A Living Canvas – Introducing Mark Stephenson

Categories: ASC, Blog

By Amy Bareham
Cultural & Community Investment Intern

Art is remarkably accommodating.

Somewhere along the way, we decided we could only approach her wearing the hat of artist, historian, scholar, elitist – but she waits for us regardless of our background, beckoning us to please, come as we are.

Perhaps that’s why many of our Community Supported Art participants are so candid about their own complex art journeys. Mark Stephenson is one such participant. Currently residing in Salisbury, Stephenson admits painting was never actually the plan.

With degrees in engineering and music from Pfeiffer University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he originally wanted to pursue a career as an opera singer. After relocating to New York City in the 90’s he discovered the Art Students League. Shortly thereafter Stephenson’s career as a painter took off.

“Johna Edmonds, Miss North Carolina 2013” by Mark Stephenson.
“Johna Edmonds, Miss North Carolina 2013” by Mark Stephenson.

“I’ve been drawing since I could pick up something to draw with…that’s an ubiquitous explanation, but it’s true,” said Stephenson, who dedicates most of his time to portrait painting because he finds people and their mannerisms interesting. It is engaging, he explained, to see someone in repose and feel a sudden urge to capture that.

Surprisingly, when sitting for a portrait it isn’t all stiff smiles and a neck ache. Stephenson prefers it when a subject allows his or her character to shine through. Then, a vivacious composition emerges.

“Our mind is a movie camera, we mold all these images into one visual sensation – if you’re capturing that with paint, they’re living and moving and breathing,” he said. “You’re creating a living thing on canvas…if you get the essence of what’s there, you capture life.”

Simply put, a portrait is not a photograph.

We’re accustomed to seeing the world through photos, but a painting is a work in and of itself, and an artist looking at the totality of a subject will focus more on depicting spirit than anatomy. This might seem dicey, but Stephenson believes “a good painting has an element of risk to it.”

In conjunction with portraits, Stephenson enjoys landscape painting. His proposal for the CSA project was a series

“Sand path Early morning” by Mark Stephenson.
“Sand path Early morning” by Mark Stephenson.

of rural images painted on recycled materials. He will complete 50 12-x-12 landscapes on wood from an old barn, part of a North Carolina property believed to originate from around 1850.

While it isn’t exactly easy to sketch on wood, the roughness lends the pieces distinct character. As an artist Stephenson said he is still branching out, but he’s excited about the dynamism of Charlotte.

“You’ve gotta have a thriving arts community,” he said. “It’s a barometer of the health of a region, an area. Diversity is a great thing in every way, otherwise we stagnate.”

To see Stephenson’s gallery, click here.