conversations – Interview by Anika Meier – 07.12.2022
MARK WILSON: DIE WITH THE MOST LIKES
Mark Wilson aka die with the most likes is an Indiana based artist and writer fueled by humanity's excruciating but willing descent into characterless orbs engineered for aimless consumption and expulsion.
In conversation with Anika Meier, the artist speaks about overconsumption and misery tourism, art in the age of social media, and living a fulfilling existence.
Anika Meier: Mark Wilson, do you like meat?
Mark Wilson: (laughs) I get this question all the time. I'm not just eating fistfuls of pulverized animal parts on a daily basis. I enjoy it from time to time. My obsession with meat spawns from the comical nature of how we observe an animal in dissent or decay. For some reason, all these years ago, society decided: Hey, we're going to put pink spaghetti in plastic wrap and sell it to people at the grocery store.
It's a combination of both the hilariousness and absurdity of the product itself that triggers me because we are that exact thing that we are constantly consuming. We are essentially waiting for our own slaughterhouse. We are waiting for somebody to tag us with a discount sticker and bleed through the grill grates of a fourth of July cookout.
A while ago, we moved from Chicago to Indiana. Chicago was very, very vegan. Indiana is the opposite. People eat pork tenderloin sandwiches all the time. Every portion is like the size of your face. The amount of senseless consumption here is crazy.
AM: Meat and consumption are in the center of your attention but you dig deeper.
MW: Consumption is relentless in America, it’s psychotic and full of madness in terms of just filling your insides with whatever you can.
Whether it’s the senseless accumulation of digital adoration or suffocating the desire to grow with feelings of regret, sadness, and nostalgia—the thoughts about a hometown you wish you had left or left, the memories of something you wanted to get away from but couldn't—are universal. Everyone has a horrible hometown. (laughs)
AM: Everyone grew up in a small town, went to a big town, and then went back to the small town, suddenly enjoying it. Everyone eats food for comfort.
MW: It's the inevitable cycle of humanity. The things that you despise and wanted to get away from growing up are often the things that you find comfort in now. I certainly do. Fast-casual chain restaurants, doorbuster savings as adult bookstores, decorative popcorn tins, freshly paved strip mall parking lots and all sorts of different things in that realm. I truly enjoy those things because they are constructed for enjoyment. There's nothing challenging about them. That's what we crave most as humans: being comfortable. This craving contributes to our demise and lubricates the indifference to that demise. If you want to sit at a truckstop and eat biscuits smothered in adderall Mountain Dew, it's on you to do that.
In some ways, I enjoy misery tourism, like the state fair. Horribly constructed fairs go up overnight. They build shoddy rides and offer deep-fried everything. People just go there, get hammered drunk, and ride these dangerous attractions that were built overnight. I just go there and observe because it's a remarkable achievement to build a steel carrion for us insects to exist in. And spinning eternally in these rides is preferred to our stagnant life.
AM: You work with dichotomies: sadness and happiness, death and comfort, honesty and humor. Your name on Twitter also reflects this dichotomy: Die with the most likes.
MW: Digital artists are purveyors of content that is consumed and barely digested. At the same time, we are creating and curating these beautiful and sad remarkable art pieces that people take a minute to think about versus the flavorless slopped force-fed through most social channels. We are the antithesis of celebrity influencers documenting bowel movements.
AM: … and in-between Die with the most likes shares art that reflects the toxic positivity and self-promotion on social media.
MW: People even just call me Die. When I met the artist Skyegolpe for the first time in Italy he said: Hey, Die! I wasn’t anticipating that. But I thought: Alright, cool! Roll with it! The entire weekend everyone was calling me Die. You would even hear it across the bar. Somebody would literally just scream: Die, come over here! It felt like a sequitur to my art. I am cool with it. I am cool with whatever anyone wants to call me though.
AM: Die with the most likes constantly communicates stories of success on Twitter. I tend to read your Tweets two or three times trying to figure out whether your story is a joke or real.
Mark Wilson: I think all of us know the feeling of being suffocated on a daily basis with ads promising salvation or family members barraging you with mundane issues that you don't want to deal with but are forced to interact with. Our entire existence is based on transactions. We're born to transact. We sit around and wait for the next transaction. At some point, I was really frustrated about the tragedy of that prescribed existence and made art about it. I drew old people lying in hospital beds being kept alive by little bits of adoration that were flying in from oxygen machines and heart monitors. The only reason they were still alive were the random acts of worship they received from strangers on the internet. I found that piece to be powerful. I became obsessed with the idea that if we didn't accumulate enough likes on any given day, we would be slaughtered and fed to the next generation of influencers.
It’s holding up an absurdist mirror to our own perpetual self-flagelation and the meaningless achievements that we're compulsively celebrating through digital adoration. My obsession with holding us accountable for that ultimately fuels the name Die with the most likes. I want to bring people back to reality.
AM: Speaking about reality: At some point you were the second highest selling artist in NFTs. How did that happen? Or to be more precise: How did that not happen?
