I am not known for my fast decision making skills, but I should be. I am the type of person that knows what ice-cream they want to order before they arrive at the counter. It’s a blessing and a curse depending on who you ask.
This innate decisiveness came into effect recently when I came across Sydney-based artist Mark Alsweiler. My friend showed me a photo of one of his sculptures on Instagram, and less than five minutes later I had emailed him asking to a) buy one and b) feature his work. The appeal was instant.
Originally from New Zealand, Mark studied design at Otago University in Dunedin with the hopes of following a career in graphic design. As an avid skateboarder and snowboarder, Mark was drawn to the ‘artsy’ part of these subcultures, and how they integrated design into their equipment, merchandise and lifestyle. After graduating, Mark started making paintings for fun. One of his friends bought one. His friend’s boss, who was a bit of an art collector, noticed Mark’s work and encouraged him to paint more, with the promise of exhibiting his work. So he did.
Mark says his transition from graphic design to fine art was also marked by a trip to the United States. ‘The trip opened my small town eyes up to the world and made me want to live in a city with lots of creative stuff going on,’ he says. He moved to Sydney, and eventually had his first solo show at China Heights Gallery. It’s now been seven years since he made the big move across the Tasman.
Mark’s practice combines both painting and sculpture. He says the paintings came first, but now the two riff off each other, and there is a lot of cross over between the two. Mark’s work is very character based, you might see the same eccentric character in a painting, and then spot it reimagined as a 3D sculpture.
An affinity with folk art informs Mark’s aesthetic. ‘I like work that is a bit not quite right or a bit quirky,’ he says. ‘I take influence from loads of things, such as ancient Egyptian sculptures, old and new architecture, and popular culture. My approach is to mix many things together to create something new.’
Mark carves his sculptures by hand using salvaged wood. When creating them, he has a general idea of what he wants each silhouette to be, but admits the process is often pretty loose. ‘They always comes out slightly different than what I imagined’ he says. After the initial shape has been formed, he refines it with a hammer and chisel, giving each sculpture its own unique traits, before sanding and painting each one by hand. ‘That’s the fun part,’ he says.
Over the years Mark has established a following, and regularly exhibits with Mild Manners Gallery in Sydney. Later this month he will be travelling to Ireland for a residency, and then heading to San Francisco for a solo exhibition at the end of November as part of the RVCA Artist Network Program. On returning to the country that first kick started his shift into fine art, Mark says, ‘I’m really looking forward to heading back there, lots of good ideas come about when you are out of your daily routine.’