Arts Listings

Mari Marks: Process with Natural Matter

By Peter Selz Special to the Planet
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 10:11:00 AM
A painting from the Mari Marks exhibit, on display through Sept. 3 at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
A painting from the Mari Marks exhibit, on display through Sept. 3 at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Mari Mark’s works, presently seen in a fine installation by Nicolas Ukranic at the Graduate Theological Union Library, are luminous encaustic paintings. Some are heavily textured, others reveal their smooth wax surface. Some are translucent, others appear opaque. They are open to free association by the viewer. They may suggest clouds, sand, rippling water, ploughed earth, heavy fog—everything from mountain ranges and deep canyons to bee hives and fingerprints. They can also evoke a sense of turmoil as well as a feeling of peace. A special luminosity seems to emerge from the material and the process employed by the artist. 

Many viewers want to know how a certain work of art was made, which is often quite irrelevant. In fact artists frequently do not wish to reveal the process. In Mari Marks’ encaustics the process is an essential part of the work. 

The paintings and studies were created by a slow, labor-intensive process using the organic materials of the earth itself. Marks begins each work by placing four to six layers of natural beeswax on her support. She then adds several additional layers of natural or pigmented beeswax, after which, using an engraving tool or scraper and powdered graphite, she engraves the desired pattern—rough or smooth deep or shallow—into the work, which is completed by the artist, placing it with slow hand movement under a heated lamp.  

Mari Marks studied life drawing with Richard Diebenkorn, when the latter taught at the University of Illinois, and, later with Elizabeth Murray. Over the years she has explored textured figurative work, made symbolic constructions and patterned nature paintings, until she arrived at her unique encaustics. Although she does not belong to any group or category, her work can be seen as related to Process Art, an international movement in which the creative process was the essential element of the work. These would include Joseph Beuys’ pieces, dealing with the experience of survival, Agnes Denes’ early Conceptual work, Richard Serra’s splashed lead sculptures, Evas Hesse’s serialized fiberglass works and Bruce Nauman’s linguistic games. Where Marks differs significantly from these works, called “Eccentric Abstractions” at the time, is that her art is palpably solid and the result of slow sequential operations. We are reminded of Alfred Whitehead’s saying that “Process and existence pre-suppose each other.” 



Through Sept. 3 at the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library, Graduate Theological Union, 2400 Ride Road. 649-2500.