When Mark and his wife, Danuta, were looking for a place to raise their two children, their top requirement was a house near the coast. The walk to the beach and easy access to Boston by train made Swampscott the perfect choice! Mark has been living and working here for the past 22 years.
I caught up with Mark at his solo show at the Marblehead Arts Association, entitled “Forgotten Coast,” which ran through August 6th. This show brought together his work from disparate national locations he visited over the past year. It also examined his experiences in the south, when he was invited to be an Artist in Residence funded by the Florida Cultural Council – a job which required exploring and learning about the Franklin County area of the Florida panhandle. His focus was the intersection of literacy and art, two things which the students of the area needed. The result was a multi-media talk, called “Art Up! A Riff on Liberation, Culture and a Lust for the Muse,” which he presented one evening during the Marblehead Exhibition.
You are known primarily as a painter but you are also an author, accomplished performer and educator. How would you describe yourself?
I am an Artist. I follow many muses. These passions are a full time job and they often intersect and cross pollinate each other. I strive for a mastery in all these areas which I will probably never attain. Nonetheless, I embrace the process as itself being worthy and life-affirming.
You are a member of several well-established Arts Associations on the North Shore and a board member of the Rocky Neck Arts Association. What are some of the challenges that face these organizations and how important is an educational component to their programming?
These organizations don’t have enough money. There is a huge, disproportionate amount of money going to museums such as the Peabody Essex Museum and others. But smaller organizations are suffering with limited funds for simple maintenance. And even the fundraising costs money.
The next problems are staleness and a lack of education about art. Many art organizations are offering neither quality work nor a good reason to drop in. They are important institutions but they are holdovers of a bygone era when art was better understood and appreciated. Today’s art forms are on screens: movies, binge TV and video games.
Some of it is wonderful and important. Social Media is itself becoming a kind of theatrical art form – the art of marketing oneself - while the idea of fine art painting, drawing or sculpture is becoming quaint and precious.
Few people understand how to critique a work of art or how to be enriched by the process of looking at art carefully. Much of this is due to a downward spiral in the humanities which has been going on for decades as schools have eliminated or reduced serious art, literature, poetry and theatre programs. So, the burden falls on artists and art associations to reconnect with their objectives, to defend themselves and to educate communities which see little real use for what they offer. There is hope. But the task is daunting. In a community pre-occupied with other problems, Art needs a cheerleading section and a plan of action.
After visiting the Reach Arts building here in Swampscott (which is still in the process of being renovated) what, in your opinion, can such a venue contribute to our town and how?
ReachArts is great because it is needed. And Swampscott residents will probably see positive effects from it soon after it gets operational. But the challenges are big. I see a center which functions like a full-range art salon with a mission to enrich our community.
Here are some possibilities:
How will we do these things?I don’t know for sure. We need to round up the young artists and see what they want to talk about and mix that in with whatever the old guard wants to teach.