By Crocker Staff

The Crocker Art Museum is pleased to award the John S. Knudsen Prize to Mark Dean Veca, a Los Angeles-based artist known for creating paintings, drawings and installations that incorporate surreal cartoons and pop culture iconography to form psychedelic landscapes.

One of those landscapes, Maddest Hatter, was installed by Veca at the Crocker in June 2017 as part of the hit exhibition Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose. As the Knudsen award recipient, Veca has returned to Sacramento this summer to create a new installation at the Museum.

The beginnings to Veca's latest installment, here at the Crocker.

Born in Louisiana to musician parents, Veca received his BFA in 1985 from Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design (now, Otis College of Art and Design) in Los Angeles. After then spending 17 years in New York City, he returned to L.A., where he continues his work. Veca's art has been shown in galleries and public spaces throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Veca attributes the improvisational element of his free-hand linework to the influence of jazz music on his upbringing. The thick, black lines and graphic quality of his compositions are inspired by a range of interests, including the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, underground comics and graphic novels, and 18th-century wall treatments like French Toile (Toile du Jouy). Veca combines these with pop culture iconography, such as the Kool-Aid mascot featured in his painting Oh Yeah, to create large-scale, immersive, and psychedelic environments.

In the summer of 2017, the Crocker Art Museum brought to Sacramento the exhibition Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose, a one-of-a-kind show with works by 51 New Contemporary artists including Veca — artists who have been prominently featured in the best-selling art magazine Hi-Fructose.

Prior to the exhibition's opening, Crocker visitors were able to watch Veca create his immersive, temporary installation Maddest Hatter. The installation delighted thousands of visitors during the exhibition's four-month run, surprising them as they stepped off the elevator into a pink room filled with dizzying, hand-painted linework.

The artist enjoying his work, "Maddest Hatter", in the summer of 2017 at the Crocker. Image from Mark Dean Veca on Instagram.

In April 2018, the Crocker Art Museum announced Mark Dean Veca as the second recipient of the John S. Knudsen Endowment Fund's $25,000 prize. The fund was established at the Crocker in late 2012 by a gift from the estate of art collector John Knudsen. Its purpose is to support an emerging or mid-career California artist while also funding programs, exhibitions, acquisitions, and other endeavors related to the artist’s work at the Museum.

Awarded by a committee of review, the prize is open to all artists in California, with priority given to painters, and may be awarded only to artists who have not yet had a solo exhibition at a major art museum. Artists may use the award to work in the studio, to travel, to purchase materials for a specific body of work, and to pursue other creative projects.

As the Knudsen prize recipient, Veca will create a new, site-specific installation inside a corridor gallery that links Friedman Court to the Museum's first-floor education center. He aims to honor the existing architecture of the space while transforming it into an all-encompassing experience, and to establish the corridor as a destination unto itself. The installation will officially open to the public later this July.

In addition to the installation, the prize will fund the Crocker's acquisition of Veca's painting Oh Yeah.

Pictured (on left): Mark Dean Veca, Oh Yeah, 2011. India ink and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in. Courtesy of the artist.