The Artist Behind These Realistic Portraits Only Uses Tape & a Scalpel

Artist Max Zorn makes incredible 2-dimensional artworks, but he doesn’t actually draw or paint anything to produce them: he constructs his artworks by meticulously slicing and layering strips of brown packing tape. His works possess a nostalgic depth achieved through the sepia tones of the unexpected material, and viewers are taken on an imaginary journey back in time through the vintage snapshots. We caught up with Max to have some insight into his fascinating process.

How did you find your way to this unique method?

It was actually an idea for street art at night. I live in Amsterdam, and I like to run at night. I wanted to make something for the night setting, and I saw how marker and tape were shining through plexiglass when I hung them on a street lamp. The effect from tape layers came from that, and well I guess I trained myself to use a scalpel, and my artworks grew from a lot of practice.

What came before tape art for you? Could you walk us through your creative journey?

I did a little acrylic and watercolor in college, but I never studied art or went to art school. It’s a little in the family, as my grandfather, father and sisters are great artists. I had one exhibition only, in some crappy internet cafe in Hamburg. Weirdly enough some Greek collector bought the whole show.


What is it about tape that interests you?

A lot of it has to do with the way this type of brown tape plays with light. I was looking for a medium where light could shine through depending on the heaviness of the medium. So with tape, light can illuminate one layer differently than it can two layers, three layers and so on. I also found the different sepia tones the light created with the tape to be a palate of colors I like to work with and that matches my motifs.

Could you walk us through the process of creating one of your pieces?

I read a lot of books and watch a lot of movies, and when I find parts that inspire me I write it down. When it comes to creating the artwork, I guess it’s a lot like making a song. You have a melody already in your head, and then as you work on the melody grows more into a song. So when I’m composing I don’t really know exactly where it’s going to go, because I don’t pre sketch or have a photo reference for the entire work, but I have an idea that grows into a story and the final artwork. Does that make sense?

And when I’m done I seal the tape airtight, I turn it around, and I install it in a light frame. So the actual side I work on is the backside, the frontside stays smooth.


What are some of the challenges that arise in your process?

There comes a time when an artwork is finished but it’s hard as the artist to know when that time is. Sometimes it’s important to have a second opinion about that. Also an artwork can be more time intensive than I thought, so predicting that can be hard and sometimes I’m in a dark room working on something even though I know I should put it on ice and take a break with friends.

Is there an overarching feeling or message you hope to inspire in your audience?

I try to make the viewer understand that every artwork tells a story, but they’re the narrator, not me. Sure an artwork can suggest a setting, but nothing is based on a novel or movie, it’s more like a glimpse of a scene from a story in the minds of an audience.


Who and what inspires you?

Well I started out very inspired by Hemingway, Steinbeck, and artists like Edward Hopper. I’m very much pulled by the Roaring 20s and the 1950s, but lately I’ve been inspired by my travels. Places like the South in the US, and New York of course, but also Miami and Cuba, El Salvador and Mexico, Paris and London, Dubai and Singapore… I like connecting the exotic cultures I see with its nostalgic past.


What has been your most significant moment as an artist?

During the summer when I can create works for street art projects, and be a part of these more community driven events is the best part of my job. I love being able to try new things and see how art can be delivered in different ways to the public, it’s great to be involved with that evolution.

Watch a time-lapse of Max’s work coming together below, or visit his website to see more.


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