Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Interview: Mark Pack

[image, "What Lay Beneath and Below", (2007), 22" x 30", Acrylic on paper]

1- Tell us a bit about Mark Pack, where does he come from and how did you end up in Indy?

I was born in a small town in the Midwest called Mark, IL. So I am a Midwesterner at heart. Growing up in a small town in the Midwest made me close to nature, because I was surrounded by it. I spent most of my free time going hiking in the woods and at parks. Then my dad passed away from leukemia when I was 19 years old. Growing up with my dad being sick most of my teen years is what made me interested in science. I began to study disease and how it happens as a way to prevent it from happening to me.

I graduated high school in Sterling, IL and stayed close to home when I went to college. I started at Sauk Community College and then went on to get my BFA in Painting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois - which is also where I met my wife, Crista.

In the seven years we’ve been married, we’ve moved around quite a bit. We lived in Providence, RI while I was working on my MFA at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). We then spent two years in Richmond, VA while Crista was studying for her MA in Art History. After she completed that degree, we moved to DC so she could take an internship for art conservation with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. When that internship ended, she was hired for a position at the Eiteljorg Museum as a Conservation Technician. That is what brought us to Indy.

2- How did art school impact you as an artist?

Going to RISD forced me to think critically about my work. It pushed me into areas of thought about my process of making work and why I make work the way I do. The entire time I was challenged to the point that it was hard for me to feel comfortable about anything I was making. I was really thrown out of my comfort zone. This feeling was shocking since you assume you’re accepted because you make good work. I am sure this is the case, but I believe that art schools really want to teach you to question what you are making and why. The intense conversations that happen in critique are what I believe to be the most important component of an MFA program because it challenges the way that you think. It was not until getting out of grad school that I realized this - it is something that I find myself thirsting for since leaving school.

3- Is there anything you wish you had been taught in art school?

That an artist needs to know how to be good at running a business. Being an artist is like owning a small business. Learning how to approach galleries and getting shows is a fulltime job on top of producing artwork.

4- Can you talk us through your process, from concept to final product?

All of my paintings start with me forcing myself to slow down. I want my work to reflect a meditative state of mind. When starting a painting, I will lay down paint in color or in black and white and let the painting grow in layers from there. “Growing” is the word that best describes my primary concern while painting. Growth happens in all living things. If something grows, it is not made. To “make” a painting is to not make art, but if one lets, that painting grow, then art is made. The difference being that the former is only made by the maker and reflects only the maker’s mind. The latter allows for its own making and thusly develops a mind of its own.

I paint in two different ways, often simultaneously. The first is to paint in a very direct manner in places that feel, momentarily, correct. If I find that those areas are not right then I will either go back over them with more paint or sand my original marks away, or maybe even spray the area with some water.

My second method is to make some kind of an uncontrolled mark on the surface by pouring paints or by using water and ink. Then I go back into it and add more calculated elements that harmonize with the other layers of paint, while still concentrating on not rupturing the pattern of growth that was started. It is important that every mark that I make follows the “mind” of the mark made before it so that the train of thought is not broken. I do this to show a connection between the more controlled and the uncontrolled.

I chose to abstract nature because I want to take nature away from its usual role in landscape painting and move it toward the role of having subjective content. I believe there is a relationship between the natural and the spiritual world. I think of the Fibonacci Sequence, the Golden Angle and the Golden Mean, and see those proportions appearing in nature over and over again. Although I am not consciously using any of those laws in my paintings, I stay aware that there is, as reflected in those laws, a greater and more vital scheme to things. Even if everything I do in a painting is arbitrary or random, those laws will inhabit the paintings because they inhabit our nature.

Process, is a big part of the world that we live in. Nature goes through many processes to construct the many elements of our physical world. When producing art I am involved in process. It is about finding something about the nature and behavior of paint as it relates to the world around us. When painting what I am doing is watching the paint go through its process, and I do so with a purpose in mind. My purpose is to set up the conditions, on the canvas or a piece of paper, which relate to what I see in the physical order of the world.

When painting I only use mediums that can be mixed with water, I do this as water plays a big role in all that happens in nature, and we are a part of nature. Our bodies are 50-65 percent water and also most of the earth is made up of water. All living things need water to live. Landforms are shaped by water. Water is one of the most important elements.

Since this element plays such a role in our lives and because I am interested in presenting the behavior of paint in a naturalistic way, I began to think that I should use water as a major medium in my paintings. When painting into a surface of water, ink will react and show you its mind. The ink grows like a tree; it branches out moving in different directions. I often paint landforms on the canvas, and then spray it with water, and then I observe how the water forms the painting. Next each mark I make is a response to the effects of water on the shapes of the surface. These water effects give the paintings a look and feeling of erosion, which is good because erosion is one of the forces that bring about change in nature.

Other paints share this relationship to water, for example, gauche, watercolor, acrylic, and oil paint. The way that paints react to water relates to how other substances in nature react to water. Water really is an unpredictable substance, and if I simply let the water “be”, I have no control. I cannot explain the direction that water is going to take, but it is set up by a number of factors like the tilt of the surface or how much water in relation to pigment I use or how porous the surface is. If the painting is hanging on the wall, then the water flows down to the floor and the path that the water follows on the surface is set by what had previously been laid down. How this all works is conditional, but the effect is of the paint having a mind of its own. What I do have control over, however, is how much of it I allow to survive in the finished painting. I think that as this is the way I relate to painting, it must also reflect how nature relates to life. I think what I make relates to our lives, and it is about a way of seeing.

The color I employ in my paintings is mostly suggested by what I am drawing: a tree, a lake, a winter scene, or any other commonplace subject matter. I draw on things from everyday life, but I want to take them out of their normal context and cause us to question what we think to be true.

