“Dinner with an Artist” was inspired by the many dinners ANNE REED GALLERY’s owner, Barbi Reed, has had the pleasure of enjoying with gallery artists over the years. It was during these dinners that the conversation twisted and turned to the delight of all sitting around the table. There was no more perfect way to relax and enjoy the camaraderie of artist, collectors, and staff after the intensity of curating, preparing for, and installing an exhibition. Today, we invite you to this virtual dinner table conversation with Mark Thompson to discuss his current exhibition: At the End of Light.
ARG: What early influences sparked your interest in art?
MT: My early memories are very image based – snapshots of times and spaces that for some reason fixed themselves in my mind. I think my desire to understand or come to terms with those memories and the world around me is at the root of my involvement in the arts.
Much to the irritation of my teachers, I apparently developed a habit of illustrating the margins of my school-books with drawings of tiny birds or any other stray whisp of thought that happened to catch my imagination… I must have been a quietly annoying pupil!
One other thing I remember is a small, framed print that hung in the living room of my childhood home. It depicted a shadowed forest path, and I can clearly recall tracing the lines with my finger and trying to imagine how it might have been created.
ARG: Was there anyone early on who deeply influenced or inspired you?
MT: My mother sometimes sketched my sister and I as children, and it always seemed a special and privileged act. The need to communicate visually always seemed to be there, and as I progressed through my school career I was lucky enough to have an art teacher who was, and no doubt still is a very kind and generous man. The art room seemed a refuge from the confusing mass of bodies and other subjects that meant little to me. His personality combined with the new materials I was introduced to, left a significant impression.
ARG: Viewers of your work are able to almost “feel” the temperature…and it makes us want to reach for a scarf! Although your subject matter varies greatly from architecture to landscape and now, in this new series, a river’s edge, there is an ever-present “chill” and “emptiness” even in the urban scenes. Will you tell us about this attraction to these icy scenes that seem to convey a sense of isolation?
MT: This is probably the most difficult question I face as an artist, because it sits at the very core of my desire to communicate through a visual language. Part of my attraction to exploring the empty cold is purely aesthetic; I respond more intensely and intuitively to that particular palette. Winter seems to be a time when the world is stripped back, its bare bones revealed, and I find that I feel more myself at such times. I do think however that the emotional aspect of the work dictates it‘s visual rendering. The emptiness or isolation you mentioned are for me inherent in the process of making, since both the paintings and photographic works are concerned with memory and time passing or time gone.
I have a great interest in early photography and its fugitive processes; for example, the long exposures that failed to register people walking on city streets. I see painting with the same eyes – a way to engage with or punctuate my own time as it falls away, and each work becomes a marker in my own history. The paintings and photographs are in many ways portraits of loss; a time and a space that has already gone, something seen for the last time. This sense of passing has become more apparent in my most recent architectural works. They are places that we are accustomed to seeing full of people, so their absence is felt more keenly.
ARG: You took most of the images for the End of Light series on the Canary Islands. What was your time like there? What draws you to your locations?
MT: The Canary Islands, Lanzarote in particular (where this series was taken) are an odd place. The islands are volcanic with lots of black rocks and very little soil, yet it primarily functions as a beach destination for English and German holidaymakers. Its position off the coast of Africa means that its climate is pretty friendly year round, but what I found particularly useful about that was the very predictable and short times for dawn and dusk. In all truth, if I hadn‘t had a very specific reason for being there I would probably have died of boredom!
The selection of locations is first and foremost an intuitive response. I am attempting to find something in the outside world that mirrors an image or a desire that I already carry in my head. It is often a chance find, however, that sparks this internal process – an image in a newspaper, an allusion in a book or film perhaps, which prompts a period of research. Inevitably what I actually find is somewhat different from what I‘m expecting, but I‘m more than comfortable with a ‘happy accident‘ now and then.
ARG: You mention in your artist statement that you used traditional photographic techniques including leaving your camera’s shutter open for several minutes in order to catch the “end of daylight” for these images. Can you explain your process? Do you manipulate the image after the photograph has been taken or do you use the image as is?
