Mark Schoening’s works are explosive. The compositions appear as though they were created in one, single effortless gesture. Two-dimensional space is transformed into a three-dimensional optical playground. Shards of confetti, submersed in bleeding black inks glow from beneath a hard-candy resin veneer. Schoening’s works exude a palpable energy and demonstrate a playful manipulation of surface and form.
Installation Magazine: There have been two major shifts in your perspective over the last year. In 2012, your palette evolved from black, white and grey to include vibrant, saturated tones. Most recently, you moved from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. What led to these decisions?
Mark Schoening: After spending four and a half years in LA, it was time for a change. My life and studio practice had fallen into a routine that I was no longer content with. It became time to reevaluate my paintings. It was also an appropriate time to re-engage with the initial playful aspects that drew me into art-making. I believe that major life changes such as moving across the country have the ability to remind us all what is important and what can be left behind.
How did your palette evolve?
As an undergraduate, I experimented with many different styles in order to find my own. In an attempt to really simplify things, I exclusively focused on a black and white palette for many, many years just to work out the basics of line, composition and tonal changes before I really brought any color into painting. I think it was that study of simplified form that allowed me to get to where I am today. I moved from Boston to Los Angeles in 2008. There is a fluorescent palette everywhere in Los Angeles and I felt the freedom to break out of that black and white space for the first time. I think it was the geographic change that gave me the confidence to make a major shift in the work and it allowed me to focus on something new while I was painting in California. It became clear that while my black and white pieces were well thought-out, the fun was taken out of the work. Taking a risk, pushing and increasing the palette is a very playful process. I think more than anything that idea of playfulness– that moment of freedom– is definitely of the utmost importance in creating work.
Although you have left California, your work continues to explore a wider spectrum of color. How has your change of environment affected your practice?
When I moved to Minneapolis in June, I was simply focused on painting. It was an interesting shift because I had lived in major cities while creating artwork for the last ten plus years. Even if you’re isolated in your studio, the city exists outside of your space; whether or not you want it, it’s always there. In Los Angeles, I had access to everything. Since I’ve moved away from that, I’m now taking all of the influence and inspiration that flooded into the work and re-analyzing what the marks mean or how they work within the composition of the painting. I’m kind of just stepping back from that and going through the mess that I had launched into my practice. In Minneapolis, I’m in this little studio space and sure there’s a smaller city out there, but it’s not as bustling as Los Angeles or Boston. I do feel like I am off the grid. I’m really enjoying it. I think it’s going to push the work to a new space and I like the change of pace. Then again I don’t know how long I will be staying here.
While your palette has expanded, you have continued practicing a technique involving resin. Your canvases are delicate even if they have endured several applications of different materials. How do your paintings achieve their unique appearance?
They all begin as loose gestural ink marks and paint washes. As each piece progresses, I scan them and create a series of abstracted lines and shapes in Sketch Up and Photoshop to further push and pull the existing space created by the ink drawing. Each digital drawing is printed and embellished with the use of Xerox transfers applied to the paintings. I apply a layer to the surface, and the process begins again. Recently though, the Xerox transfer work has taken a backseat to screen-printing which allows me to pull from a larger lexicon of multi-part stencils. I usually work on two or three paintings at a time over the course of a few months. There is a tremendous editing process.
When did you start painting?
In 2001, I moved into a small apartment in Boston. Overnight, an attempt to decorate a few walls turned into a painting addiction. I purchased an inexpensive set of paints, a few canvases, the soundtrack to the film Amelie and I discovered the joys of red wine. At first, the work started as a series of badly painted portraits that soon took up every square inch of the apartment. I remember toying with plaster of Paris and producing a series of fake slices of birthday cake applying paint with pastry bags to give them just the right touch. I worked as a bartender for many years, and each night I walked down Newbury Street from my apartment to the restaurant. At the time, Newbury was filled with galleries as well as a few strange characters who set up their artwork against walls and iron fences.
After a few months, I purchased a small hand truck and on Saturday mornings I would wheel a collection of paintings about a mile away to a busy corner, where I would set up with my camping chair and attempt to sell the works. The following fall, I was accepted into art school and began a more serious investigation into art making.
You have taken your practice into three dimensions in the form of cubes formed with elastic and spandex and dipped in a myriad of colors. What led to this? How have these forays into sculpture impacted your two-dimensional practice?
In 2006, I presented string cubes at Blythe Projects. This was my first attempt to bring my paintings into three dimensions. In LA, I lived near an incredible fabric district. For like $25 you can buy a vast amount of supplies to create anything. All forms of materials were so accessible and I brought everything I could find into the work. These materials inspired my sculpture. I built wire frame cubes in order to reference the boundaries of a traditional panel. I applied small pieces of neon fishnet spandex to recreate the pulling and manipulation of form present in my paintings. I cut small strips of striped spandex and stretched them to create checkered lines. This simple experiment, along with many others from the project, eventually found their way back into the two-dimensional works. My string sculptures allowed me to develop a two-dimensional process that I could further explore in painting. In order to solve some practical problems that arose in producing the cubes, I ended up making this really unique knife tool that has two blades with perfectly parallel lines. It’s kind of allowed me to take that three-dimensional sculptural space back to the painting.
What inspires your practice the most?
My studio practice is motivated by a small group of artist I have befriended over the years. Having this open dialogue with other artists who push themselves and maintain a rigorous studio practice means a lot more than skimming artist statements and observing work from inside of a white cube. I am especially inspired by Ricky Allman, Cyrille Conan and Amir H. Fallah. It’s interesting- I met Amir maybe in 2007 when we both showed at the same gallery in Boston. We developed a great friendship and it was nice to have a down-to-earth sounding board once I moved to Los Angeles. I think if you’re moving there without knowing anyone it can kind of be a difficult place to get started, but it’s been a great relationship.
What are you working on now?
In November, I had a show at Marine Contemporary. Gathering work for an exhibition is a mindful process. My studio was full of work before the show, but completely emptied within two days of packing. In December, I started from zero. In the past few months I have been focused on making drawings which I haven’t done in a very long time. After looking at the work and returning to the studio, it was something that I wanted to focus on again. So going forward it’s kind of again redeveloping ideas that I can push further. I’ve really try to focus on challenging myself in the studio to see if I can conquer perspective in my drawings. Then I can bring it back into the abstract world of my paintings: it’s an endless study of pushing the work forward.
Featured image: Mark Shoening, Circus Circus (detail), acrylic, latex, spray paint, silkscreen ink, and resin on panel, 20×16″, 2012
All images courtesy of Mark Shoening