Mark Kostabi

Artist Q&A with Mark Kostabi

Mark Kostabi is most known for his paintings of faceless figures which often comment on contemporary political, social and psychological issues, and which have visual stylistic roots in the work of Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger.

Beyond traditional art world exposure, Kostabi has designed album covers for Guns N’ Roses (Use Your Illusion) and The Ramones (¡Adios Amigos!), Seether (Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray), Jimmy Scott (Holding Back The Years), Glint (Sound in Silence), RK: Roman Klun (Kingsway), Psychotica (Espina) and numerous products including a Swatch watch, Alessi vases, Rosenthal espresso cups, Ritzenhoff milk glasses, and a Giro d’Italia pink jersey. Kostabi is also known for his many collaborations with other artists including Enzo Cucchi, Arman, Howard Finster, Tadanori Yokoo, Enrico Baj, and Paul Kostabi.

“Ideas are Drips from a Melting Brain”, oil on canvas, oil on canvas, 47 x 47 in | 120 x 120 cm, 2021

Who is your favorite artist of all time?

That’s sort of like asking which city I prefer better: Rome or New York, where I have homes in both. I like each city equally but for different reasons. So the best I can do here is list some of my favorites: Caravaggio, Bernini, Picasso, Warhol, De Chirico, Hopper, Magritte, Dali’, Arman, Picabia and Duchamp.

How did you become a professional artist?

I had natural talent and a strong desire to draw at a young age. All the positive encouragement made it an easy career decision.

What are the influences and inspirations in your work?

Amanda Gorman’s poetry. The pandemic. New technology. And the concept of recycling and revisiting earlier works and ideas of mine and improving them. 

Mark Kostabi, portrait by Jean Kallina.

How is your work different than everything else out there?

It’s the unique combination of my sfumato, chiaroscuro simplified faceless protagonists in narrative contexts that are universally relatable.

When is a piece finished for you?

Usually when I sign it, but there have been many occasions when I’ve revisited earlier pieces in the spirit of improving them. Sometimes years later, therefore several of my paintings have two dates on them. It’s like collaborating with my former self. 

What’s different about your current body of work?

There’s much more of it. Plus the surfaces tend to be smoother. And the narratives lean more towards the positive more than before. And when my subjects deal with current events (like the pandemic) or new technology, the imagery is more topical. I also make mixed media paintings on paper now which do not have smooth surfaces. This is new development.

“The Enigma of Passion”, oil on canvas, 31 x 59 in | 80 x 150 cm, 2021

Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career?

I was very proud to be able to bring my mother to the Metropolitan Museum in 1986 to see my large painting called Requiem, hanging near Picasso and Cezanne masterpieces. My two retrospectives, one in Tokyo and the other in Tallinn, Estonia, were also triumphant and meaningful occasions. Hearing Andy Warhol tell me I make “great pictures,” being photographed by him on many occasions and knowing that he collected 15 of my 1986 Bloomingdales bag was a career highlight. Also that day Larry Gagosian came by my studio and bought 10 large paintings and 100 drawings – that was exciting!

What’s coming up for you?

My current show at Martin Lawrence Galleries in SoHo. Many of my paintings are currently on display through March 2022 at the Nassau County Museum of Art as part of their Art of Music show. And I’m working on paintings featuring Venice for a big show there being planned to run concurrently with the Venice Biennale. 

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out today?

My 6 rules on how to become a rich and famous artist are still valid. 1. Make great art 2. Live in New York. 3. Circulate socially in the art scene. 4. Be professional. 5. Have a story. 6. Get other people to work for you.

 For more detailed advice I recommend looking at my advice column archives, called Ask Mark Kostabi at Artnet Magazine.

Who are some of your favorite underappreciated artists that you don’t think get enough attention?

Definitely Arman, who is in art history books and many major museums, but not enough new art world people know how prescient and influential he was. Enrico Baj is another. Walter Robinson is doing very well and is not unknown but he should be just as acclaimed as his Metro Pictures colleagues, Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince. 

“The Dawn ls Ours”, oil on canvas, 51 x 39 in | 130 x 100 cm, 2021

To learn more about Mark and his work, please visit