All Too Human

Audio Transcript

Hi, my name is Mark Strickland, and I want to welcome you to the exhibition. I want to talk about my process and the inspiration for my process. My father had been a Disney animator and he had worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia. So when I was 5 years old, next to my bedroom, he had a studio with models. I could smell the oil paints and I used to take paper on the floor in the kitchen on my hands and knees and draw with the butcher paper on the floor. So, it was such a beautiful experience to see how happy he was and content when he would be painting. So I went into psychology because I wanted to know about what it is to be human: what it is about the human condition, why you have such a duality of crazy things that human beings have done, and such noble, kind, compassionate things, and why we are so different. So as a psychologist, I thought this is what I want to do. It’s been my life to understand. After I graduated from UCLA in psychology, I started to realize it was so academic and intellectual. I needed to have something more hands-on. So I went to Art Center College of Design afterwards. Inspired by the love that my father had put inside me and I saw that, as a great teacher of mine, Joyce Treiman, said, that an artist is an artist because they have to be an artist, so I saw that there was no other way for me. I had to express myself and find out about the human condition, the duality of human beings through art, through something that was more palpable, something more hands-on that I can feel. 

Audio Transcript

Having taught at Art Center College of Design for 34 years, I was blessed to have been awarded a grant three different times, a sabbatical, where I came to the South of France. The first one in 1992 was on the Island of Île d'Or for nine months and then the other, was in this area twice, for another 9 months. This is where I learned the second part of my process and inspiration which I would call layering. In my painting, there's the spontaneity that I first learned with the homeless people, having to draw them with immediacy before they got up and walked away. But coming here, I was completely drawn to something as an American, that I couldn't imagine in my life, something that's hundreds and hundreds of years old. This wall behind me is said to be as old as 600 years old. I started thinking, how do I do something that expresses layering of time. So I started building up coats of paint with different kind of textures. I also noticed that there was a layering process that made the paint thick, if I was going through something emotional. For example, when my father passed away, I was very much in remorse for months and months. So I did a self-portrait with my eyes looking down but the paint, I just added color and layering and coloring and layering. So there's the two sides of my process and my inspiration, which are the very spontaneous side and the very layered side, and I think that they work together. The spontaneous side informs the layered side so it doesn't become overworked, and the layered side informs the spontaneous side that it's not superficial but it has some depth in it. 

Resurrection of Liberty, 2009

Oil on canvas

The Choice, 2005

Oil on canvas

Audio Transcript

Because I have a psychology background, I was asked to teach a couple of different academic classes at Art Center and the favorite one that I ever taught was called Creative Dreaming. I want to discuss a little bit about a tool that you can use, for getting in touch with the possibility that you can do lucid dreaming. Think when you're just about ready to fall asleep. What happens to the mind? So for example, I’m thinking, I’m doing my taxes and I’m worrying about this and I’m worrying about that, but as you fall, as you start to fall asleep, the chatter of your mind stops, and you go into REM sleeping and you go into a completely different brainwave; but there’s a place, that is something to pay attention to, ‘cause each and every one of us can use this, and it’s between wakefulness and sleep. And at this place, everybody can do a form of lucid dreaming. This is a place where the mind stops the chatter but you haven’t fallen asleep yet and images that can come into your mind, especially if you are a visual person, are called hypnagogic images; and it’s the same thing in the morning when you’re waking up, you’re going from sleeping to wakefulness and your mind hasn’t started chattering and you can do the same thing again, and those are called hypnomonic images. There’s nothing wrong with the feeling of anger and violence, you know, because if you had so many things happen to you, that are so terrible, you’re supposed to feel that! But it’s what you do with it; and if you rise above, as far as you’ve fallen, the farther you’ve fallen, the higher you’ll raise above. The fact they came from such a dire situation, means that if they do rise above, they’ll rise way above the average middle-class person to being a real hero. All of these ideas come from dreams, come from daily solving the problem of the painting, using hypnagogic images, seeing what color would look better next to this color, what image would be next to that image, changing the colors and changing the images, just before falling asleep, you can do it, you can do it, but, I would like you to try to see if you can do hypnagogic images with your art, just before you fall asleep and hypnomonic images, the same thing. Visualize your painting, and change the color, and change the movement, and change the composition, just before you wake up.   

