Mark Smith on Nature’s Details

Mark Smith (born 1976) has worked in the Arts Project Australia studio since 2007, maintaining a prolific body of work across painting, ceramics, mixed media, video and soft sculpture. His figurative work often utilises ceramics, pertains to the human body and binds itself to his exploration of the human condition. While he is better known for his 3D work, his practise also extends to two-dimensional depictions of nature. 

In this interview, Mark Smith discusses his recent small-scale landscape work Not titled (2019), created in watercolour and ink on paper. An Autumn scene inspired by his daily bike-ride, his study of human nature is explored as he reinterprets scenes from everyday life. Smith discusses creating landscapes from his imagination, which allows details to flourish in a fluid and vibrant fashion. As he speaks on the individuality of each branch and leaf, we are reminded of his words from a few years ago. Talking about his interest in the imperfections of nature, Smith stated, “The thing I like about landscapes and nature, things like mountains, bark or even leaves, is that they’re often not structurally or graphically correct.”

Smith and had his first solo exhibition ‘Words Are…’ at Jarmbi Gallery Upstairs, Upwey, Victoria. He has exhibited in multiple group exhibitions at Spring 1883, Robin Gibson Gallery, No Vacancy Gallery, c3 Contemporary and The Substation. In 2014 he self-published ‘Alive’, an autobiographical reflection of his life.

Mark Smith, Not titled, 2019, watercolour and ink on paper, 56 x 38 cm, MASM19-0005

What can you tell me about this work?

This is inspired by my ride most days on the way to the supermarket when I go through Queens Park in Moonee Ponds. I like the perspective view- how you see down the end and along the path. I made the love heart at the end, which I thought would make it more interesting. I like the Autumn colours of the leaves; it is done with watercolours and ink pen. It took a while to do the leaves individually. 

How long did the work take to complete?

I would say, 7 or 8 hours. 

With a work like this, on paper with watercolour and ink, can you tell me a bit of the process? 

I did the trunk of the trees first, then the leaves and then the branches and then the leaves again. I didn’t know there would be a heart shape until the end – it just happened. I worked from memory because I ride my bike through there most days (but with the coronavirus, only weekends). The leaves at the trunk of the trees are different colours from up high- that made a big difference. I like how the perspective points to the heart shape. You travel along to the love at the end. 

I know you often work with ceramics, in particular works relating to bodies. How often do you work with paper or landscapes, like this?

I spend time on my 2-dimensional practice two days a week and I do ceramics one day a week. I like the tangibleness of clay objects; I have trouble controlling my hands with really intricate stuff and I find clay is more forgiving if you make a mistake. You can mould into something else. With 2-dimensional works, you can’t always rub it out and go over it. 

Can you tell me more about the details in this work and why they are important?

I think the detail is what makes it more interesting. It makes it more attractive! I used different colours, which is the most appealing part of the work, to highlight the fact there are so many individual leaves. The details of the paint strokes make me think of the movement of my hand. You can tell I spent a lot of effort on the individual leaves and a lot of time into the differing types of strokes. 

Love from the Studio is a series of interviews and articles bringing you behind the scenes of Arts Project Australia. 
Mark Smith was interviewed by Tahney Fosdike, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Arts Project Australia.