingdale’s bag in 1986, whenever wondering the aisles he now, “owns the store.” Kostabi proudly points out perhaps his most well-known image, the 1991 Guns N Roses Use Your Illusion album cover hanging in his living room.

 Splitting his time between NYC and Italy, I am impressed by the small town charm of his large townhouse and studio – an oasis from the city. I am introduced to an assistant assigned to execute one of his paintings. I’m eventually shown a separate room where Kostabi signs each piece himself. His art carries on in the factory style for which he is notorious. I’m told every one of his characteristic paintings – faceless orbs surrounded by bright color – is personally signed by Kostabi.

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Who is the real Mark Kostabi? As much as he is known for his iconic images, his controversial personality has been the subject of most of the conversation in the press. Widely despised by some and lauded by others for his outrageous quotes, such as, “My middle name is ‘et’, as in, ‘Market Kostabi,’” or, “Modern art is a con, and I’m the world’s greatest con artist,” among a long dirty laundry list of others. Meeting him in person, his “bad-boy” past seems well behind him. Mostly. He gladly reflects that “many artists use assistants, I was just the first to admit it.” Was it merely his policy of transparency that made the self-proclaimed “bad boy” such a controversial figure? Was it all an act to begin with?

This is precisely what Kostabi claims. By way of clarification or obfuscation, he describes the road map to success for any young artist. Feeding the PR machine is a top priority. “It’s easier to get your first show in New York than it is to get your sixth or sixteenth,” he tells me. Showing off a larger than life personality, he adds, is key to getting that sixteenth show. Claiming to have “predicted 911,” some of the old Kostabi bravado clearly remains. He informs me this portending was commonly seen in his art works.

 

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Opinionated at the very least, Kostabi makes yet another somewhat provocative assertion. While proud of the success, and relative fame, of his former assistant, street artist Ron English, Kostabi also comes just shy of calling all street artists criminals. Drawing the dividing line between big personality and criminal behavior, Kostabi has no compunction calling out street artists for performing what he says is a “crime” no different from “vandalism”.

Admitting to taking what amounts to “blood money” from his far-right patrons, Kostabi is smart enough to keep his far left liberal views to himself while socializing with such clientele. In stark contrast, he is very open regarding his political beliefs publicly. In fact, he goes so far as to condemn those artists who may choose to keep their views private. In fact, currently Kostabi is working from the headlines. He is in the middle stages of completing a painting [pictured] reflecting police brutality.

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Check out more of Mark Kostabi’s work at his website http://mkostabi.com/

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