Controversial Collage

By Kastle Waserman

Photography Courtesy of Mario Zoots

Artist Mario Zoots recently turned to AI to create unique—yet contentious—works of art

Photography Courtesy of Mario Zoots

There’s a saying: “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” In the world of collage, it’s art. Denver artist Mario Zoots says it’s all about a stream of consciousness. “It’s being able to look at things a certain way. Knowing when something speaks you to, pulling that out, giving it more attention and putting it in a frame.”

Much of his art comes from what he calls “remnants of society.” He uses images of what one might see walking down the street—a flower, an advertisement, a skyscraper, a beautiful woman, a discarded jar—and mixes them with colors and shapes. By taking them from our peripheral view into focus, it makes a statement on our society and our culture.

“I come from a very low-income household. I never had money to buy materials,” he says. “I had to be very creative and inventive to make art. Collage allowed me to spend a few dollars on a magazine and turn it into a dozen artworks. It’s a transformative process—taking the energy of one thing and turning it into something else.”

Zoots grew up on the west side of Denver and is the first person in his family to graduate college
(he has an MFA from the University of Denver). He learned about art and collage from graffiti artists and the punk scene of the early 2000s and later got into graphic design. He found his calling while taking art history classes and discovering the avant-garde movements of dada, cubism and surrealism. “It felt as
provocative as graffiti,” he says.

Artist, Mario Zoots 

Zoots says urban environments inspire much of his art. But in the past few years, he and his work have become more immersed in the high-end art world. He’s currently working with a luxury art collector to build a contemporary collage collection and says he’s intrigued by the art world’s mix of high and low society. 

“I love the idea of taking something like a Gucci ad and tearing it apart. Or finding trash and recomposing it and putting it in a gallery.” 

Lately, he’s been experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) to create art. The digital tool, which takes verbal prompts, scrapes the internet for information and returns a written or visual graphic response, has become a hot topic. People are testing to see where the technology will go, while worrying it may
replace human thinking and jobs.

The controversy makes Zoots drawn to it. “I like to think of myself as a provocateur. I love things that make people outraged. It makes me want to use it.” 

He says he’s been trying AI to make images for collages. “Many collages look the same because we pull from the same sources: fashion, photography and life magazines. By using AI to create my own images, it’s completely unique. It’s really a collage machine.”

Zoots says everything in the world is a collage, from interior design to theatre performances to art pieces in a gallery. “It’s this process of alchemy, where you take something like coal and turn it to gold.”

Photography Courtesy of Mario Zoots

Mario Zoots will show his “Tangerine Dreams” collection at The Vault, 3758 Osage St. #102, Denver.
The show runs May 6 through June 30, 2023.