Tipping Point (or Sacrifice of a Grandfather), 2015

Bronze

Self-Portrait (Auto Portrait), 2009

Oil on canvas

Audio Transcript

I think it’s interesting to talk about the self-portrait in history. You have people like Rembrandt, who probably were the greatest artist of all time, and Michelangelo, and because he could use himself in the mirror as a model, he had a chance to practice. I don’t think anybody made more self-portraits than Rembrandt did, so he could really look deeply into the mirror, and he could experiment with light. I think, in terms of the thousands of hours that it takes to really learn how to paint, I was lucky because of 34 years at Art Center, I had a list of models, I could choose the models that I wanted and I could paint and draw in class with the students all day. So you end up, you know, doing five hour sessions. You do, maybe three times, you pass each of twenty students, you’re doing 60 drawings a day for five days a week, or 34 years, you’re doing thousands of hours, but to really investigate deeply into something like a portrait with lighting, you have to hire a model or have the patience of friends. So I think that the self-portrait, historically speaking, is one way that you can afford to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours examining how you want to change your style, your inspiration, and your painting. So I used the self-portrait really as a way to practice, and that’s all I can say. To be a, really a consummate artist, one has to spend thousands of hours, and when I think of, what I want to do with my work is that, I want the expression to be able to go, to be my own voice so, if I'm just copying Van Gogh, or I'm just copying Egon Schiele, or I'm copying Rembrandt, then, I just look like a ten thousand degree unoriginal person. I'm really using myself as a model that I can use to go through thousands of hours of practice so that I can study light and shadow, and brushstroke, and spontaneity, and create my own voice because, if I'm trying to use the self portrait for the very center of my self teaching so that I can come up with my own style and my own way of speaking. That I have a model anytime I want in a mirror and I can adjust lighting, and I can have reflective light, and change the color of the light, and have subtle light, and strong light, and strong brushstroke, and very subtle and transparent light, and so this, the portrait for me, always came first before the rest of the figure so, the style I used in the portrait was also the style I used in the figure.

Polish Mother, 2007

Oil on canvas

Armenian Father, 2007

Oil on canvas

Marguerite with Walker, 2005

Oil on canvas

Audio Transcript

I want to tell you about Marguerite – Marguerite was a magical being. Everyone felt that she was kind of a witch as she was kind of frightening a little bit, because she was unfriendly and she didn’t speak to anybody. She lived across the street from me. I had the most amazing experience meeting her and painting her over a long period of time. I tell you, she was a fantastic human being. I wrote an article on her called, “Visits with Marguerite” just after she passed away at 97. Just like a filmmaker is really trying to resource amazing people looking everywhere, when I found Marguerite, she was scary and people were afraid to talk to her and she would seem unfriendly. She’d come out in her walker and you could see in the painting, she has this scary stare out of the middle, out of the side of her eye. I would take, get, Marguerite after I persuaded her to model for me, and I would go in my Volvo. She'd come out in her walker. She’d sit in the car. I’d back all the way across her easement driveway, all the way down my easement driveway. And I remember because she had been a manicurist for mafia and really, really strong characters at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She’d considered herself a healer and this is why one portrait that I did of her, I called Spiritual Teacher. When she opened the gate of my studio property she said “Oh my God, I hear cosmic sounds,” and then she’d explain later how she hadn’t heard cosmic sounds for many years. So I can't talk enough about Marguerite because she was just an amazing character. I always left her avocados when I didn't have time to visit her. One time she even had me meet her spiritual master because, to make me worthy of being able to paint her because I was not spiritually in alignment. So I came over there and she was in her little party dress and there was an empty chair and there was nobody there. She really felt that her spiritual master was coming to visit me and he had to give her the signal that I was spiritually in alignment to be able to paint her.

