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Mark Thompson in the studio

JMG is so pleased to have Mark Thompson's work as a part of The Peace of Wild Things (Inspired by Wendell Barry's poem).

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Born in the Fenlands of Eastern England (1972), Mark went on to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. His early memories of the land informed his studies, and he continues to explore the inextricable link between landscape and memory in his current body of work. After completing his degree at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1997, he won first the Duveen and then the Rootstein Hopkins travel scholarships, which took him to Iceland, Norway and Finland. Mark’s experiences in these harsh Nordic landscapes inspired his first solo exhibition at the Proud Galleries in London (1999).


Since that first show, Mark has been the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships, including the Gilchrist Fisher Landscape Painting Award, the Villiers David Award, and most recently a Pouch Cove Foundation residency. Mark’s paintings have been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions in Europe and America. His work is represented in public and private collections, including the Government Art Collection of Great Britain and Microsoft collections. 

1.     What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

The three books that have stayed with me over the years are interrelated, and all came into my life in the same year. The first is Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Høeg. It was released, I believe, during my third year at Art School (1996), and I carried it with me for the metro and train journeys in and out of central London. It entered my life as I was struggling with my inbuilt desire to understand and work with landscape in a world of abstraction, and the main character’s relationship with the world released my anxiety at accepting it in myself. 

The second book acted as a non fiction accompaniment to the first. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez is the quintessential travel book/poetic journal/life reflection. It’s a beautiful book in almost every way, and even though I might not open its pages, I take it with me every time I travel. 

A book of poetry is in some ways the obvious way to round out this trio. Both the novel and travel journal seek ways to describe the world that gets to the root of things, and Selected Poems by Seamus Heaney does likewise. His ‘hands in the soil’ approach to words often come back to me whilst working; the poem Tollund Man takes me back to my childhood in East Anglia, but also forward to an expanded sense of time.  

Without these three book, my life would be a shade less chromatic.


2.     What are you currently working on?

My studio was recently carved out for exhibitions, but the empty walls allowed me a space to foresee imagery before it comes fully into focus. I am now in the process of adjusting the early stages of my painting process to accommodate the new thoughts; specifically moving from a monochromatic to a full colour underpainting. My next step is to stop chasing the memories that are just out of reach, and let them return to me unforced. 


3.     How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

Failure seems to be the ghost in the machine of a life in painting. It’s with me all the time in the studio as I chase images and colour choices, but as the years pass I have come to welcome the errors and missteps. Each presents a problem to solve that moves things forward. In many ways the paintings are built from failures corrected. In a macro context I remember opening an exhibition the day the second gulf war broke out. Needless to say, nothing sold. It was a useful lesson that I have carried forward: to persist in the art life you need to be bloody minded enough to do it come what may, and decouple your sense of success from money. 

4. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Vermeer! His method and patience would give me plenty of time to pick his brain about his rendering of light. On the other end of the spectrum, I love the portrait paintings of Frank Auerbach. His dogged pursuit of painterly truth would be a joy to witness.  


5.     What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

I recently replaced my studio table with a garage workbench. It has a pegboard back for hanging up tubes of paint, a glass top that has become my palette, and an under shelf for tools. It’s such a fundamentally useful thing for me, I can hardly believe I waited so long to upgrade!

My studio is a large square room in my home. I love working from home and even though I’m not really a working through the night kind of artist, it’s useful to visit the paintings first thing in the morning. Seeing them in the half light gives me a true sense of their value structure, which I can take forward into my studio day.

Despite’s its functionality, my studio still manages to be a cozy space. My dog is generally curled up in the corner by the door, or bringing me a ball to throw. It’s definitely a refuge where my creative life can play out. 


6.     When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

I remind myself that the average attention span is forty five minutes at the very most, so if my ability to look closely or mix the right colour dips out, I can forgive myself for the lapse. I work long hours, but I’m generally at peace in the studio. Coffee is my studio fuel, and the pause to make a fresh cup often resets my mind. My mood is heavily affected by sound, so changing what I’m listening to is generally enough to jump tracks into a more positive frame of mind. 


7.     Who/What influences your work?

As I get older I’m forced to admit something that I previously didn’t give a lot of credit to. My environment leeches into me and comes out through the paintings. It seems obvious, but it took me a long time to realize that my work comes from both within and without. On a practical note, I keep my studio mostly free of other images and objects, but there are a few postcards that are a permanent fixture. There’s a Whistler nocturne, the death mask of William Blake by Francis Bacon, St Matthew and the Angel by Caravaggio, and The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault. Each shows me that everything is possible in painting if you just work hard enough.  


8.     Do you collect anything?

I used to collect cameras, but with all the moves I’ve made in my life I tend to travel a little lighter these days. That said, I do have a bit of a brush obsession. With my ever growing interest in the technical aspects of painting, the tools of my trade have become very dear to me. All pigments behave differently, so finding the right brush to get them to do what I want is a very welcome challenge. Black Sables from DaVinci Brushes are my current obsession!  


9.   What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

I mentioned this in a previous question, but I think it’s worth restating: No matter what the art world seems to suggest, money is not bound up with success. The search for meaning is not unique to art, but in the grand span of time you have a chance to at least approach the question. Being in the arts might be a self imposed identity crisis, but it’s also an enormous privilege. With all that in mind, paint what you truly love. 

10.   In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice? 

The most useful realization of the past five years is self acceptance. The results of this have been manifold, but accepting myself for what I actually am rather than what I think I am, has really helped open my mind. I have been able to open my practice in various ways with the knowledge that I can turn my heart’s eye to anything and it will still reflect me. I can let colour bloom in the work, take out direct perspective, or leave it in; the work improves exponentially when I allow myself to be free with both input and output.  

11. Share an inspiring image.

James May Gallery | 2201 N Farwell, Milwaukee, WI | 262-753-3130

The Peace of Wild Things featuring Mark Thompson, Clare Doveton, Craig Clifford, and Debbie Kupinsky runs until Dec 28th.

See more of Mark Thompson's paintings: ARTSY-Thompson

See what is happening at the gallery:

Please continue to support us by visiting us in person at our new location: 2201 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee or check out our Artsy page.

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HOURS: Tues-Thur 10:30-5:30 Fri 11- 5:30 Sat 10:30-5:30


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