“When this sky is dead, will they give us a new one?” – Martin Amis, Einstein’s Monsters
Imagine, because at times it might seem terribly appealing, that art was obliterated by a holocaust of unspeakable and nefarious dimensions. Each painting, sculpture, video and photograph becoming so many black feathers blocking out the sun and moon. An annihilation of ornament and style.
It would take aeons to discover the cultural artefacts of our time, and longer than that to uncover their sources and derivations. Let Mark Delong be the first artist to begin working on a post-apocalyptic clean slate. Set aside those things your brain thinks it knows and just let him be the first artist to crawl out of the morass of filth and putrefaction with the following: a pencil, a video camera, a paintbrush, clay and colours.
Mark moved into my house in Vancouver around 2004. I thought he was mute. He played chess on- line most of the day. Once he shaved his head a bit too short, and I saw that he had tattoos of shapes on his skull. Ten years later I’ve gotten to know Mark very well, so this is not an impartial essay. I think Mark is a singular and exceptionally gifted artist. He speaks a bit more now. He’s given up on chess. What I’ve seen Mark do is get very good at something, and then put it away. I see him doing this with art as well. It’s a quality I admire, and have found is often present in the work of people who I think are creatively gifted.
Mark didn’t go to art school. This is part of why he’s so good. Nobody should really go to art school, unless they need art school. When I met him he was making small intuitive drawings, that were similar to other work being made in Vancouver at that time. A decade later, Mark is making work that nobody else in the world is making. That I can’t imagine anyone else in the world has even considered making. So let him be the first new artist after the death of this dimming star, at least until you’re done reading.
Mark recently showed a video, just over two minutes, which is about how long a video should be, called ‘Powerful Bitch’. The video is of a runway show with all of the classic original supermodels, but the sound it’s synched to is from a dog show. Long legged, far seeing, very athletic, conical shaped head. This is Nadja Auermann. They should look like a gazelle in outline, long legged, short backed. This is Yasmeen Ghauri. Shalom Harlow is a big winning bitch. It’s two minutes of total brilliance and, something sadly lacking in art, extremely hilarious. Other fifteen second videos (ideal) show Mark attempting to cook bacon and wash dishes using a bone inside of his sleeve instead of his hand. Horrifying, funny, abject, bizarre. All great adjectives I’m thrilled to be able to use.
For two years, Mark has made his own calendar that he gives to friends and sells. Denzel Washington has been on the cover both years. 2014’s cover features the inspirational quote “If him hit you hit him back.” Denzel Washington is also always in a frame on the front door of whatever house Mark is living in with his family. The months are not chronological, there are various made up holidays, and here are some of them: April 9th is Slip into Coma (Natural Holiday), followed just 3 days later on the 12th by the holiday Slip out of Coma. August 1st, (August coming two months after April) is Daniel Day Lewis Day. August 29th is The Sunniest Day of the Year. On the 27th of December we’re encouraged to ‘Discover the true meaning of Boxing Day Day’. On the 5th of February ‘You are a Lucky Waitress’. On the 16th of the same month, we celebrate ‘Dan is So Stupid Day (UK only)’ which has been moved from September for 2014. On January 11th, which was my father’s birthday, we aptly celebrate ‘You Have Become a Huge Problem.’ The year goes on similarly for quite a while, with no order to the months, making the calendar absolutely pointless but littered with days off for us all.
Mark doesn’t care about what you think so he often publishes his own books. Recently he published the long awaited ‘The Bloke With One Thousand Fingers.’ This book is full of more comedic gems and bizarre, stupid and beautiful drawings. It also contains one line that breaks my heart and should be the only artist’s statement, as well as philosophy for living, that many of us should follow – Paint What you Can with The Paint in Your Can.
Mark makes ceramics that are lovely as well – truly intuitive, wonky, poetic and beautiful. I’ve written about them before though. Right now what is most singularly unique about Mark and his work are his paintings. Abstract painting is ubiquitous right now. Either large and quasi-minimalist, or ugly, messy and trampled in quotations. Mark is self-taught at everything – this is a wonderful thing. He isn’t bothered or preoccupied with “concerns” in painting. He isn’t “wrestling” with art history. He isn’t doing anything a lot of contempo- rary painters are doing. By that I mean he isn’t making bad paintings. He’s making really good ones. Mark can be obsessive, so this obsessiveness is evident in the pictures he makes. To be obsessive is only helpful as an artist. Certain motifs appear again and again then vanish. Like chess gambits he repeated then lost interest in. The shape of a duck’s face. A certain series of paintings that all contained the same bizarre and beautiful green dot. When I was last in Vancou- ver a painting he’d made stopped me dead and I told him I had to have it. So he gave it to me; I momentarily felt guilty but then he said it was no big deal, he’d just make it again. It’s a painting of what looks like a heraldic crest or a Penn- sylvania Dutch hex symbol. An Indian red rectangle, cut off at the bottom with a rectangle of white, the upper four fifths depicting a circular flower shape made of white and black, cut in with red. When I last saw photos of his work I saw that he did make it again. Maybe a dozen times. Each one slightly different, each one differently beautiful and touching. Recently he’s been putting two paintings together inside of homemade frames, forcing a juxtaposition and relationship between images that otherwise have little in common.
The most honest appraisal I could give of Mark as an artist, is that he is absolutely fearless, and that he pushes himself into uncomfortable places to see what he can do there. That he’s not encumbered by a specialization, and that his mind is both endlessly moving and statically fixated. These are rare and special qualities – the result being that of the very few artists in Canada right now making work that stands out, Mark stands out glaringly, unapologetically, and with an explicably dogged relentlessness in the face of his work being so very out of time. I write this on the 31st of May, 2014, which is, according to the calendar on my wall, the day that I “shoulda bought a white pencil for a tool in May, from Rath in April, fool.”