MW: That was such a funny incident. I sold an NFT for 30,000 $RARE on SuperRare, the Walmart crucifixion. The piece sold in Rare, their Token but the bot from SuperRare made a mistake and tweeted the price in ETH. I was the second highest selling artist in NFTs next to Beeple. It was hilarious because people reached out to me asking whether this was real. I had my moment of validation and played along with it on Twitter. It was very comical.
AM: Is about half of your art the writing and the communication on social media?
MW: Yes, it's a combination. The process itself is both writing and drawing. So generally, I write short pieces of prose. I start out with five or six lines of prose or poetry, and then I’ll make the piece. After the piece is done, I hone in on the exact human emotion that I want to extract from it or the experience in my life that I want to distill in that piece, and then I am able to build on that with the prose that I write. This is also such a vital part of self-exploration.
AM: Other artists give AI prompts. You give yourself prompts?
MW: You're not wrong. The prompts that I write dictate the stroke of the pen or the brush, and vice versa. Those brush strokes also dictate the final words that I write that accompany the piece. I find some art to be so incredible when it has no description because it's completely subjective. You look at it, and you can elaborate your own emotions: happiness, sadness, or regret. For me personally, without the writing, a piece is not complete in my mind. My artistic process isn't complete, either.
AM: Which emotions do you distill in your digital drawings?
MW: My work is extremely sad, introspective, and remorseful. But at the same time, meditating on those feelings and the absurdist aspect of them creates light and a sense of humor. Not only do I want to plunge people into my world, my existence, and the retention pond that I birthed from, I want them to experience those feelings that I feel so heavily. As an artist and a creative, I tend to feel things a bit more intensely, so my main goal is to bring people into that world and submerge them in it.
With the sadness and decay in my pieces, I prefer that people laugh and find humor in their own existence, in the absurdity of our endless toil and things that don't really matter. We're all going through this shit together. To not laugh at it is to doom oneself in life. If you can't find humor in how stupid everything is, I think there's no possible way that you're going to thrive or live a fulfilling existence.
AM: If people can’t laugh about your work they can’t be happy in life?
MW: It’s possible. It’s easy to take things too seriously. Especially post-pandemic. There is a weight to the world and a weight to existence, and you're constantly feeling like you're one step away from just becoming a skin sack on the ground. At this point, it appears that our bones and flesh prefer the soil to the sky. To examine that and to laugh is what makes us human.
AM: Your style mirrors your approach to seeing the world. The colors are lush and cute; they remind me of My Little Pony. The imagery could be taken from a comic book; it’s brutal and bloody.
MW: It has once been described as "poison candy." The contrast of happiness and sadness and using those super-bright colors to convey sadness same time, it’s a carnival, a fun land, but then there is all this horrific shit happening in there. I take people on a journey: you are drowned in the storyline, brought up by the beautiful colors, and then brought back down by the tragic happenings encompassed in the flesh of the piece.
AM: If one put all your digital drawings next to each other, would they function like a comic book and tell a story from end to beginning?
MW: I think it would. All my pieces exist in the same universe. I tell stories about a not-too-distant future in which we succumb to our own stupidity and become lifeless transient meat blobs capable only of consumption.
AM: You had your breakthrough last summer, in 2021, in the NFT space. Suddenly, you were everywhere. You constantly communicate on Twitter. Do you believe it is necessary for you to be constantly present online as an artist?
MW: I am omnipresent, yes. (laughs) I just love sharing absurd, insane stories. People enjoy looking at things that I make as much as I enjoy making them. I've been creating things both digitally and physically for as long as I can remember. Digitally, I was making things and posting them on Instagram. And again and again, I only got 10 likes from porn spam bots. I never thought about that at all. It's difficult to describe happiness. It's been a wild ride so far.
AM: It sounds like you cannot not create.
MW: I had a conversation with someone the other day and they were complaining about Twitter engagement. I just said: Well, would you not be making art anyway? As much as I love people enjoying my art I would have made all of it regardless of if I had one follower or 50.000 followers. For all those years, that's what I was doing. I was just making stuff for friends and family and just joking around. I was born to create. That’s something that I have to do to get out of my head and have it realized on paper or iPad or through writing.
AM: Do you have a background in painting?
MW: No, not at all. I took high school art class, and I think I got a B minus. I have no artistic background, although I've probably done 15,000 hours on that iPad at this point. And probably an additional 10,000 hours plus just painting stuff that I wanted to paint. I 100% would have loved to take art classes and gone to art school, but it just wasn't in the cards at that point in my life.
AM: I assume your influences are literature and comic books. I might be wrong, though.
MW: I read all the time. I read so many books. There wasn't an art museum in my hometown. There was only a museum where you could look at recreational vehicles.. Where I grew up, it was the pinnacle of artistic climax. So, I read all the time. Kafka, Michel Houellebecq, and Haruki Murakami Through their words, I developed my own style of writing. Those words also influenced the motion of my hand and the things that bled out of my pen.
AM: You are here to stay?
MW: Yes, art brings me so much happiness. It's unbelievable. My assumed human state was to die alone doing something I despised. And then experience a sparsely attended funeral where people pick at a rapidly decaying fruit tray. I'm going to be creating stuff, regardless of anything else. That is the gasoline that fuels a dying flame another day.