Inside the Explorative Mind of Artist Mark Schlesinger
In Mark Schlesinger’s solo exhibition “Hello Stranger(s)” — the artist’s first gallery exhibition in over a decade — the distinct collage-like placement of shapes creates a layered plane in which one side compliments its counterpart.
New York native and Harpur College graduate, Mark Schlesinger is a painter whose work concentrates on an exploration of lines, planes, and shapes. His active examination of materials has led him to participate in the Whitney Museum of Art’s Independent Study Program. Living and working in New York City, he was Lee Krasner’s studio assistant as he began and developed his career. In 1979, his paintings were included in “American Painting: The Eighties” curated by Barbara Rose, and has been exhibited in New York, nationally, and internationally since then.
Deliasofia Zacarias: This is your first solo exhibition in San Antonio in some time. How has your work developed since your solo exhibition, Clear Case, at the Mandarin Gallery in Los Angeles, California?
Mark Schlesinger: The LA show was a number of years ago. 11 years actually. And many things have happened between then and our show. Most tellingly, between 2008 and 2013, I worked almost exclusively on public paintings. I didn’t start a new studio painting at all. Instead, I painted bridges, sidewalks, walls, all outdoors. I painted a 1.2-mile sidewalk, a 380’ sidewalk and adjoining vertical wall, an 85’ and 110’ bridge. Doing this work, I experienced new spaces, new lights, new speeds of looking closely, walking over and under and next to paintings. I experienced my creativity having a social function. None of this stuff could have been experienced in a studio. Moving away from the public and returning to the private, the studio, in June of 2013, I had at first little understanding of what the previous 5 years’ experiences meant and more to the point, I wasn’t sure if I even had anything left of interest to paint. I simply knew that my public painting was over and soon recognized that I had to start my studio painting over, rediscovering connections I believed I understood, exploring connections that in the making of my paintings, I was newly discovering
DZ: You are especially known for creating your own paint from traditional and nontraditional materials. Did your concern for authenticity inspire you to do this or have you always had a special interest in the exploration of materiality?
MS: As a painter, I am interested and aware of the materiality of paint. I am fairly certain that this was never done to be authentic, it was probably done just wanting to do something different and see something new.
DZ: Speaking of which, as someone who is enthralled with the visual tactility of material, how did you come about creating a matte acrylic polymer paint that looks like wax when it dries?
MS: I never liked the surface gloss of acrylic. It was hard for me to look at and focus on. I felt that my eye was slipping off of the paint, never fully feeling something deeper. It seemed that the shine detached the paint from the painting. It came between the viewer and the painting, kind of contaminating the space between the viewer and the painting, the space shared by the viewer and the painting. And when acrylic was watered down and then stained into the canvas, it felt so thin and unfelt. So uninteresting. When I moved to San Antonio, I wanted to leave all oil paint behind. I wanted to discover and explore something new and believed that there must be a way to make a polymer matte and wax-like, more like the body at its most physical, its most human, rather than being glossily detached from the painting or massaged into it.
DZ: You describe your work as figurative rather than abstract. What makes it figurative?
MS: It’s not figurative so much as abstracting the figurative.
DZ: You’ve had the opportunity to exhibit your work in galleries and museums, as well as create public art installations. What would you say has been your favorite artistic participation?
MS: I really like making paintings so each is good in its own way.
DZ: When you were first developing your artist career, you were Lee Krasner’s studio assistant. How do you think her approach to abstract expressionism impacted your work?
MS: In order to discover and in an attempt to fully express my painting, I had to fight against and move away from Ab Ex. I have tried to discover and explore something new and different. Krasner and her generation of painters had their painterly issues, my friends and I have ours. That’s not to say, at all, that her character and struggle are things I have turned away and shied away from. In fact, I try to face and embrace the struggle as a necessity to making paintings. As much as she taught me, and it was a lot, she modeled behavior for me, and obviously others, even more.
DZ: Your solo exhibition, Hello Stranger(s) at Ruiz-‐Healy Art, also includes a catalogue with an essay by Michael Schreyach, Ph.D., and author of Pollock’s Modernism. Did you feel like your professional relationship to Lee Krasner came full circle by inviting Michael Schreyach to write about this exhibition?
MS: I had not thought of that. Interesting. To me, Michael Schreyach is simply brilliant. He looks at painting as closely as I do, but thinks about painting differently and more clearly than I do.
DZ: In the essay, Michael Schreyach states that all the paintings in this series derive their titles from poems published in 1962 by Robert Creeley, in a book called For Love. Would you mind explaining the significance of this book?
MS: Creeley’s poetry has meant a lot to me for a long time. Going back to College days in upstate New York. He was teaching upstate, as well. More upstate than me. I have continued to be aware of his writing, still re-reading his poetry. As I was starting to finish paintings in this group (not series but group), seeing some together, it occurred to me that phrases from his book FOR LOVE seem fitting and connected.
DZ: What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
DZ: Who is your favorite living artist?
MS: I try to have respect for all living artists, even the dead ones.
Recorded March 6, 2018
Written by 2017-2018 intern, Deliasofia Zacarias
These works will be on view January 24th through March 10th.