Humanity in Crisis, 2004

Oil on canvas

Gaza, 2010

Oil on canvas

Audio Transcript

Let’s discuss an oxymoron: hope and human suffering. Why, if I have huge hope for humanity, would I focus so much on human suffering? I learned a lesson one day. I was going through something personal, as we all do, and I was quite miserable. Then I started thinking about my grandmother that I loved more than anybody in the earth and I started worrying about her and I noticed something really curious happened to me – as I started thinking about her, instead of my own misery, all of a sudden even though I started worrying, and feeling sad, and feeling compassionate, and emotional – my own misery lifted. So I saw a freedom that came from caring about somebody else beside myself. I see in humanity, this duality of these, metaphorically speaking, angelic qualities and monstrous qualities. I mean, I can see why someone would have revenge and feel hatred. I always look at it as a fist squeezing the heart and so the heart is anesthetized and doesn’t feel anything. But the beautiful thing about art, and music, and dance, and literature, and beautiful film-making, and experiencing nature, and good health, is that we have the opportunity to be able to have a choice. We can see two ways I can be, because I am human, and every horrible thing that has ever happened in history is in my genes, and every spiritual and wonderful lifted thing is in my genes. So basically, I have a choice and what I love about art and music and all of the arts is that it transcends borders. It transcends enmity between enemies.

Man Struggling with Himself, 2004

Oil on canvas

Audio Transcript

One thing I’m sure of in where you don’t have to be religious, if you love someone or you care about your children, you care about something. You feel something, that I feel is the highest quality of hope for the human being. I also feel through art, through the arts, through education, through companionship and raising family and children in a way to be a model for them to be a model as a teacher for friends – how to behave is a choice. It’s a very simple choice. It’s easier, in fact, to be light than it is to be heavy; but to be heavy is so compelling that it’s hard to bring ourselves out of that heaviness and lift ourselves up. I think it’s just a matter of being able to have that opportunity to show the duality and give people a choice. Because if the average person, which I really feel is good and this is why I have so much hope, can have that choice to be compassionate versus being anesthetized, I very much, am more than hopeful, I know that the average person will choose to be compassionate.

Crouching Man, 2004

Oil on paper

Hands in Supplication, 2007

Oil on canvas

Ink Painting 11, 2005

Ink on paper

Audio Transcript

Dr. Chen Jing’s performances and his movement and his huge Chinese brushes, that he would dip into a 300-year old bowl of ink, and then do Chinese brush on the floor with the movement and the composition was a huge inspiration for me. Where I took this into my own liberty, for my own expressionism, is that I started thinking in my dreams and in my sleep. I started thinking more and more that this brush, that can move so fluidly in all directions, can say anything that ever happened to anyone in history of humanity. So, why the Chinese brush? It’s because from the original scholarship of the tai chi, and the movement and the dance, that already I’m in love with, dancers and models that are dancers, and my own desire to move while I am painting and keep in a constant movement and a flow so that there’s a flow compositionally from the beginning to the end of a painting experience. What I love about the Chinese brush is that it’s unlimited in its expression and the way it was used by Dr. Chen Jing, in terms of tai chi and movement, that it’s unlimited in terms of dance, movement, and composition. 

Ink Painting 12, 2005

Ink on paper

Longing, 2007

Red charcoal on paper

Leap of Faith, 2016-2017

Bronze

Audio Transcript

In terms of Leap of Faith, you have her poised on one toe, with all of her muscles taut, and she’s reaching forward and she’s completely in movement: a leap of faith. And the question would be whether or not I’m inspired by dance in my work. And the answer is: always. The dancer doesn’t stay in one place on the stage. The dancer is moving through the stage and the dancer is relating compositionally to the corners and the signs. What I think is amazing composition is when you throw something off balance and then you barely save it. So this being out of balance with every step and barely saving it. So movement and dance and being out of balance and saving the balance and composition that moves through the stage, it’s all about dancing and it’s all about movement. So, I come to Leap of Faith, and she’s just barely, barely out of balance and she’s just saving it with one hand counterbalancing her forward and the other one back. 

