Mark Dicey was one of the first teachers I encountered when I came to Alberta to finish my degree at ACAD. What I remember best about his class was how receptive and and genuinely interested he was in his students views and explanations of their own work. Mark is an artist whose curiosity, openness to experiment and collaborative spirit have served him well, providing him with a wealth of ideas that are evident in his work.
I meet Mark at his home on a sunny summer afternoon, the garden is in full swing, and his studio, a converted garage is in the middle of it and full of light, a brilliant flowering peony is blooming amidst the paint brushes. The small space has been carefully organized, and works in various stages lean against the walls ready for first marks and finishing touches. I am offered San Pellagrino, and we spend an hour or so chatting about the various lives he has lived as a musician and artist, and how grateful he is now to work steadily as a painter, and to have that work sustain him.
In his house, the walls are lined not only with his own artwork, but with the artwork of friends and former students, all beautifully framed by his wife Gisa. His testing wall, where a recently finished work hangs, is not painted gallery white as one might expect, but vivid red.
How long have you been working in this studio space, what are the benefits of having a space that is part of where you live.
27 years. Prior to that I had a number of studios with the Burns Visual Art Society in the Neilson building downtown Calgary (now demolished). I did love having a studio around other artists at the time and above Off Centre Centre (now The New Gallery). It was a good hub of creative activity that I thrived on. Having a studio at home was a necessary change, having my practice and my home life more connected (raising two fabulous children together with Gisa, my wife). I was able to convert a garage to suit my needs and it has worked very well for me since. It allows me to have close access to what I am working on and to be able to make good use of my time – day or night. The independence of having a private studio is important to me now. Working on my paintings or just spending lots of time thinking and looking at them is treasured to me. If I do not have a lot of time to get back into the studio, because of other commitments, I have easy access to have a quick look at what is being worked on. These fast snapshots of the work are so important so I can continue thinking on the direction of the work. The back and forth interaction with the piece I am working on is complex and is at times super exciting. At other times it is enduring and intensely thought provoking to work out how to react and/or make the next move (or not). I love the studio process to pursue my chosen discipline – painting and abstraction. The language of abstraction is both my own and has its ties to the wonderful history of abstract painting, painting in general, and the creative process.
What is essential to your work?
Time and materials are essential to my work. Also friends, family and health. Living in the moment is so important to me. To appreciate all and try to keep all my senses keen to the creative life journey.
I met you first at ACAD when you were teaching a drawing class, and had the impression at the time that your practice was made up of a lot of different ways of working, drawing, multi media and even some music, which for me really made sense. It seems as though you now have a much more singular focus to the work you are making, what brought that about?
This was not just an impression- it was that way for many years. I have always followed my instincts and always kept an open mind to influences, opportunities and people I cross paths with. Prior to my visual art studies I was a musician in a number of bands (drums/percussion). Always with a passion for the visual arts. When I went to art school, it just felt right to tear off any blinders one might have to totally explore what and where making and performing could go. While keeping a keen eye on what was happening internationally in the art scene as well as to art history in general, I wanted to do as much as possible under the presented circumstances – hence my leaning towards the artist run centre structure. The people I met, the art I was seeing and the opportunities for me through this structure were all so exciting. If one worked hard and with passion, the doors were/are open to what you should be doing – choices- even if those choices are to hide out in your studio and disappear into your work.
Can you tell me about some of things you do and and collaborations you are part of that feed into your practice as an artist – we spoke about Drunken Paw, and The Antelope fencing project (the name of which I now cant recall) As well as your animator friend.
Besides my solo studio practice, collaboration with other artists feeds me creatively and opens up my thinking because of the sharing, melding and reconfiguring that takes place with two or more minds. Presently the collaborations I work in are drunken paw (MD, Leslie Sweder and Janet Turner) http://www.drunkenpaw.com/ and the Aeolian Recreational Boundary Institute (Christina Greco, Doug Haslam, Michael Benoit and myself). http://www.arbinstitute.com/
drunken paw makes drawings together in either a single sitting or over a period of time in a number of sessions. While we are together, we are working on three different drawings and rotate the drawings between us. We love this collaborative group because we can pursue such different work than what we would each make ourselves in our individual practices. There is no dominant person out of the three of us and the pieces progress with equal investment and exploration from us all. Ego must be set aside for this process to properly develop.
In ARB Institute, this group of artists have an interest and passion for both the land and nature. We volunteer with other groups (Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Fish and Game and others) to work on projects such as the Pronghorn Antelope friendly fencing project. We then have created “art” projects out of this such as projections, installations and speaking at conferences. In a philosophical way we see all of the activities as a part of our ongoing artistic practice. When out in the field volunteering with the groups, we are replacing bottom strand barbed wire for smooth wire and spacing the remaining barbed wire up the posts. This takes place on ranch land, private, provincial and federal where research has shown the migratory routes of the Pronghorn Antelope and how creating more free access to them, has benefitted. See the website for more.
Throughout my career I have been a part of numerous art bands and performance groups – mostly free improvised music and noise bands and performance art. Street of Crocodiles, scum de terre, tokyosexwhale, the Skep(tic)Ks and Group… Just to name a few. Presently I continue to work with Lyle Pisio (musician, animator, artist) mainly on a project of his which is animation. Stay tuned – hard toget into details here but will be available to see in 2015 – http://www.lilyposie.ca/
Again in the area of collaboration – At the end of July 2014 I am part of the EMMA International Collaboration in Saskatchewan (this will be my fourth time). 100 invited artists get together for 10 days out in the boreal forest of Saskatchewan. A fantastic melting pot of ideas, making, thinking and discussing. These sessions have always been so inspiring and enlightening to my own creative process. http://www.emmacollaboration.com/
I am 55 now and I figure there is nothing stopping me from diving back into some of these collaborative areas again when I am 60, 70 or 80… We shall see. Presently the few collaborations and my solo studio work is plenty for me to take on and allows me to focus, assess, live and provide the influences for the work.
You mentioned that earlier in your career your work appeared primarily in Artist Run Centres and now you are primarily working with Commercial galleries. How did that progression occur, and what was your feeling about moving from one kind of culture to another?
Much has changed and evolved in the gallery scene – there was a time when what you would see in an ARC would rarely be seen in a commercial space – now that is very different. Often any show one goes to see could easily slide into any exhibiting scene – ARC/Commercial/Public/Museum/Pop Up spaces. Calgary still has a strong ARC scene and pop up gallery scene which I love, respect and see as vital to a healthy arts community. It is fabulous when I see how this platform allows for so many artists in all stages of their careers to explore and show their work. I have had commercial representation for much of my 30 year career but always kept a balance between what I was up to and where the work was being shown. I enjoyed crossing back and forth to both ARC’s and commercial situations. Now my focus is to be in the studio and work towards shows in a commercial space and, in turn, public spaces and museums. I am just continuing to follow my instincts I guess. I think this is just a natural progression of my work. This opportunity presents itself to show the work and to be able to make money to live on and put back into the process. I don’t see one being any more valid than the other – commercial, ARCs, grass roots/independent or museum shows- they are all important and just a natural part of the process.
What keeps you painting?
Love of life and the people in my life. I still delve into my work with curiosity and passion. I thrive on this and it just makes sense that painting is the field for me to pursue this. Also integral is looking at art, researching and studying art through reading and travel.
What is your favourite part of the process?
Beginning. I have read this in a number of artist interviews over the years. The way the working process always leads one back to beginning again –not repeating oneself but jumping back in taking all of the influences and exploration onward.
At the same time I quite like the Francis Bacon (1561-1626) quote:
“If a man will begin with certainties, he will end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he will end in certainties”