The final product should end looking like something you would see in the natural world but you can not figure it out. I want to leave people in a state of wonder about what they are looking at. People will often ask me what mediums I am using to make my paintings, the audience seems to have trouble figuring out how the painting or object was made; which is the way I feel when looking at the world around me. When looking at a shell or a rock, I might know how it is made because science tells me this - but I am not convinced by that answer. So I am ingesting all of these answers and finding a way to describe nature on my own terms.

[image, "Painting Specimen 13.08", 2008, 9" x 3.25" x 3.23", Acrylic cut out sculpture mounted on walnut base]

5- Your work seems to play on both excavation and remnant, is this important to the meaning of the work or merely an aspect of the process?

Excavation and remnant are both a part of the process and also part of the meaning.

6- How important are the titles for your paintings?

The titles are very important to the way that I think of my paintings. The titles may not tell the audience how to relate to each piece, but hopefully they are making you contemplate what I am painting about.

For example, the paintings that are titled “painting specimens” are made from pieces cut out from other paintings. Therefore, I think of those as fossils from those paintings. I got this idea from working at the nature lab at RISD, where part of my job was to identify the objects, put a number on them, and then put them into the log book. This is what I have done with my “painting specimens.” I give them a number and also I have started a log book that keeps track of all of the objects in my collection. The reason for calling them painting specimens is because I feel that I can not identify them as rocks or shells because they live in both worlds, the world of paint and the natural.

As for other paintings, I come up with the names by playing word games. I will look at the painting and then a word will come to mind and I will think for a moment and decide if that one works or not. If the word does not work I will go to the thesaurus and look for other words that relate to that word until I get the right one - or sometimes the title becomes a combination of words. Since my paintings are partly about slowing down, I want my titles to make the viewer stop and think about them for a while.

7- In relation to your audience, what do you hope to accomplish, in other words, what would you hope your audience takes away from the work?

I want the audience to think more about nature and the world around them while they are looking at my paintings. I want the audience to think about discovery, destruction, rebuilding, slowing down, and the landscape. I would hope that I have made them wonder about life and how things come to be what they are. I do not really want to answer any questions. I just want to make people think and in order to really think you need to slow down and pay attention. My paintings are not simply about nature, what they are about is me trying to relate to nature and figure out the process that is going on to make the world around us. I want my paintings to remind people of something they may have seen in nature, but not be able to pin them down or define what it is they are looking at.

8- Do you think art should be or has to be "important"? Do you feel your work is "important"?

I think art helps to make us question what we are told about the world around us which is very important.

9- What do you personally hope to accomplish artistically/professionally? What artistic and/or professional ambitions do you have?

My first goal is to make good work which I believe I am doing.

Artistically/professionally, I want to show my work to a larger audience in the US and outside of the US.

I would also like to teach art courses at a college or university.

10- Do you have a day job? How do you support yourself as an artist?

Yes, I work at a local restaurant (Hoaglins to Go Café and Marketplace). The people there are very nice to work with and the food is great. Cooking is one of my other loves in life, so I enjoy doing it.

I sell the occasional painting, but the day job is primarily how I support myself. That’s another goal of mine - to support myself with my artwork someday.

11- If things in your life had played out differently and art was not your career, what profession might you have considered instead?

A Geologist!

12- Indianapolis art scene? What is the best and worst thing about the scene as you see it?

The best thing about the scene is there is a lot of energy and good work being made in Indy - you just need to know where to look. The people I have met are also very open and nice, willing to give an outsider a chance. Being an emerging artist in Indianapolis is easier because there is not a pretentious attitude like in other places.

The worst thing would be that it sometimes feels like a microcosm of what is going on in the rest of the world. Also, the city itself is like an emerging artist, it has to constantly be working to make people pay attention and prove itself. It can be especially challenging to make your mark in a place that is still trying to make a mark for itself.

Overall, I have to say Indianapolis is a great city to be an artist in because it is relatively inexpensive to live here and there is an emerging scene that is showing good work. Plus it is close to some other large art scenes like Chicago.

For a city of this size there are many great museums to go and look at art, such as the IMA, The Eiteljorg Museum, and The State Museum - to name a few. They put up really great shows of local and international artists.

Indianapolis also has really great colleges that put up shows of local artists, art students and national/international artists. I live right downtown and don’t have a car so I go to Herron a lot. I have also seen ads in Nuvo and about shows and lectures at Butler, Ivy Tech, and Indianapolis University that are happening that if I had a car I would go see.

13- Do you have any exhibitions coming up, or any projects you are working on at the moment?

I’ll have some of my work up in August in two group shows: Elegant Funk, which will be at Wug Laku’s Studio & Garage, and Indy Visual Fringe. In September I am having a solo show at the Harrison Center.

In my studio, I am currently working on many new small paintings. I just finished some new painting specimens recently. People can always go to my website to see what I am working on at the moment which I regularly update. I have started taking pictures of paintings in progress and plan to do more of this in the future.

14- Do you have any advice for younger artists out there trying to make their way in the world?

My advice to younger artists is to never stop making art and refining what you are making. Read as much as you can about art - books, magazines, blogs - because they’ll tell you what is happening in the art world. Go to shows locally and outside of where you live.

Always work on finding people to show your work to, never give up.

I would not say that you have to have an MFA - but it does help to be educated about making art and the art world. I feel that getting my master’s was one of the best decisions I ever made and it has definitely helped me.

Finally work hard because that is what it takes to make it and even when you make it you have to work harder, I am still working at getting there and will be forever. That is part of being an artist - always finding new audiences to show your work to and refining what you are making.

[image, "Painting Specimen 17.08", 2008, 4.25" x 7.25", Acrylic cut out mounted on pine]

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