Flying Fish (Improvvisazione Fibonacci), 2011

Oil on canvas

Audio Transcript

 I’ve been really fascinated with Fibonacci because I feel that Fibonacci’s formula, from the 12, Leonardo Fibonacci from the 1200s, came up with a formula, you can say for a spiral. You see double spiral for descending, the fall of human beings, and the ascending, the rising of human beings. It was the idea that it could be mathematical that if we fall, we fall mathematically and if we rise, we rise mathematically. A cloud, a wave is the same thing because when a cloud moves quickly, like in the movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, where they move quickly the clouds, they move like an ocean wave. So a cloud moves in an exact spiral of Fibonacci, flowers rise like Fibonacci, an ear is the shape of Fibonacci. One to 1.618 and mathematically you can see all of the parts of the painting expanding to one to 1.618, to create that spiral, and all of the body parts descending and ascending are all mathematically aligned on one to 1.618. So why do I call it flying fish? I had a dream during this time. And I dreamt that I was a flying fish underwater. I was stuck and I’m going along and I’m just kind of anesthetized. Then all of a sudden, I started moving upwards with enthusiasm because I saw the sparkling of the surface of the water in my dream. Then, I broke through the surface of the water and I open my wings and I said, “Oh my god, I’m a flying fish, I’ve been a flying fish for millennia.” And, don’t forget, because in the teachings of Ouspensky’s book, The Fourth Way, on the teachings of Gurdjieff. He says that you can’t remember a higher level of consciousness experience from a lower level of consciousness. You have to do something he calls, ‘self-remembering’. So we have to come back and remember what we knew and forgot. So in the last, I always use the Chinese brush to inspire the ink painting, to inspire the spontaneity of the classical painting. So the last figure is the one that raises consciousness and remembers like the person that I love so much, that I wanted to understand. Raise your consciousness and love yourself, and open your wings and fly and you’ll be healed. 

Raising of Consciousness, 2005

Oil on canvas

Audio Transcript

I had a place that I want you to put your nose on above and below. Above is abstract and it’s thirty inches, and it’s the full twenty-four foot length of the painting. And what above is and below are doing are the same concepts. So, the river is blocked in the red. The red is the alarm, okay? And this is where, the river becomes stagnant and sick. Below, you see that it’s a figurative version of the abstract version on top and everybody is kind of jammed. However, when we look at Garden of Earthly Delights of Hieronymus Bosch, in hell there’s a nun ringing a bell! So you can see on the bottom right of the red painting with your nose on it, there’s someone holding a child. So, there’s even compassion in hell. So what I, as you’re moving from left to right, you’re unblocking the flow which is also raising your signal input. And it’s my idea, that from my own experience, the less blocked I am, the more I can take the fist off my heart and the more compassion I can feel. So, you can see the figures along the bottom very compassionately holding each other and pulling each other and the eyes lowered, from red into orange, start looking upwards toward a higher consciousness and so that’s the idea, raising of consciousness. In the top, you can see the block become unblocked and kind of goes into a random flow in the orange and the yellow starts moving upwards. In the yellow, you start to feel compassion, you see the girl reaching up and touching the tear in the eye, because she has compassion because she’s opened her heart and then, everybody flows upward in the blue when she’s looking up. 

Libertas, 2014

Oil on burlap stretched over canvas

Audio Transcript

The word Libertas, is Latin for liberty, and there are references to the Statue of Liberty in the crown above the working man. I sometimes think of this as Inmigrantes en las Manos de Dios, Immigrants in the Hands of God. But it’s not God, he’s the spirit of the working man and in his hand, he’s holding his broken children, who may not get an opportunity. In his crown is hope of America but it has the thorn of rusted barbed wire; the same crown as the Statue of Liberty. It gives him hope of a better life in America. On the sides is the crossroads of poverty, of not being able to earn enough money for your family and work, whether in Mexico or here, in America. The crossroads came from a drawing of tents and camps in downtown Los Angeles and from the pen drawing, came the painting. On the left side you see the insidious beak of a vulture touching the ground because this puts life on the point of death. You see there is a sculpture of a young girl and she’s breaking through the fence to see her deported parents, her very identity, on the other side in Mexico. On the barbed wire, she cuts her eye and the blood goes into her eye and her hands are in prayer, praying to find them on the other side. On the spirit of the working man, on his left knee, is a big smile. It’s the smile of the hypocrisy. And in the teeth there are screws that are made of brass which are golden-colored, so it’s golden teeth smiling. Of those hypocritical people, who seem to look like they’re observing or that they care, but they really do nothing. 

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