The magic of the work of British painter Mark Demsteader resides not only the depiction of form, but is also found in a profound sense of absence.
This distinctive way of working developed from the artist’s process and interest in portraiture. Classical painting techniques and academic drawing comes together in an elemental storminess. This windy wash of paint reminds me of the fury of the paintings of the nineteenth century painter J.W. Turner — look closely at the texture and see these strange skies of water and moody gales.
It’s fairly interesting to think about these two painters together, if only to make note of the use of abstraction in tandem with the expression of emotion and sensation.
And yet, in his work Demsteader allows a tension that adds to the very contemporary beauty of his work by showing models who evoke a sense of stillness, and this quietness is overwritten by these abstract areas of paint, a classicism made modern.
From childhood, Demsteader enjoyed drawing and looked to the masters and classical painting to hone his skills, with special attention to the depiction of faces, the artist noting that he… “found the rest of just time-consuming so I left those bits out. Gradually I realized that by not putting in all the details I could lead the viewer’s eye to the important parts.
RB: You have painted both celebrities and ordinary people. Who is the most interesting person you have painted? Why?
MD: I have been lucky enough to have painted many different people over the years, but to be honest I am always caught up in looking at tone line and color i sometimes forget who they are individually.
RB: I have to say, I rather love that response, one certainly imagine the intensity of the painting process, however may I ask –in terms of models, what draws you to a particular person?
MD: I usually look for the bone structure, as I use high contrast lighting so this does seem to have an effect on the outcome.
RB: I really love seeing the in process photos on Instagram. In general, what is your working technique? Materials, process, and atelier techniques?
MD: It’s actually quite random, I start very abstract with lots of texture using paint and wax and scrapers etc then I usually use glazing, and refine at the end. I don`t have a set process.
RB: You focus mostly on the expression of feminine sexuality and beauty –at the centre of critical discussion of this genre is the idea of gaze, e.g. the male viewpoint and the feminine subject. Of course, good work supersedes this discussion, and I do not think one can categorize either way entirely, rather your work seems to incorporate the experience of sexuality in a way that expresses the feelings of both genders. What are your thoughts?
MD: I use the female form primarily because it seems to express emotion more subtly than the male form, I don’t focus on any particular gender viewpoint but rather use the abstract forms of color tone and line to describe the mood.
The portraiture includes both drawings and paintings, often in pastel and oil paint, all defined by negative space, as well an elegant use of line, and unfinished surface. The work is an admixture of classical painting techniques, abstraction and a certain element of eroticism, particularly in the Moorland series. Swathes of flame like color act as suggestive play of veiling and revealing. Of this series, Narcotic remains perhaps the most captivating, reflecting the artist’s fascination with the stories of Greco-Roman mythology.
“Narcotic is related to the story of Echo and Narcissus. Narcissus was cursed by the gods and made to fall in love with his own reflection so he died trying to find true love. His blood seeped into the ground and from that grew the Narcissus plant, which is beautiful on the outside but poisonous within. From there we derive the word Narcotic which in the modern sense is about chasing something special that shall eventually destroy you. These themes and ideas that have an undercurrent of melancholy that can be read across the ages and is in fact, relevant today.” (Mark Demsteader)
Indeed, much of Demsteader’s work holds a certain darkness shown in part as a shadowy chiaroscuro. The subjects seem to emerge from nocturnal wells of pigment, evoking feelings of sorrow and reverie, resulting in an intimacy that seems both powerfully sensual and sensitive. The artist sees this way of working as an expression of melancholia, a way of showing senses and emotions, beyond the formalities of realism.
Image via Instagram, Artist’s studio
The artist’s work shall be on view in the show Mark Demsteader Drawings, Panter & Hall, London 23 February – 3 March 2017
You may also view more work on the artist website or follow Mark on Instagram for lovely posts of works in his atelier.
Image via Instagram, Artist’s studio