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5 Questions with Martin Mazorra

MARTIN MAZORRA is one busy guy.

In addition to consistently producing art, the Brooklyn-based artist teaches at Pratt Institute and Parson’s School of Design and serves as founder of Cannonball Press, a printing company he formed in 1999 with Mike Houston.

Now, his latest exhibition, “Tickle Your Fancy: Flowers, Feathers and Oysters” is on display at Foxy Loxy Café through Mar. 25. Made up of mostly woodcut and letterpress prints, it’s romantic, whimsical, and affordable, with prints starting at $30.

We caught up with Mazorra on his spring break.

1. Tell me about the work in “Tickle Your Fancy.”

I’ve been working on this project that’s based on the Victorian language of flowers, whereby a particular flower had a codified sentiment, like a message, and you could present someone with a flower and it would mean something that was kind of part of the understanding of that particular flower. While I was doing that, I was also asked to do a collaborative project where I paired the state flower to do a map of the United States. I’ve been doing state flowers paired with the state bird. Those then get printed on a piece of paper in the shape of a state. I had those and wanted to include them, and it just so happened I made a whole series of those large oysters. Three random things I really wanted to show that were recent, and I had to come up with some kind of way to merge it—they’re pretty disparate.

2. How did you get involved with the Victorian language of flowers?

I do the language of flowers thing in tandem with other projects I work on. When the flowers are in bloom in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I had an eight-block walk and along that way I would take photos of people’s flower gardens. As I was doing that I started researching symbolism for flowers. I was interested in that idea of secret codes and people’s associative meaning for different images and stuff like that. The flower by itself without any kind of text didn’t really hold weight until I realized I could imply these deeper meanings to them. They’re vague, but they’re also specific to me.

3. Tell me about Cannonball Press.

[Co-owner Mike Houston] and I met probably 25 years ago in college and kept in touch because we were both living and working in New York in the mid to late 90s. You know, when you’re working and finding odd jobs and needing someone else on the job and me being like, “Oh, I know the perfect person.” We started doing the project of Cannonball Press out of that work relationship. It evolved into us working on art projects together and we also started publishing prints by other artists.

4. What’s the process of adding artists to your roster?

Some people reach out to us. More often than not it’s through networking with other people. You see someone’s work that’s interesting on the ideas that are similar to the things we’re interested in. When we travel, doing a visiting artists event, we would meet people on those trips and later on come back and keep in contact with them.

5. On Cannonball’s website, you say all prints are $20. What’s the importance of setting a reasonable price point for art?

You establish a value for it. You try and establish the idea for the artwork and to make it affordable. Obviously there are people who would not find that affordable. Some people say it’s a luxury good, some people say it’s a necessity. So many people don’t even want to pay for art. Putting it at $20, we started that in 1999 and with inflation the prints are probably cheaper now than they were. I figure I’ve got two more years to do this and then I’m retiring to Savannah [laughs].

I produce work at that price point, but I also produce work by someone who has no experience in the art market and sell it for equal amounts. I feel like the risk is low for me—at that price, I can produce the work and sell it and have a better chance of selling it at that price point. $20 in New York City is almost like sidewalk tax. It’s not that much. If you bought that thing, you invest in it that much, you might put it up in your pad. By doing it at that price point, it gets it out there. It’s impulsive. You might buy a round of drinks and regret it.

The other idea that we had is that if we did it at this price point, in years to come, the people that did begin collecting at $20 would go on to purchase work for a couple hundred dollars, the idea being that you would build a collector base for people. The percentage of people who would do that is probably fewer, but at least you would be cultivating it. There are questions artists should think about. How do I establish a value? How do I price what I do? I always tell my students, “Is it more or less than twenty bucks?” How do you decide that? By doing Cannonball and putting out there and saying, “This is what it costs,” and being true to it, it had its place.