When you’re alone at night in an unfamiliar city, have you ever looked up at the moon and felt closer to home? The moon is a constant, a shining orb or smiling trickster, watching over the world after dark. Even when everything else seems to change and shimmer with uncertainty, the lunar cycle marches on above.
At the start of the pandemic, artist Marcel Dzama relocated from the rising panic of a rapidly closing New York to the open spaces of Long Island. Known for his often surreal drawings with darkly fantastical undertones, the world as he knew it was shifting faster than he could ever have imagined, and even the strangest of fairytales didn’t quite seem to capture the reality of the moment.
Out in Long Island, on late-night walks between his studio and his new home, Dzama would look up at the sky. The moon would look straight back at him, a familiar face amidst the sea of change. It was this period of introspection that sparked the Canadian artist’s latest book, created during lockdown from March to May 2020.
Titled Pink Moon (after the 1972 song by English folk musician Nick Drake), it is a document not just of Dzama’s experience of stasis, but an exploration of the moon as a portal to other places.
“Even when everything else seems to change and shimmer with uncertainty, the lunar cycle marches on above”
From Morocco to Mexico, the moon shines down brightly from above. It is these two very different countries from which Dzama draws inspiration throughout Pink Moon. He had visited both just prior to the pandemic. Upon finding himself confined to his studio and home in 2020, he began to delve once more into his memories of these trips.
“I was trying to find a bit of escapism by travelling to places that I had been before, in my mind anyway, in the drawings,” he explains. “Usually my drawings are much more sinister, or almost world-weary, so I was trying to be a little more hopeful.”
There is a distinct mood in Pink Moon, at once reflective, unsettling and inviting. It might be hopeful, but it is with a specifically Dzama spin on it—witty and playfully sinister. A woman in a striped bathing suit cradles a grinning monkey by a murky, turquoise pool. A boy leads a donkey under a hazy moon. Lions and bears dance in dresses beside amber-lit palm trees.
Three cats lurk under a chair in one drawing, while two perch on a towel in another. Look closely enough, and you start to realise the animals pop up throughout Pink Moon. Dzama worked on these from images taken by his young son while they were in Morocco. “I gave him a camera, and all his photos were just of stray cats,” he laughs. “You get really interesting angles because I guess he’s smaller. He got right in there with them.”
The book opens with a series of pages taken from Dzama’s scrapbook from the beginning of the pandemic. Images of apocalypse, stage sets, dancing skeletons and French pop stars meld together into a visual overload of material, like a fizzy bag of pick’n’mix sweets. “If I see an image in a magazine or newspaper or anywhere, I’ll save it and just put them all in these scrapbooks.” Taped down on lined pink paper, it feels part teenage diary and part snapshot of a rapidly unfolding moment of disaster.
“Images of apocalypse, dancing skeletons and French pop stars meld together like a fizzy bag of pick’n’mix sweets”
This frenetic energy is brought to a simmer in Dzama’s delicate drawings. Naturally, the guiding motif of the moon features throughout. It grins as it fills the page with a ghostly blue, or hovers as a spectre over scenes of eerie frivolity.
Dzama recalls one moon that has stuck with him ever since: a pink moon spotted in Chefchaouen, Morocco. A deep shade of crimson, it reminded him of his own personal connection to the Nick Drake song. “My wife introduced me to Pink Moon back when she had a radio show,” he recalls. “We actually met that way. I was in a band and asked myself to be on her show. It definitely bonded us.”
Just as the moon presides over all corners of the world, so has its presence remained throughout eternity, from past, to present, to future. As designer Duro Olowu writes in his introduction to Pink Moon, “One can fantasize that as a child growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, Dzama often played and camped out in the forest and the woods, wore capes he patched together and perhaps communicated with invisible friends, trees and roving friendly animals.”
It is just as easy to picture Dzama gazing up at the moon as a child, like each one of us has done in moments of loss, confusion, hope and solitude. In the magical world conjured by Pink Moon, the moon is both a talisman and a guiding light to better days.
Louise Benson is Elephant’s deputy editor
Marcel Dzama’s Pink Moon is out now with Rough Trade Books
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