AN IN­TER­VI­EW WITH MARK DEMSTEADER

Odalisque - - Contents -

Mark Demsteader’s fi­gu­ra­ti­ve portrait pain­tings are ex­tre­mely po­pu­lar and ha­ve been ex­hi­bi­ted world­wi­de. But the ro­ad he had to follow to be­come a full-ti­me ar­tist was twis­ted. Coming from a wor­king-class back­ground, his pa­rents had litt­le ti­me or in­te­rest in gal­le­ri­es and art mu­seums. — I ne­ver vi­si­ted a gal­le­ry un­til I went on a school trip to Pa­ris when I was about 12. That’s when I ca­me ac­ross my first re­al li­fe pain­ting and was ama­zed at what I saw. Demsteader cul­ti­va­ted an in­te­rest in art on his own and spent most of his ti­me drawing and pain­ting. Af­ter lea­ving school, he star­ted to work as a but­cher in the fa­mily bu­si­ness. Try­ing to find a way out of the me­at mar­ket he at­ten­ded eve­ning clas­ses and stu­di­ed li­fe drawing for about 15 ye­ars and one day he re­a­li­zed he could draw.

He has stu­di­ed the gre­at old mas­ters such as Rem­brandt for ma­ny ye­ars and it’s their works that in­spi­re him the most. He en­joys the pro­cess of put­ting down marks and tur­ning them in­to re­cog­ni­zab­le images, and has a spe­ci­al in­te­rest in wor­king with light and sha­dows.

His work com­bi­nes the clas­sic with the con­tem­po­ra­ry, mix­ing ele­ments of ab­stract art and simp­le sket­ched con­tours. — I li­ke the con­trast between the ab­stract and the fi­nished fi­gu­re, he says. When and how did your ca­re­er start?

I put to­get­her a port­fo­lio of my work and got the train to Lon­don and went around the gal­le­ri­es to see if anyo­ne was in­te­res­ted. Even­tu­al­ly I got to put so­me work in a mix­ed show and sold them about 14 ye­ars ago, and it just went from the­re. Did you ever con­si­der study­ing so­met­hing ot­her than art? If so, what would it had been?

I did play gui­tar in va­ri­ous bands around Man­ches­ter in the 1980s and was thin­king about do­ing that as a pro­fes­sion, I play­ed in bands with Ma­ni (Sto­ne Ro­ses) and Clint Boon (In­spi­ral Car­pets) but the ear­ly mor­nings at the me­at mar­ket me­ant I couldn’t gig la­te at night so that drif­ted away. What was it li­ke to grow up in a mu­sic ci­ty li­ke Man­ches­ter? As, I sa­id be­fo­re it was a good ti­me espe­ci­al­ly in the mu­sic sce­ne; the­re we­re a lot of bands

around and we all just mo­ved from one to anot­her.

If you ha­ve to pick a fa­vo­ri­te Man­ches­ter band, which band would it be? MB

Sto­ne Ro­ses MD

Are you still living the­re? MB

MD I li­ve in a vil­lage cal­led Sadd­leworth in the Pen­ni­ne hills just out­si­de Man­ches­ter. The lands­cape is ve­ry beau­ti­ful. It do­es rain a lot, but it’s not too bad.

Can you ple­a­se de­scri­be a ty­pi­cal work day? MB

MD I get up ear­ly so­me­ti­mes around 6.00 am and my stu­dio is next to my house so I go in and ha­ve a few cups of cof­fee and start wor­king then. I usu­al­ly stop for lunch around 12.00 and af­ter that I go back­wards and for­wards de­pen­ding on how much work I ha­ve.

How long do­es it ta­ke for you to com­ple­te a pain­ting? From the first pen­cil li­ne to the last? MB

MD I work on about ten pie­ces at a ti­me rat­her than just con­cent­ra­ting on one. I find this hel­ps me to not over­work things and the drawings can ta­ke a couple of hours, but the pain­tings go through ma­ny changes so they can ta­ke a we­ek or a month or even long­er.

