When I view a Mark Lague painting, I am amazed wondering how in the world he creates them. Fortunately, now I have the opportunity to view one first hand whenever I want because my son and daughter-in-law recently purchased an original through the Smith-Klein Gallery in Boulder, Colorado.
I’ve followed Lague’s work for a long time, it is easily recognizable for there is no disputing his very distinctive style. It is difficult to categorize; it seems to walk a very fine line between total abstraction and realism. His paintings are filled with emotion and energy; crisp, hard edges contrast against the soft and indistinct. Paint is dragged, scraped, smudged, and splattered, creating a paint surface full of explosive, captivating energy that draws one in to explore more deeply.
Lague is a master at emphasizing what he considers important, and subordinating the rest. A Mark Lague painting cannot be ignored.
I am deeply honored that Mark agreed to this interview. I’m confident you’ll enjoy and appreciate this. (Please click images to enlarge)
How did your interest in art begin? My interest in art started very early on, I just didn’t know it at the time. I grew up in an environment heavy on sports, and I really wasn’t exposed to any art as a child. I did, however, draw constantly, I especially liked to draw portraits of hockey players from photos, and then draw small bodies underneath them.
What training did you receive? I really was mostly self-taught. The first art class I ever took was my last year of high school. Even later on, in CEGEP and university, my most valuable training was outside of class, working from models or just sketching people on the bus.
How would you define your role as an artist? I think my role as an artist is to cultivate my skills and knowledge to the best of my ability, and to go as far as the talent I was given will take me.
What do you hope to communicate through your paintings? Seeing as I consider myself to be a visual artist, anything I hope to communicate through my paintings is strictly to do with shapes, values and colours. Iconography is not a priority for me.
Master watercolor artist and teacher, Frank Webb once said, “vague impulses lead us to paint”. This seems to me to be the best summation I’ve heard of what drives us to become artists. I think that painting is a lifelong quest to communicate to the world in a language without words. It is incumbent upon all of us to remember that, while we will always come up short in this quest to communicate, it’s important to realise that it’s about the journey, and not the destination.
What is your definition of art? I guess my definition of art would be to put things together where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, regardless of medium or genre.
Your style is very unique and recognizable, how did that come about? My style came about through much experimentation and being influenced by many great painters. I think it’s important to not be overly influenced by others’ work, and try to avoid tricks and gimmicks, and your own true voice will eventually shine through.
How much of your work is intellectual vs. emotional, how would you define the difference? I like to think that there’s very little intellectual about my work. I try to let all that I’ve studied over the years come out subconsciously in my work. If the intellectual stuff is too much on the surface, the work tends to look pretentious. I guess the difference between the two would be that the emotional work is a response to what you’re feeling in the moment, while the intellectual is preconceived.
Cityscapes, worldwide, seem to be your primary focus, why that subject and how did that evolve? My aesthetic tends to gravitate towards man-made objects. I tend to thrive more with geometric shapes as opposed to the more organic. I think it evolved when I was younger just being fascinated by the way the light would hit the architectural elements on buildings.
What I look for most in a subject is good contrast and interesting shapes. I like to avoid anything to do with sentimentality.
Is it important that you view your subjects firsthand? I’d say that at this point in my career it’s not so important for me to view my subjects firsthand. I’ve spent so much time working from life and travelling with my camera that I have so much visual information stored up in my internal hard drive.
What helps you determine the focal point of a painting? I don’t usually need help in determining the focal point in a painting. It generally hits me over the head with a sledgehammer. If it’s not something that strikes me immediately, and I’m forced to try to find it, the painting is almost never successful.
Please explain your painting process. I think the best way to explain my painting process, is something a student once said to me, that it appears that I am constantly building up areas of the painting only to tear them down. The trick is knowing which areas to build up, which to tear down, and most importantly, when to put the brushes down.
What colors are typically on your palette? Permalba White, transparent oxide red, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, Indian yellow, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, yellow ochre pale, permanent green, phthalo green, Manganese blue hue.
How do you determine the dominate color scheme for a painting and how do you maintain it? I will often determine the dominant colour in a painting completely randomly. I will lay in a large mother wash with a big flat brush and squeegee out my lights from there. This gives an overall foundation of one colour, where I can play off the opposite hue and temperature at a roughly 1/3 to 2/3 ratio.
How does your style reflect your personality? I think that my work reflects my personality in the way that it illustrates my ability to be simultaneously the most, and least organized person I know.
Please put these words in order: drawing, values, framing, color, composition, technique, concept. Values, values, values, drawing, composition, concept, technique, color, framing.
If you could spend the day with any three artists, past or present, who would they be? Even though I am primarily an oil painter, I would love to spend the day with watercolour masters, Charles Reid, Frank Webb, and Alvaro Castagnet.
If you were stranded on an island, which three books would you want with you? “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri, “Hawthorne on Painting” by Charles Hawthorne, and “Painting what you Want to See” by Charles Reid.
How would you define “success” as an artist? While having financial success as an artist is nice, I think that true success would be to find yourself in an environment where every painting that you do is 100% your own pure expression, without any outside, commercial pressure. It’s probably not possible for any artist to truly get to that point, but it’s something we should all strive for.
What are the differences between the American and Canadian art markets? I think the biggest difference between the Canadian and American art markets, is that there seems to be a thriving collector culture in the USA. In Canada, at least for the type of work that I do, the art market is pretty much nonexistent.
To view more of Mark Lague’s work, please click HERE.
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