December/January Feature Artist: Marty Cordoba

Layers of pastel pinks, gummy yellows, liquorice black and gleaming white make up Marty Cordoba’s most recent work Skin and Strata. The sculptures appear as gooey mounds from afar but are in fact compressed structures of confectionary and toothpaste, pressured together like metamorphic rocks. The sculptures alert your senses; some glisten with sugar whilst others are dry and chalky, and if you lean in closely, you may get a whiff of that intoxicating candy smell. Gelled together, clumped up layer by layer, and spliced with precision, these obscured everyday objects question our values of permanence and materiality. I interviewed Marty at the end of his honours year at the UNSW Galleries, where his works were on display. 

Vanessa Low: Fill in the blanks… Marty Cordoba: My name is (Marty Cordoba), I am an (artist), from (Sydney/Blue Mountains). My art practice involves (painting, which has crossed over to sculpture. I use mainly perishable materials – confectionary and toothpaste, as well as materials such as polyurethane and silicone). I am an artist because (I enjoy being creative).

VL: Have you always desired to be an artist? What’s informed your journey to this point?

MC: Not always. I’ve always been into art and music and sport but I guess feeling pressured after finishing school, I was pursuing something really different – I was thinking of doing interpreting and translation [Spanish], so I was doing a Bachelor of Arts at UWS [University of Western Sydney] which was completely different to what I’m doing now. I figured out that I hated it towards the end of first year and [decided] to do something that I actually liked, so went to COFA [College of Fine Arts] and here I am.

VL: A book I can always re-read is…

MC: Probably Parkway Drive’s ten-year anniversary book because they’re my favourite band and it’s just amazing.

VL: How did you come to use everyday items, such as toothpaste and confectionary, to create your works?

MC: It started as an experiment in the third year [of university] and was just pure trial and error. And I’m really influenced by the Argentinean artist Fabian Marcaccio whose works have these really interesting, visceral textures which, to me, looked kind of foodie, like they had that liquid property that lollies have. I just thought I could do something with that aesthetic but using food, so I just started playing with it.

VL: What were you doing before?

MC: I don’t think I really knew what I was doing before. Just trying different things, I didn’t have anything solid. I did a bit of drawing, I did printmaking as well… but none of it was linked or consistent. Then when using perishable materials, I found that was consistent and I could turn into a whole body of work.


VL: Your works, such as this one currently featured in the UNSW Art & Design Annual, are both sculptural and painterly, however they resist falling directly into either category. Could you describe how your works oscillate between these to artistic traditions?

MC: I guess it started as really flat work but then it was kind of a natural progression to go three-dimensional because the textures are so thick. People would comment that “it looks like it just wants to escape from the canvas.” I was a little unsure of how I was going to do it for a while but I just started trying it. And once I started combining it with polyurethane it gave it a lot of solidity, so then they started to become objects. So that was really fun when I started to do that successfully because it was really different. I think it’s all really sculpture now… I think the textures are really painterly but now they’re all basically objects. I think it’s more successful now than when it was flat – it was always on that boundary but towards the end I’ve started pushing it really heavily.

VL: What are some of the challenges you face when working with these unusual materials?

MC: Well, everyone always asks me about how long they will last and if they’re going to melt or whether ants are going to eat them. And the answer is, I don’t really know what happens. Some of them haven’t changed in a year and some have melted and some have been coated in resin. The truth is, I don’t really know what’s going to happen. And that’s what makes it fun, in a way.

VL: How do you go about dealing with the sticky and messy factors?

MC: I started wearing gloves when I was using polyurethane, as it’s a bit toxic. But because mostly its just confectionary, you can just wash it off easily… it’s messy but nothing too terrible. In some ways it’s better than painting because it at least doesn’t stain so badly.

VL: Can you describe your artistic process and how you go about executing your works? Does planning or experimentation play a significant role in your execution?

MC: Once in the studio, I just sort of go for it. The toothpaste works are weird in that I just see what I can do and what I can squeeze out. And then I started slicing into them. They’re kind of really quick and then I let them set for a while and play with them. I use polyurethane with the confectionary – I mix it in and see what I can do with the textures – whereas the toothpaste dries quite solid.

VL: When I look at your works, I am always reminded of a story from the Ramona series I read as a child“All her life she had wanted to squeeze the toothpaste really squeeze it, not just one little squirt… The paste coiled and swirled and mounded in the washbasin. Ramona decorated the mound with toothpaste roses as if it was a toothpaste birthday cake.” Is there an element of catharsis, joy or fun in creating your works with toothpaste and lollies?

MC: Sometimes, not that often. I don’t know if it’s cathartic, it’s just fun to see what happens. Especially initially doing it, I just had no idea what was going to happen and sometimes I still have no idea. So it’s really fun to see how the textures change and blend. And cutting into these little solid structures, you don’t know what the internal is going to look like until you do it and sometimes it’s just completely different to what to outside looks like. It’s the discovery process which is so interesting.

VL: What kind of toothpaste did you use? Where did you buy it from?

MC: I probably should’ve bought it in bulk but I got used to going down to Woolworths and buying lots of the cheapest one I could find. I figured out which colour I liked. But not all of them dried, so I had to throw them out because that took so long to set (some dried within a couple of weeks and there was one that didn’t dry for months).

VL: Could you talk about the title of your work, Skin and Strata?

MC: The work’s very representative of skin and flesh, in a way. And a lot of people seem to make the connection with meat as well. I think that’s quite big aesthetically. As well, when I started cutting them they started looking more geological in form, stratigraphic, so I started calling individual ones stratigraphy pieces. And I felt that if I pulled the two together, it became a cross between geological and weird, human flesh-forms. Which isn’t all that the work is about but it’s two of the main things. My thesis is about the perception of permanence with materials and how when using these materials, we don’t know how long it’s going to last and it puts this kind of argument in people’s head of whether an artwork loses significance if you don’t know how long it’s going to last and fades? Can the form that it’s in outweigh the idea that it needs to last for it to be important? I think it can. A lot has been done with perishable materials and boundaries have been pushed. But it’s also that transformative aspect that I like; some toothpaste pieces grow mould and so I’m really into this idea that when you use that sort of materials, you get this change that doesn’t happen with other stuff. And when you slice it, you get these transformations that you don’t get if you use materials like paint. So I’m interested in the transformative aspect and the ephemerability of the object.

VL: Can you describe your honours year in three words?

MC: Stressful, tough, (but) rewarding.

VL: My favourite art spaces in Sydney…

MC: I really like ARCHIVE Space in Newtown. I went there to see a show that a couple of my friends were in and thought it was a pretty cool, little contemporary space. Also, MOP has a nice warehouse feel. And 107 Projects in Redfern has a lot of cool projects.

VL: If you were to give a music album to everyone in the world, what would it be?

MC: If it had to be my favourite album, it would have to be Horizons by Parkway Drive. It’s one of the few albums I can listen to from start to end and every song is just amazing.

VL: Something that I’m looking forward to is…

MC: Next year I want to go to Europe and to New York and to Argentina to visit family; I’m really looking forward to that and getting out of here.

VL: A question asked by our previous artist, Melinda Young: What’s your greatest achievement thus far?

MC: I guess honours would have to be up there, but in terms of exhibiting it would have to be the two [UNSW Art & Design] Annuals – this year and last year. I’ve been in quite a few shows since then but in terms of curating and putting time in over a few days and being a part of such a big exhibition, there’s really no better way to get exposed. It’s so massive and so rewarding. …..

Photography and words by Vanessa Low.