September 2024

B Sides

Words: Gabriel Knowles Images: Tristan Ceddia & Mark Drew

For those of a certain age the cassette tape can conjure the most emotive of memories. The first album, the mix tapes that made the trip to school bearable or the ones that you thought just might impress that special someone – they all hold a place in our memories. For Mark Drew they aren’t only confined to his memory because he still has all his old tapes, and then some. Gabriel Knowles caught up with designer, curator and some time artist to find out how his tapes are jogging other people’s memories…

Gabriel Knowles: Where did the idea come from to make large scale rendidtions of tapes and exhibit them?

Mark Drew: I’ve had the tapes since they came out, there’s also my brothers and sisters tapes so it’s kind of like my families history. I’ve carried these tapes through every house that i moved to for 15 years. I’ve had them next to my computer while I’ve been working and they’ve really influenced a lot of my graphic design, these 80s and 90s logos. I couldn’t decide what to do with them so I started screen printing and the first print I did was a pile of tapes, then I realised scaling them up by hand looked really good. I think people had kind of forgotten these graphics because everyones music is digital these days, there’d be a generation of kids that have never seen a tape.

GK: I know that you’ve talked of yourself as predominantly a designer who makes art as opposed to an artist. What do you mean by that?

MD: I plan in my head where each element will go and I don’t think an artist would approach it that way but a designer would. I’ve always been making art but I think I was saying I’m more of a designer because it’s a lot more graphic than fine art, it’s the kind of thing that could be on a t-shirt or a print.

GK: Your upcoming show isn’t the first you’ve done of this kind. How has the show developed over time?

MD: It started at Oxford Art Factory on a 25 metre wall and it got a really good response. I’d never thought of it as an art show, being a designer I have an idea and I use an artwork to put an idea out. I’d never done a whole body of work but because every time I went there and I heard people talking about what tapes they had and talking about them. It’s not so much about my work as it is their memories. Their memories are propelling their response.

I started off with 90s rap because that’s what I was into. I’ve got records now because they also fit into the personal music category with graphics that are kid of forgotten.

As an Australian kid in the 90s that’s how you found out about music, you’d spend your $20 on an album and read the liner notes and who they were down with and them thanking their mum for letting them sleep on the couch while they made the album. Back then you’d listen to the same albums over and over again until you wear them out.

GK: Do you remember what your first tape was?

MD: It was Wiggle & Sweat ’91 and I think I bought it because it was a compilation tape. I haven’t done it for a show yet but it’s safe back at my parents house. And my first record was the Ninja Turtles soundtrack!

GK: How many tapes do you have?

MD: A couple of hundred, even if I see a Public Enemy or an Ice Cube tape these days I can’t leave it there and I have to pick it up. It’s kind of weird but I’ve got doubles of quite a few.

GK: I’ve heard you’re a pretty avid all round collector…

MD: I’ve been collecting since day one, all my older brother and sisters stuff got passed down to me and I’ve still got it all. I was really into old video games, the first show I organised was a display of first generation Nintendo’s, Atari’s and Calico Vision stuff. I was really into robot toys too, I’ve been collecting them for about ten years. The tapes are just one part of the obsessive collecting.

GK: For C-90: Side B you’re showing in different space to where you’ve become accustomed to. Do you think this will have an impact of how the show is received?

MD: It’s pretty different to where I’ve shown before, it’s pretty slick. You’re not going to get any splinters in this place. It’s a great opportunity to show my work to more business crowd. I’m expecting that the response will be much the same because anyone over the age of 25 remembers a stack of tapes.

GK: For the last five years you’ve been running the China Heights gallery in Sydney. Do you think that has been quite formative in terms of your personal output?

MD: Well we’ve done that many shows, over 200, and I’ve seen that many artists and techniques that I really know what I like and what I don’t like which is really important. It meant that when it came time for me to do my own show I was prepared. I mean I’m 31 now but when I was 20 I wouldn’t have even thought of being in a show. Nowadays people at that age are having their first art works exhibited. Which is a good and a bad thing, I don’t think there’s as much quality control now though.

A lot of kids these days are bummed when something doesn’t sell because they think something should sell just because they made it. I know when Ed Woodley, who I run the gallery with and I were starting out we wouldn’t dare put something in until it was worth showing to a few hundred people. I think that they should take their work a bit more seriously, it’ll be worth it in the long run.

The opening function for C-90: Side B by Mark Drew is on September 2 at 72 Erskine Gallery, 72 Erskine St Sydney. The show continues until September 5.

Next Article: David Kramer: Family Guys