Artist Mark Fox : The Norton Interview

By Jennifer Carrera Turner

Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL – Last Thursday’s Art After Dark 2016 series at the Norton, had a wonderful presentation that I was so enamored to have been in attendance for. The lecture of sorts titled “Mark Fox in Conversation” was organized by Tim B. Wride, William & Ross Soter Curator of Photography. The lecture was held in an expansive room bathed in a fuschia lighting with countless rows of seating for patrons and observers which soon became occupied entirely. An intimate stage positioned at the front of this room, with chairs for Mark Fox and Tim B. Wride, was back dropped with an illuminated projected screen on the wall surface.  The popular exhibition at this time in the Norton by Artist Mark Fox, was the magnificent high-definition film “Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden” created during his three months as artist-in-residence within Claude Monet’s iconic garden in France.

This incredible art installation had been granted to the Norton by the generosity of Beth Rudin DeWoody and of Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo (through the Dorothea Leonhardt Fund at the Communities Foundation of Texas). As if that were not enough, we all then beheld the presence of Mark Fox (who is based in New York City) in our assemblage not only to tell us of his artistic experience in France, but also about his work in general. There was a welcoming introduction of Mark Fox and Tim B. Wride as they entered onto the stage by Adelia Gregory, the Assistant Curator of Education at the Norton.  After complimentary remarks and gratitude for Mark’s presence with us, spoken by Mr. Wride, he further expressed the calm feeling that his art installation bestowed upon visitors – best described reasonably as a “Zen Installation.”

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Mark then began speaking and exhibiting for us through the projected screen behind them, images of the type of artwork he is well known for. He described most of his early work as having enjoyed creating art with the many “pure black ink drops” whether they were accidental or intentional. These ink drops did not remain confined, rather he “collects” them in a way by cutting them out and piecing them seamlessly together. These “pieces” grow and grow connected together into an enormous size of art that is absolutely astounding. His view on using materials and executing his ideas, Mark says “to be open and NOT narrow minded”.

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For some sculptures he would often use “everyday cardboard” – utilizing both their flat surfaces for drawing or painting on – even sometimes peeling the paper away to reveal the commercial ink saturations and leaving those images exposed. The cardboard is also used for the features of its open fluting which adds a different textural aspect and transparent feeling. He would also use enormous collections of individually created drawings, sketches and paintings on paper in which he combines into stacks upon stacks – sandwiching them and creating these large – measured in “feet and not inches” life size sculptures. He often uses objects that are “salt-of-the-earth” to provide support for his large sculptures, for example sawhorses.

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Mark incorporates a lot of text or written words throughout his work, whether printed or cut-out of paper or metals. All of the textual writing have sacred meanings derived predominantly from Catholic Religious beliefs. The use of holy doctrines, references to the Virgin Mary, and religious symbolism are very important in much of Mark’s work. He created a theme such as this using objects that were received from 9/11 Ground Zero for example a sawhorse, dust and religious votive candleholders from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Something that was most comical during the evening, was that Mark shared with us his love of 1970’s disaster films of which he entertained with some brief video clips. The disasters (unusually enough) took place on the grounds of Art Galleries or Museums and were subjected to tornadoes and floods. Ultimately the films conclude with mass irreparable destruction to fine priceless works of art within the building. While explaining his “love” of this type of film (which is a genre I honestly never knew existed) I could hear the silent chuckling throughout the audience as we were all wondering “what must Mr. Wride” be thinking right now? It was an awkward transition most certainly and was a subtle boost in excitement of a different sort.

 The Versailles Foundation’s Munn Artist Award was accepted by Mark Fox in 2010. He was one of the chosen few invited to hold residency at the Monet Foundation in Giverny, France. Unbeknownst to most of the world, Monet’s famous garden had become unkempt following his death in 1926. Fortunately in the 1970’s, a group of philanthropic Americans founded an entire restoration and held the stipulation that U.S. Artists would be selectively invited to spend time there each year. Fox, having been chosen was told upon arrival that he was not subjective to work in Monet’s impressionistic style but rather they had hoped that the “environment would inspire him.” With Mark’s work being so modern, it would be hard to imagine what could he possibly come up with to utilize this incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Although not being the requirement by any means. This classic ethereal garden, a place that is known for – seen painted in pastel brush marks on canvas? A mecca for tourists visiting France with the privileges of walking through this lush green landscape of bridges and flowers once occupied by one of the grandest art masters of all time?

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Unlike the rest of the world, when the crowds left as the area closed to allow visitors for the day, Mark had the key and could return and leave as he pleased. And then his idea emerged, he would show the world what Monet was actually never able to see! Under the water. The underneath of the lily-pads, grasses and the life that was taking place beneath them. He submerged his camera while on record mode, beneath a homemade float attached to a fishing line to capture the footage.

His filming took place during the day and was at first experimental and daring. Later he explained his project and was approved to continue his filming by less elusive techniques, otherwise entering the water had been forbidden. So now for the pièce de résitance, “Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden”, a five channel, high definition underwater video capturing images beneath Monet’s iconic waterscape is an amazing room filling art installation brought to us by Mark Fox.

More about Mark Fox: Originally from Cincinnati, Fred Conway Art Scholar at Washington University, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration in 1985, Stanford University, Master of Fine Arts in Painting 1988, Founder of Saw Theater, multi-media performances in New York; extensive list of national venues, public exhibitions in high-end galleries and museums; and international residencies.

In closing, I felt the message conveyed that as an artist he follows “internal suggestions” throughout his creativity, which leads to open doors, and it is best to remain open-minded and determined.

Written & Photographed by: Jennifer Carrera Turner

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