Mark Wagner Makes Art with Paper Money

When people say money doesn’t mean a thing should definitely meet Mark Wagner. Mark Wagner is a collage artist that has caused quite some controversy regarding the material he uses as a medium for art. Many people find it shocking that he uses real money to create his intricate collages. It is also the reason why they notice and get curious about his art.

In this economy, most people would hold on to their money rather than cut it up to make art. Mark Wagner is of the belief that money has all the qualities that would contribute to great art. He points out that these bills have anti-counterfeit measures hidden in the notes which makes it the best material to work with.

Money passes around from hand to hand and therefore it has to keep up with constant wear and tear. That is why you will that during the printing process, they ensure that the high flax content is hardened and treated. This structural standard is what the artist likes compared to other pieces of paper available. Money can be contorted, glued or cut without losing definition over time.

Born in 1976, he started using dollar bills in 1999 to create collages and he hasn’t looked back. He likes to centre his work on money and issues related to money. The first thing people think when they look at his art is that is it real money? And if it is, isn’t it illegal to cut up money?

The law says “Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

The question is, what is the intention of the artist? Is it to make the note unfit for use/circulation or is it in the name of creating art? In this case, we can clearly see what the artist is doing with his bank notes. He is yet to be arrested for cutting up notes so we doubt what he is doing is illegal.

When looking at work produced the collage artist, you would think that he has used thousands of dollars in one project. That is not usually the case. He looks at the dollar and sees 16square inches of material. Nothing goes to waste, he even keeps the smallest pieces that can be compared to confetti. This allows him to utilize the remainder of the materials he has on different pieces.

He suggests that working with money is cheaper than relying on quality paint and paper from the store. He says “Art materials are expensive. A single sheet of Fabriano Roma paper lists for $17.65, a one-ounce tube of cadmium red oil paint for $28.39. A favourite irony is that dollar bills end up being an inexpensive material—and possibly the only one that effectively gets cheaper through the action of inflation. The value of the materials is eclipsed by the amount of labour required to animate them. I pay my studio assistants more than a dollar just to cut up a dollar.”

For a man who uses the money to make art, it is very simple for him to forget its value. He says that he has to remind himself that money actually means something in the world we live in.

One day he was hungry and wanted to go eat with his studio-mate. He looked at his wallet and found it empty, on realizing this he became annoyed. The funny thing is, he had forty dollars right there on his work table. To him, it was no longer a medium of exchange for goods but a material for art.

He has various works that have been recognized and appreciated by many. Famously he made a portrait of the federal bank reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Abraham Lincoln, the Mona Lisa, among others.  You can buy an omnibus of his collages or visit his various exhibitions.

Whoever said money can’t buy money definitely has not purchased one of Mark Wagner’s artwork. Money does not run Mark Wagner’s life, it runs his art and he could not have it any other way.