A Tea Party with Mark Bryan
by Natasha Dalton Hopedance Interview
When going to meet Mark Bryan for the first time, I was prepared to see someone not unlike a magician pulling bunnies out of his hat.
” Wear a red dress, like the girlfriend of John Dillinger, so I can find you,” he said. And then he asked, “Should I wear a red dress too?”
That’s the thing about Mark: he is genuinely funny. He is one of those rare, delightful people who are capable of creating his own universe and drawing you into it by his feisty humor. Those who use laughter as their professional tool are not always funny in their off-stage life (just think of Jerry Lewis or David Letterman, for example), but Mark’s paintings reflect his ability to see the funny and absurd both in art and in life.
In a way, Mark sees the world the way kids do. In childhood, colors are bright, images are bold; the difference between friends and enemies is obvious, but the line between reality and a game is barely there. It is only as we grow up that we discover a world where what people say covers up what they really think. Mark Bryan, like a child, doesn’t hide in the grey area of compromise when it comes to his views and convictions. He says it like it is.
It’s no wonder his art appeals to kids. Kids’ lie barometers are sharp and sensitive, and they easily relate to the story-like environment in Mark’s paintings. In-your-face, funny, and clumsy characters don’t put kids off: That’s how they themselves draw.
” People in the arts don’t quite grow up,” Mark say. “Maybe that’s important. Visual art allows you to tell uncomfortable truths in a charming way and get away with it.”
And apparently, he does get away with it. With so much of Mark’s latest work being uncompromisingly political, he doesn’t really get too much flack for it.
” Before the Iraqi war started, and when the Homeland Security Department kept telling us to buy duct tape to protect our homes from terrorist attacks, a couple of friends and I went to protest the invasion. We stood on an intersection in Grover Beach with a poster that read, “Peace Works Better Than Duct Tape,” but we didn’t get much reaction to that. Perhaps people didn’t even understand what we were trying to say.
But he gets a lot of positive feedback at his shows. And one of his latest works, “Mad Tea Party” has been viewed more than 70,000 times on the Internet alone. He says, “I think people like work that has a clear idea. There are painters that are great technically but are not interesting because they are not really saying anything.”
Of course, Mark’s own comments are never understated, even though often presented in a mischievous and bizarre way. Like a dare-devil brother, constantly pulling pranks on his siblings, he is throwing our way strange and disturbing images, and you can almost hear a chuckle from somewhere behind the scenes: “Can you handle this one?”
” I have many art books at home and I like to look at the works of others. Sometimes, even if the subject matter in my painting is quite different, I find some interesting ideas on composition and color that I might borrow. And some people have noticed that.”
” I think it is called “influences,” I offer.
” It is a better word than “stealing,” Mark chuckles; “I’ll take it.”
After graduating from Otis Art Institute in LA, “I made my living as a carpenter,” he says, “and evolving from those skills I began to create wooden sculpture as well as paintings.” The pieces he was making were quirky and fun, reflecting the spunkiness of a non-conformist.
Like most of the things and creatures populating Mark Bryan’s colorful world, his “No Rest For The Wicked” chair is as original as it is dysfunctional, with two human feet and the sitting area covered with pointed wooden spikes.
It’s not a bunny hiding inside magician’s hat, but a Screaming Bunny who is more to Mark’s taste. His video sculpture, “Screaming Bunny,” is a large stuffed bunny in a restraining chair with TV sets placed inside its head showing eyes and a mouth, who seems a victim of some strange experiment. He screams intermittently and then calms himself down. “It’s OK, It’s OK.”
“I think he’s cute,” Mark says.” Cute?
“The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it,” said Art Buchwald once, and Mark’s talent to do so makes his work extremely powerful. Arguing validates your opponent; making fun of him destroys him. Once the public begins to laugh at its leaders, those leaders had better start looking for a different line of work.
” Many of your paintings are quite apocalyptic; are you a pessimist? ” I ask Mark, overtaken by the images of fires, explosions, tornadoes and all kinds of other calamities he bestows on the serene landscapes in his works.
“The older I get, the more pessimistic I become about humans and about our future in general,” he says. “People don’t face reality. We live this beautiful life here on the Central Coast, and if we hadn’t watched TV and hadn’t read the papers, we would’ve thought everything is great. But we are rapidly destroying the Earth and I doubt it can be turned around anymore. I’ve heard it said that men never see the writing on the wall until their backs are up against it. Disappointment in human behavior has made me very skeptical” he continues.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t fit in very well, and I thought: what’s wrong with all these people? Now I look at what’s happening in our government today and think the same thing. I still feel on the outside and maybe that’s why being an artist is so appealing to me. It allows me to reflect on what I see and to make comments.”
However skeptical, Mark still doesn’t completely discard a possibility of mystery and magic in this world. “There are times when reality doesn’t jive with the way I thought things worked at all,” he says, which explains an image of the supreme divine that is persistent in Mark’s works. He leaves room for hope, and for redemption.
In childhood, magic lives right around the corner. And for the smart guy who feels compelled to tell the world about the Emperor’s lack of clothes, the best reward is in helping us all to get a better vision.