I am a painter. I work with paint and make paintings. Seeing the world through and because of paint, paintings make the world visible to me and open me to the world.
I paint colors and forms on a variety of grounds and supports — some traditional like canvas and wood, others more unconventional like vinyl, plastic, aluminum, steel, sandstone, and concrete. Sometimes I buy paint at art supply and hardware stores. Other times I make my own paint. As a teenager growing up in New Jersey I worked in a paint factory. Back then and there the quality control staff taught me the difference between the accepted good and rejected bad paint.
Although I understood the need for the good paint, I was more interested in the bad. Doing unexpected things like not drying quickly enough or having an off and uneven color was thrilling. The paints I now make, and have made for years, do things that mass-produced paint cannot and should not do.
One paint I make can dry as gloss as glass or as matte as wax. This paint can shrink, warp, or crinkle a flexible ground; or roll an unsecured edge of a supple ground. Its surface can crack. Another can glow at night and change color with temperature or surface wetness.
In the past five years, I have expanded visual and painterly ideas developed through my studio practice into the everyday world of public art where my public paintings reach a more diverse audience.
Now, having completed a group of public art paintings, including two bridges on the San Antonio River’s Museum and Mission Reaches, and a privately commissioned streetscape in Georgetown, I have just completed a 1.2-mile streetscape commissioned by the City of San Antonio.
Central to my creative process in making public painting is an awareness and understanding of the site, which largely influences my consideration of materials. Additionally, I do not feel the need to close off the siteʼs space or close down the viewerʼs feelings or thoughts through imposition, assault, or persuasion.
Instead, public art should be distinct enough to catch the eye, attract attention, provoke thoughts and feelings, and reward close looking and careful thinking. By simply respecting the siteʼs space it becomes absorbed into the painting and revealed, opened, and by simply trusting the participant viewer he or she can discover the unexpected and discern, acknowledge, enter, and explore it.
Through the physical experience of walking, jogging, biking, floating, or driving, the viewer travels over, under, and through the painting. Finding themselves inside the painting, the viewer experiences feelings and thoughts, openness and connection, both physical and psychological, to environment and others. In other words, the viewer gains awareness and understanding of place and becomes part of a community for which we all are responsible for.
One day, while painting on a site, a grandmother stops and introduces her grandson to me, saying “See, look at this work, anything is possible.”
Another day, a husband on a walk with his wife and children stays behind to thank me for my work. His wife is under doctorʼs orders to walk everyday and because of my paintings, she has a goal to walk and see the streetscape.
Through my work, I realize an unexpected and gratifying social function of my creativity and in turn I too become a citizen with a civic responsibility to community.
In being unexpectedly present, public art has the power to make any space and any structure distinctly more interesting, creating a destination to be visited, signifying a place of the imagination to be discovered, seen and experienced, signaling a city with a creative and productive future, and changing the way we see ourselves, each other, and the world.
ARTIST MARK SCHLESINGER of New York City lives and works in Texas as a studio and public painter. For the last five years, Mark has completed several large publicly and privately commissioned paintings, including 2 bridges on the San Antonio River, a 1.2 mile streetscape, and a two-block-long, three-dimensional painting utilizing an existing eight-foot high retaining wall. Download his full biography and resume here [PDF] or visit his website www.markschlesinger.com for more information.