AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK DEMSTEADER
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.