Max Zorn: The Innovative Packing Tape Artist
This Dutch master takes to the streets lighting up cities with his works of tape art.
Amsterdam’s old city center glows the brightest when darkness falls upon the winding canals lined with 17th century canal houses and historic cobblestone streets. This is especially true when a talented artist, using only a scalpel and packing tape, transforms the historic street lamps with his unique masterpieces. His name is Max Zorn, an innovative Dutch artist. Today, his work is illuminating Amsterdam, Europe, and the world, one light pole at a time.
The jewel of Amsterdam is The Canal Belt with waters flowing through its ancient canals like the lifeblood in the city’s heart of art and romance. Many of the canal bridges are illuminated, creating reflections and ripples of twinkling lights in the water below. And on some of the lamps, if you look closely, a masterpiece adorns its glass. You can see an exquisitely detailed picture backlit by the light of a street lamp. Surely, this art, these beautiful images didn’t just appear.
As the lamps glow ablaze and the sun sets, a figure in a hoodie comes out of the shadows. Using a razor blade as his brush and a roll of tape as his medium, he scales a lamppost to unveil his latest work: a work that, like his others, is sure to send the street art scene into a frenzy. He checks for imperfections, scales back down, and disappears into the night.
“By walking around in Amsterdam, I saw these beautiful city lights,” Zorn says. “They define Amsterdam in such a charming way. And I thought, that’s a completely underexplored canvas that cities have to offer. And I started experimenting with different materials and hung them up on street lamps.”
Art in Light and Shadow
Time appears to freeze in the creations, many inspired by films, individuals, and cityscapes from more nostalgic eras. His work has a warm and romantic tone that soothe the soul with an overwhelming tranquility. So much so, that it is easy to forget the medium. His pieces are created from brown packing tape. Many artists believe that the greatest creativity takes form in the face of restrictions. In this case, there is no paint, only light passing through tape. For Zorn, this is just like painting.
The detail in the work is extraordinary, as he uses his scalpel to layer piece by piece of tape to create the different tones and shapes that are the building blocks behind his pieces. With the skill of a surgeon, Zorn layers the tape over and over to fashion the dark sections atop the lighter sections. The light coming from behind the piece is diffused and darkened by each additional layer. “When it gets really dark, it’s about 15 to 17 layers,” he says.
A New Light on Urban Art
After graduating from an art academy, Zorn was seeking to put a twist on the painting career he was on. He knew the classic techniques, but through experimentation, something much greater was born. The first pieces were placed in this public space around the canals, atop the lanterns that lit the city.
“There’s a lot of great street art by day, but it disappears after dark. I wanted to come up with urban art that uses nighttime as a setting, and there was nothing more inviting than the street lamps in Amsterdam,” says Zorn.
In November, 2011, Zorn posted a two-minute self-made video on YouTube, Street Art by Max Zorn Making of Tape Art, showing how he hangs his pieces on the lampposts of the old city. The video went viral and things took off. It was picked up by national and international media, and by April of 2012, he had created over 150 pieces of his packing tape art. Take a look at his YouTube video that has over a million views …
“I didn’t want to work on walls or on the floor. I wanted to use street lamps as an urban gallery and I wanted to use the darkness as the setting around my artwork,” said Zorn in a speech about creating street art seen in the dark at a TEDx Talent Search.
Highly Prized Artwork
A lot of his art is taken by fans. One has survived the years, however, a depiction of boxing great Muhammad Ali, put up in 2016. Still, you can see a plethora of his other pieces over bars, hanging in homes, and displayed in galleries around the world — a few of which can be found with a price tag as much as $20,000.
When his pieces are sold, and not displayed in public, collectors get a bit of even more innovation. He sells his art using customized light boxes giving warm, low temperature light, individually adjusted to the specific artwork.
“Compared to most other artworks, tape art is very resistant. If handled properly you can expect a very long-life span. I make sure to use only high-quality materials. After an artwork is finished it is sealed airtight to prevent long term damages from CO2 and humidity. In addition, the work is framed with UV-resistant acrylic glass.” Zorn says on his website.
Zorn is not restricted to Amsterdam. Like anything great, the world craves it. Currently he is working in Miami at Art Basel. And more of his work can be found in other countries such as Germany, France, Spain, and Hong Kong.