New York-based, Australian painter Mark Chu is exhibiting his latest, vast body of work, OPUS at Abbotsford’s Marfa Gallery this weekend.
Currently completing his Master’s in Fine Arts at Columbia University, Chu returns to Australia to exhibit a collection of 80 works created in his New York studio, and a book of paintings Layers, Jumbled.
These works explore the possibility of abstraction and comment on disparate periods of painting. He says,
“Artworks should display a thoughtful worldview, one that eschews gimmicks and pursuit of status. I want to be an artist that does a lot. I hope this show displays compelling results of experimentation and labor. I want OPUS to exhibit deep and justified art.”
Chu takes a unique approach by inviting his subjects to offer insight into their own artistic endeavors and sense of visual style. Through long conversations, the subjects not only choose what will be in the book but also advise on the colour, formatting and tone, so that the final product is one of collaboration.
We spoke to Mark Chu this week about the honor of bringing his new work home to Melbourne, about American life and the common threads contained within OPUS:
TGW: You’re showing OPUS in Melbourne for the first time this week at Marfa Gallery. How are feeling about presenting such a vast collection of your work on home soil?
MC: In the last four years I’ve only spent about two months in Melbourne, there’s so much I miss about the place. It feels a great honor to show the people of Melbourne, as well as my friends and family, my new work. And not just the work, but the feelings and thoughts behind the work. I think an important part about loving a city is bringing all the treasures of the world to it, so I hope all the ideas I’ve learned in New York and elsewhere are worth offering to Australians. Melburnians are also aesthetically very forward on the global scale, which means there’s pressure to deliver quality images!
TGW: How have you changed most since moving to the States from Australia?
MC: I know more about Americans. I didn’t realize that in Australia we had been advertised a bundle-pack of stereotypes. Though a lot of the stereotypes are even truer in the flesh, many smaller cities get left off the billboards, out of Hollywood, out of the news. Places where industrial might has fallen to the wayside and financial decay has set in, these are the places I discovered for myself. Getting a temperature of what’s going on there (Trenton, Detroit, Baltimore) is a responsibility I consider mandatory for all who live in USA.
Many folks in these cities–in NYC too–have a tough life but are still resilient. They live frill-free. No cafe lattes, no designer jeans, barely any travel. In these cities I often see a decency and dignity above those with more, coupled with some hairy tension, violence and rage. To an outsider, it’s moving. There’s an austere majesty. Perhaps I’m a voyeur in this way, but I do believe curiosity for people’s hardships is a strong step forward in understanding one another. Americans in general work very hard, so hard they often don’t require many friendships to balance their lives, which is different to Australians. They are also very skilled bureaucrats, and seem to relish in endless paperwork and rules.
TGW: Of course OPUS is a musical term for a set of compositions. What makes this a set, for you? Is it that the entire collection was created by you in NYC? Or does it being a ’set’ refer to the subjects or themes contained within in it?
MC: I like to think of the works in OPUS as a set because they are varied, but with common threads. Some of those threads are aesthetic–similar lines, colors, shapes crop up in different paintings. To me, it’s always cool and satisfying to see something crop up in different ways across different paintings. There’s a puzzle element to it. There are emotional threads too, startled looks, shock, surprise, sorrow, dreaming, nightmares, contemplation. There’s plenty of joy in my life but I don’t paint happiness because I don’t know how to do a happy mouth without it looking absolutely ridiculous! Cartoons are better for joy, maybe I’ll move to cartoons one day.
TGW: Roughly how long does it take you to complete one portrait or artwork?
MC: Well, sometimes a painting can take two hours, and sometimes it can take twenty. It depends on the work. Earlier on I thought a painting had to take a lot of time for it to be good. Thinking like that sent a lot of paintings to the garbage. It isn’t the time you spend applying paint that counts, it’s the artistic intelligence you’ve been mustering your entire life.
“Earlier on I thought a painting had to take a lot of time for it to be good. Thinking like that sent a lot of paintings to the garbage.”
When I start painting I generally don’t break for at least four hours. I drink one iced coffee very slowly over this time. I try not to use the bathroom or eat, and the worst thing I could imagine is having a beer while painting. When I listen to music — if no one is around– I love to dance sitting down and sometimes this can bring a rhythmic bop to the work, particularly when listening to one piece of music on repeat. If I finish a work in a day I probably won’t start a new one–maybe I’ll visit a gallery, which is many times more important than any one day of work.
I actually never ‘get’ inspired–when I begin sketching or painting, the first lines guide the second, and it goes from there. The image is constructed a bit like how a good conversation works; response after response, free-flowing. I paint with haste because, for one, efficiency is always desirable, to make more time for either leisure or other work. For two, I use a lot of medium (what you mix paint with; water, for instance), so I have to beat it drying. There’s a mechanical element to painting which people don’t often turn their eye to–steady hands, unstrained backs, clear eyes. It’s physically demanding to paint for a long time so you want to get the most out of yourself and your days under the sun!
“There’s a mechanical element to painting which people don’t often turn their eye to — steady hands, unstrained backs, clear eyes.”
A painting exhibition by Mark Chu
Level 1/288 Johnson Street, Abbotsford, Vic
Opening Hours: Friday 2 February – Sunday 4 February -12-6pm
Discover more at www.instagram.com/markbochu