Studio Spoken Interview
Studio Spoken is a website/ blog that allows readers a peek into artists’ practices within the studio. The processes both interior and exterior of each participating artist are shared with the public as a documentation of sorts. Inspired by the Art News “Paints a Picture” articles in the 1950’s, yet focusing on studio practice as a whole. The goal of this project is to provide exposure and facilitate continuing dialogue for the participating artists’ work, and to provide an informative survey of contemporary art practices.
– Kelly Worman, Painter and Curator
Name: Mark Parsons
Studio Location: Brooklyn, NY Practice: Art
Please give a brief bio.
(Where are you from? How did you start? Is your background in art?)
Art was unavoidable.
There was a small church between my back yard and the playground beyond that. I’d cut through the bushes, and see the priest walk through an unceremonious door in his street clothes. On the other side he’d emerge wrapped in purple vestments, wielding bronze implements of worship, smelling like incense.
By 7th grade I was learning about whaling, because New Bedford was the local city, and because everyone had some connection with the sea. Moby Dick was practically a religious text. In the winter on my bike, a morning paper route had me coasting silently underneath the dusty red and blue arcs of ship’s hulls. Everything was beautiful. Everything had a shape that was connected to a purpose. Every purpose was connected to a history.
I ended up being a carpenter in a town that didn’t build new houses, because we wanted to respectfully take apart the old ones. I’d find things hidden in the walls – insulation made from hundred year old newspapers, a whale bone tooth brush, nother carpenter’s chisel.
The first thing I thought I’d be was a priest. Then a doctor. Then an artist.
What continues to inspire you and keep you motivated in the studio?
Small, seeming insignificant moments of everyday life are always tugging to declare their meaning. I want to collect it, piece it together, layer it, until that meaning is available.
How do you work physically?
There’s a time to think, and there’s a time to work. If I think too much – something I am prone to do – the only way out is to work, because it helps shut out the noise. Even if it’s not loud, I often wear hearing protection – to avoid being distracted by sounds that have nothing to do with anything. I see better when I can’t hear. The complex visuals of my prints and drawings want to address that.
We’re all surrounded by noise. The prints are maps, and charts. I’ve learned to allow myself to be lost.
What do you find frustrating/ enjoy about your process?
The opposite of everything I just said.
What is your medium/ media of choice? Why?
I don’t have a preferred medium any longer because I want to go outside the concerns of “sculpture” or “printmaking” as narrower disciplines within the rubric of Art… If I am making marks – be it with a pencil, a piece of steel, or ink – it is always about registering information collected from a physical or intellectual environment. It doesn’t matter if it is a reflection on a piece of glass, or a brick pattern, an MRI, or an architectural plan: it is part of a map, and it tells a story.
How has your practice evolved over the years?
Sculpture moved to drawing, moved to printmaking, back to sculpture. During that progression I moved from strictly controlling every surface, every shape – to allowing for a more stochastic element in the process. If I make up the rules, and then play the game alone – the outcome can be contrived. So there is something brutally honest about bringing other people into the work with collaborative moments, and then I get to respond to that in a way I couldn’t anticipate.
Tell us about your creative and conceptual process. Where do your ideas come from/relate to?
“The lines that make up maps” have played out their importance to me on two scales:
Macro: After a hurricane I spent a year rebuilding a boat, and named it Lazarus. I sailed Lazarus around the world for 3 years. Literally around, and back home. …So on that scale, my life was literally dependent upon maps, reading maps, understanding maps. Maps connected one point to the next, one culture to the next, one language to the next, one history to the next. Connecting these points created a context.
Micro: On the scale of looking inside my own body to measure things. We have tools of science and medicine that allow us to probe inside and to make assessments about whether things are in proper relation. Connecting these points creates questions.
Who/ what motivates and influences your work and why? You do. Real life situations that inspire you?
Objects and spaces as much as people. One time I climbed up on a very, very large stone that had been part of a wall, a Greek battlement on what is now the Turkish shoreline. That giant rock had been there for thousands of years, and when I sat on it, it moved.
That inspired me.
How do you think/ want people to respond to your work?
I used to care more about what people think. I still do, but it’s less.
What was the last show you saw that knocked your socks off?
Alighiero Boetti at MOMA – is incredibly honest, personal, searching work. He was so disciplined and so willing to risk and walk edges and be fresh and never seemed to lose his playfulness even in the labored canvasses. Did you see the wicker chair drawing? That is when I cried.
Current adventures/ future plans? What’s next?
I just finished a large sculpture titled Red Line that is made from a ton of recycled cotton pulp. It is about the transition of “idea” to “drawing” to “object” – and back again. Red Line is developed from collaborative drawings that were done while I was an Artist in Residence at Grounds for Sculpture: I gave people a piece of paper and asked them to draw the homes they grew up in. A piece of paper at the table is a private surface, however once they were finished I asked them all to re-draw on a shared piece of paper that was 8 1/2 by 11 feet. All the personal drawings and memories were woven together through this process, and the resulting “map” became the basis for me to develop the sculpture.
Red Line will be on exhibition for 5 months at Grounds for Sculpture before it is installed outside. Once it’s outside, parts of it will fall away. It will transition from a drawing to a sculpture, or from a sculpture to a drawing – depending on how you want to understand it.
Any advice to other artists?
If everything declares its own importance, the most important thing to know about anything, is what is not important. That’s the part that you must ignore when you’re making your map.
Have a favorite quote?
Round the world!
There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings;
but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct?
Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure,
were all the time before us.
From Moby Dick by Herman Melville