Ple­a­se de­scri­be the pro­cess? How do you be­gin - end? MB

MD In the drawings I usu­al­ly aim for the big sha­pes and the way the sha­dows fall. I then try to re­fi­ne this with smal­ler marks. For the pain­tings I fill the can­vas with tex­tu­re and I then over­lay thin gla­zes to de­ve­lop the image.

The wo­men in your pain­tings - who are they and whe­re do they come from? MB

MD The mo­dels are usu­al­ly pro­fes­sio­nal mo­dels I ha­ve hi­red in the past but I know so­me qui­te well now so they come and go if I’m wor­king on a par­ticu­lar pain­ting.

Why do you on­ly paint wo­men? MB

MD I am in­te­res­ted in the fi­gu­re as a me­ans of ex­pres­sion, alt­hough I ha­ve used ma­le mo­dels as well in the past. I think the fe­ma­le shape fits mo­re with the way I want to use form and co­lor, so I use the flow of the dres­ses as an ab­stract way of descri­bing co­lor and mood. I tend to think of the mo­del mo­re as an ab­stract form so the gen­der isn’t so­met­hing that is im­por­tant.

MB You did a se­ri­es of portraits of the Har­ry Pot­ter ac­tress Em­ma Wat­son. Can you ple­a­se de­scri­be the ex­pe­ri­ence of wor­king with her?

MD She was a ve­ry in­te­re­s­ting per­son to work with and I was in­te­res­ted in cap­tu­ring her as she was just tur­ning 21 at the ti­me of the show. I think art can be a way of cap­tu­ring mo­ments in a li­fe as well.

Who is your fa­vo­ri­te pain­ter/ar­tist? MB

MD I li­ke so ma­ny it’s hard to pick just one I think I can ap­pre­ci­a­te most ar­tists work in so­me way or anot­her whet­her it’s fi­gu­ra­ti­ve or not.

Tell me about your cho­ice of co­lors? The blue, yellow and pink… MB

I li­ke to use co­lor as a me­ans of ex­pres­sion so if it’s the dress that’s a blue for ex­amp­le I will MD

put the paint down to su­it the com­po­si­tion rat­her than try to paint a dress.

The light in your ar­twork is stri­king. How did you mas­ter this skill? MB

MD I just kept loo­king at the old mas­ters’ works and reading up on how they got the glow in­to their work. So I sup­po­se it’s all tri­al and er­ror and so­me­ti­mes it works and ot­her ti­mes it do­esn’t.

How do you de­ve­lop as an ar­tist? How do you chal­lenge your­self? MB

MD I am al­ways ve­ry rest­less with what I do and am ne­ver re­al­ly hap­py with a work. I I think I can do bet­ter so it’s this striving that keeps me go­ing. It can be ve­ry fru­stra­ting but the small re­wards are when things work out, it ma­kes it all wort­hwhi­le for a short ti­me and then I just go again.

Which of your own pain­tings most sa­tis­fi­es you? MB

None. I am al­ways loo­king for a bet­ter one. MD

In ad­di­tion to art, what ot­her in­te­rests do you ha­ve? MB

MD I still play the gui­tar with a few fri­ends and en­joy watching foot­ball (Man­ches­ter Uni­ted), but pain­ting full ti­me can be all-con­su­ming so I’m al­ways thin­king of what I am go­ing to do next, and that ta­kes up most of my thought pro­cess.

Do you ha­ve any ex­hi­bi­tions soon? When and whe­re? MB

MD I am al­ways sen­ding work out for va­ri­ous shows, but I will ha­ve my next so­lo show so­me­ti­me next ye­ar with Pan­ter and Hall in Lon­don. I am al­so go­ing to be put­ting my work on my web si­te as soon as I get it fi­nished so it can be seen the­re.

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