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Colorful Paintings Capture the Absurdity of Human Behavior

Dive inside the bizarre parallel universes of Mark Whalen’s painting and ceramics.

by Hannah Stouffer
Jan 28 2016, 3:00pm

All images courtesy the artist

In the optical planes of Mark Whalen’s two- and three-dimensional works lies a parallel universe of curious and intelligent beings trapped inside vibrant, gridded rooms. The often tortured species carry out mundane tasks, sexual experiments, and intellectual equations, all inside Whalen’s geometric worlds. Examining the paintings as a scientist would monitor a species, the viewer is able to engage with the narratives of the work, developing conclusions and that are often directly relatable to our own life experiences.

The Creators Project sat down with the Australian artist, now LA-based, to discuss the process behind this experiment and how his narratives transfer from paper, to panel, to ceramic, and back to real life.

The Creators Project: Your interests and struggles seem directly visible in your work. Are there elements in your own life that are depicted in your paintings?

Mark Whalen: I like to take a lot of everyday experiences that people go through and interpret them through the work. It’s a light-humored approach to human experience. I like to explore different human interactions in specific environments. I’m heavily into architecture so a lot of that aesthetic crosses over into the paintings. I really love the ideas of innovation and problem solving, so a lot of the narratives in the paintings tend to lean towards those areas.

What influenced the early exploration of ceramics in your work?

I was painting a lot of vessels in my pieces years ago, a lot of everyday objects like vases are always popping up in my paintings. I was specifically painting the traditional blue and white Roman vases and researching them quite heavily. I wanted to adapt my own painting practice to real ceramic vases so I played around creating and exhibiting them and it all stemmed from there. After that I started making ceramic books and paper sculptures. The ceramic books are all sculpted from clay one by one and the ceramic ‘paper’ sculptures are made with a slip cast that is originally made from plaster. I have hundreds of drawings I use for paintings in the studio and wanted to recreate that process in the form of ceramics, making my drawings references for sculptural works.

Have you noticed any changes happening in the contemporary art world, or any trends that you’re either attracted to or try steer clear from?

I feel like I’ve noticed a lot of heavily painted abstraction popping up, which for me is fun to observe as my style is the opposite. Ceramics have been making more of an in appearance in the last two years and they have definitely been given a new life, which is cool to see. There are so many artists starting to explore it and a lot of artists that have been doing it forever seem to be getting more appreciation for it now.

What have you learned over the course of your career as an exhibiting artist?

I think that having the opportunity to be a career artist has really enabled me to develop as one. I don’t think I would have learned half the things I have without having the time to be able to expand what I’m doing and discover new areas I want to explore. Patience is another thing that I’ve learned quite well, learning to take your time and have fun with it is super important.

Photo by Bobby Alderman

Click here to learn more about the artist. 

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