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Office Hours with Mark Stockton


December 19, 2017

Office Hours with Mark Stockton

We sat down with Mark to learn more about his work, practice, and perspectives. You can see Mark's work in person at the upcoming exhibit, where artists are (in their studios) in the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, on view Jan 16 through March 18.

OM: Tell me about your early years in this field and what attracted you to teaching? 

MS: I started drawing from a very early age and like many young artists, I was into comic books and sports.  Consequentially, I drew a lot of figures and portraits. Because I grew up in the Northwest, in Portland, Oregon, I was not around a lot of artists. I would often draw while my mother was working free-lance and doing calligraphy and sign-painting/design. For my subject matter, I would often rely on printed materials including art books and magazines as my primary sources - I did a lot of drawing from 2D images early on.

My interest in teaching really developed out of enjoying my own experience as a student in the classroom and studio. It was my way to maintain and participate in a community of other artists.  I think the classroom became the place to talk shop and learn amongst my peers.

What formative interests did you have in your childhood and high school years that are still with you today?
One experience that I return to, which happened in grade school, was when I drew one of my first portraits of an iconic celebrity- Michael Jackson.  I had spent one night carefully replicating his portrait from the cover of Time magazine and when I brought the drawing in to school the next day, I received enough praise from my classmates that I was eventually encouraged by one close friend to draw him the exact same drawing. There was something powerful about the skill to re-create this image multiple times and it made an imprint on me.

What questions are you still working on answering?
Why is art valid in the face of such social injustice?
How can creative activity find more purpose?
How can I give opportunities to other creative producers less fortunate than myself while questioning what privileges that are embedded in our existing systems?
How do I continue to make my courses relevant to younger generations of students?

What are you involved in that might be perceived as outside of your field and practice?
Since moving to Philly in 2008, I've really come to enjoy hiking and birding. I think bird watching is a different type of awareness and observation. It gets me out of the studio and prompts me to appreciate the complexity of the natural world.

Has your role as a professor been different from what you expected?
I think what is different is that I teach foundation design and not fine art. 
I have come to really enjoy establishing rigor and discipline into the process of design. I respect design as a process and believe a rigorous studio practice can be developed despite talent.

What is ironic about my own education is that I never took the equivalent 2D design classes in undergrad -- I could draw so well as an incoming freshman they gave me credit for a few different foundations courses. On the teaching end, it  was such an eye-opening process to learn to teach the basics of design (elements and principles) for a class that I never really had as a student. 

When you began college, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do for a career?
I entered college at Oregon State University majoring in illustration, but then the school dropped the major near the end of my first year. Fine Art was the next best option and I ended up taking a bunch of drawing and photography courses. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to go to New York City on a 10-day art-centric field trip during my junior year. It became super clear to me on this trip that I needed to be on the east coast. The amount of art in New York was epic compared to anything I had ever experienced. At this point, I was determined to move east after graduation. The following year, I spent a year working at the National Gallery bookstore in Washington, DC and spending my off-time traveling the northeast and exploring a variety of graduate programs.  The next year, I was accepted into Syracuse for my graduate degree and the most important thing about this program was that it allowed me the opportunity to teach my classes as an associate professor, not as an assistant. I really enjoyed teaching over the course of the three-year program and I definitely thought it was a future possibility, under the assumption I could find a position that allowed me to be in a city where I could be involved in an active arts community. 

What advice would you give to graduating seniors? Incoming freshmen?
Advice to seniors- Travel. Move to a city that will challenge you. Align yourself with interesting people doing interesting things. Create an independent regimen to keep working daily. Keep looking at both historic art and contemporary art. Don’t think about money when making decisions about your practice.

Advice to freshmen- Be a sponge. Try everything you can. Be open minded to what your teachers and peers have to teach you. Take as many professors as possible. Talent is not as important as discipline and hard work.  Get a minor to complement your area of study. Explore the Library. Read (or listen to) books while you work.  Be good to your peers, they are the ones who will give you the most opportunities beyond schooling.  Get involved in a student organization, it allows for leadership and an understanding of bureaucracy.

Tell us about the work you do – what is hidden? What is in plain sight?
My work hopefully can be received on multiple layers.  In plain sight -- it is portraiture, it deals with realism and manual replication. It identifies contemporary and historic icons with a certain emphasis on American individualism.

What is hidden --the deep dive that goes into making the work. The hundreds of hours often spent hatching away while listening to audio books either by or about the subjects I am depicting. I often choose subjects that appear to me via topical media exposure. It is not a necessity for me to have to like or respect my subjects. I often feel my strongest projects have developed out of a certain contempt for those that I portray.

What does your work mean to you? Do you think this differs from what it means to others?
My work is intended to be a reflection of the culture I live in.  I am trying to take observational drawing to a different level, one that includes many sources -- the internet, photography, contemporary/historic journalism, literary sources, network theory, and American ego. My observation is akin to long form journalism --where American identity is revealed through the individuals and icons that surface to the forefront of our visual consciousness. I hope that my commitment to making laborious drawings allows a view to slow down and consider my combined subjects specific to an installation, where the combined effect of the exhibition creates a certain understanding of the compound subjects. At one level, I welcome a popular read of my work as an entry point- it uses pop culture and illusory realism to allow almost anyone to participate in the discussion, but once my work is disassembled from the original installation, I do worry that my individual pieces can be interpreted as idolatry, or chauvinistic. When successful, I hope it becomes clear that my work is really focusing more on exposing the downfalls regarding the exploits and privileges of our exceptionalism and nationalism.

Past Office Hours include interviews with Nicole Koltick (Architecture, Design & Urbanism), Mike Glaser (Product Design), and Eric Karnes (Graphic Design).