MT: I‘m not sure why, but I distrust an image of mine that doesn‘t have a physical presence. I am also rather attached to the chemical process of developing and the individual character of types of film. In making these photographs I wanted to use a combination of materials that got as close as I could to how I see, and how my memory seems to function.
For this series I narrowed my camera selection down to a Holga. It is pretty much a toy – plastic through and through, but it has some unique qualities that I really value. As you mentioned, I keep the shutter open for an extended period and count to myself until it feels right to stop. I‘m by no means a purist, but I do try to keep the process as analogue as possible prior to printing, so the only manipulation I do is to clean up any imperfections or holes in the photographic emulsion and perhaps a small bit of cropping. The selection of digital printing however is very purposeful… I love the dense matt black and overall softness that is possible through the inkjet process.
ARG: Because your world extends throughout Europe and into the US, you are aware of the work of many artists. Is there any artist in particular whose work you find particularly exciting today?
MT: I am constantly excited by the work of Sally Mann. Her photographs continually surprise me with their beauty and unflinching gaze at us as animals. In a different way, the sheer mastery of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Thomas Joshua Cooper are constant sources of amazement. Within the realm of painting, Anslem Kiefer never fails to surprise me. His imagery is so rugged and dense with meaning – it‘s something I greatly admire. Recently I‘ve also been enjoying the work of Luc Tymans. His paintings are quiet but deeply serious and uncompromising.
ARG: When you moved from Great Britain to Germany several years ago, did that affect your work and if so, in what way?
MT: Moving to Germany was a huge change for me in so many ways. One of the immediate effects was that it really slowed my down. I stepped out of the London gallery and art fair world and was able to take stock of the direction my work was taking. Leaving all that is familiar, and finding oneself in a place where you are defined by your difference, is an experience I never expected to have. If nothing else it throws you completely off balance and you are forced to approach the world in a more direct and intuitive way. Fear also played a role… I had the distinct impression that I was a child lost in a forest of adult legs! Being outside of my ‘career‘ also allowed me the space to grow and approach architectural imagery with the possibility that I might fail. I am a better painter for having left Britain, if only for the fact that I am belligerently following my own path.
ARG: What type of music do you like and what do you listen to when you are working?
MT: Through the day my listening alters. Music is very important to me in the studio and I am quite an avid collector. I almost fear revealing this, but I listen to a lot of extreme metal – It has a way of taking up space in my head and keeping me focused. As the evening draws in my listening softens to contemporary Jazz; people like Arve Henriksen, Tomasz Stanko, and Jon Hassell. I also very much like modern classical and have recently been listening to Rachel Grimes, Dakota Suite, that sort of thing… Oh, and I can‘t get enough of a band called Bohren and der Club of Gore!
ARG: Would you care to tell us about what you are planning for future exhibitions or a new series?
MT: This year is quite a busy one for me. I have some work at the opening of a new gallery in Sweden in May, and two concurrent exhibitions in Germany towards the end of the year. I am aiming to make those shows purely architectural in theme. Speaking of which, I will be continuing my ongoing photographic body of work, and will also be exploring ways to make architectural photographs that carry a similar softness to ‘At the End of Light‘. Never a dull moment in my creative life!
ARG: Many artists are not particularly verbal, but you express yourself so well and think deeply about many things as well as have other interests and talents. Is there anything else you‘d like to comment on or reveal before we end this interview?
MT: One of the interesting things for me about preparing the negatives for this show, was the clear parallel I found between my approaches to photography and painting. As I alluded to earlier, being in Germany allowed me a certain space to push at the edges a bit: work with urban imagery in the paintings (no matter how long it took to finish one!), think about photographs away from the ‘decisive moment‘, and attempt to define my relationship to both as I move forward. Fetching up here also seemed to be the catalyst for exploring another strand of my creative rope, as it were.
Over the course of these few years I have started writing music and am currently working on my third album. I feel somehow as though each part of my work reinforces the others; I just wish there were more hours in the day! Or perhaps I need more hands…
ARG: Thanks, Mark! We’ve so enjoyed sharing a conversation over a “virtual dinner” and look forward to another meal of ideas and visions you might share with us in the future… Cheers!