I'm frankly mesmerized by these gorgeous, mysterious paintings by Mark Jackson, whose recent work emphasizes the face as surface, both physically and in memory. I adore the vibrant palette and the subtle psychology in addressing the role of figuration -- the face especially -- in contemporary art. More information at the links below!
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So Mark, what first interested you in pursuing art, or painting?
Well, first off I like the implication in the question that art and painting maybe slightly different things! And if I trace back, it was definitely painting that brought me into art, not visa-versa. As a teenager I was interested in drawing and painting but also philosophical ideas too and I realised that if you put painting together with that, then you might get art. I just found it the best way to express my ideas, and I loved and always will love that deep involvement you have when making work – it’s the best place to be.
Your work explores figuration in oil paint. Can you describe your practice a bit?
The work is figurative but I would say ‘non-narrative’, so there is little in the way of allegory or fiction going on in them. Whilst the works seem visually busy I have a tendency to be reductive in content, to purge them of stuff until I get to the bare bones. And this is often the isolated figure, just staring back at the viewer or beyond them. The faces seem encased in flat space, composed of digital off-cuts and are flesh-less. Their bodies have gone and we are left with an image instead. Broadly speaking I’m trying to think about how the figure can continue in contemporary art, what are the pressures, where are the possibilities?
Do you consider your pieces to be portraits?
This is really interesting to me. They don’t quite fit the categories I’ve tried to ascribe to them. So they are not portraits, because that implies an absent subject. They are not characters because they are not involved in a narrative. They are not heads, because that suggests body and flesh. Instead I like to think of them as faces. Faces are more aligned with flatness and surface.
Can you describe your process? Do you do research of any kind before beginning new work?
My process is very studio oriented. New work emerges out of the constant recycling and production of drawings, digital files, collaged elements, bits of old paintings, discarded materials etc. But it all ends up flattened, aggregated and captured in these very smooth oil painting surfaces. The faces travel through many mediums, from charcoal sketch, digital files to oil sketches and collage, before ending up as finished oil paintings on gesso panels.
My research is very broad and filters in in non-explicit ways. I try and immerse myself in art, politics, music, new ideas in science and technology and philosophy and let things slowly seep through. My works are like nets that sometimes catch these ideas or attitudes that are flying around the studio and my head. Sometimes the nets fail to catch anything and I end up with blank faces. It’s good to have blank faces too…
What is your favorite thing about your medium?
Oil paint is so endless you can do anything with it! I love the way we’ve been using it for 600 years and we’re still finding new ways to make images with it. For me it can contain lots of other mediums. So for instance in my work you can see roughly drawn lines, smooth screen-like effects, sections that look like they’re collaged, but everything is contained in oil paint, or at least in what we’re used to calling an oil painting.
What is your studio space or workspace like?
I think of my studio as an extension of my thoughts. In it are all the necessary parts to make up new work, a vast array of materials – I experiment a lot with new techniques and processes – as well as books, source material, there are drawings everywhere. The walls are like giant pin-boards where supplementary material gathers around paintings. Some of this stuff finds its way in to the work almost of its own accord. This year I’m beginning some full-figure work so will be moving to a larger studio somewhere here in South London.
If you could go back a little ways in time to when you were first pursuing art as a student, would you offer yourself any advice that you've picked up along the way?
Oh so much, but it’s also easy to say in hindsight! I think one of the main things would be find a way to create a bit of financial stability, which is always hard for artists. Artists need time and space to develop and so not neglecting that aspect is essential. Ask yourself how are you going to continue to be able to make work, sustain a community and stay well and balanced. It’s tough! I was going to say, staying true to your sensibilities and instincts is good, but then so is the taste of something different, and you can always go back whenever you like, with a richer set of experiences to feed back into your work. I collaborated for 7 years before beginning painting.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
For me the real challenge is in the work itself. It’s the challenge to reflect on our situation, to reflect on what art is and what it does, to reflect on the world we live in, to find a voice and develop a language, to find something to say, and to say it as best I can.
What do you think that you need most as an artist?
The thing I need most is other art that makes me make art, be it fiction, film, music, painting or whatever. Without that engagement with others and our histories, I’d be working in a vacuum.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you're currently working on?
This spring I have my first solo show FACE IS THE CLOSEST opening here in London at Block 336, so I’m working at full steam at the moment. After this I’m embarking on a new series of larger, full-figure paintings and I have a couple of group projects in the early stages so I think it’s going to be a busy year.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes! Thanks Kate for your wonderful and engaging work. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and I wish you well for the future.
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