The Arts: Mark on Mark

By Robert F. Murray, The von Brahler Ltd.

Artist Mark Coffey

Mark Coffey is fairly new artist to town. He and his wife moved from Pennsylvania and found a home in Old Town, one that has a wonderfully bright rooftop studio. I got acquainted professionally with Mark and his paintings a couple of years ago and convinced him to have an open studio show in his home last year that was a fine success, His home is a perfect venue for his landscape paintings, and his mainly acrylic works are the recognizable and colorfully comfortable style many choose for their homes and offices.

The other day I sat down over coffee with Mark and asked him to tell me about his life as a full time artist and his thoughts concerning his type of work. I was curious about his read on the art scene in Old Town Alexandria and about how the visual arts are reported by the local press. Both of us agree that the attentive thrust on the art world here falls on the life in and around the Torpedo Factory Art Center and The Art League School ( where both of us enjoy taking painting classes ). In my 30 plus years of life in the business of art it has been my experience that a great deal of art by wonderful artists working here in Alexandria in multiple individual gallery and studio spaces goes overlooked by the art media, and in turn, by the public, if there really is such a recognized art media i.e., professional art criticism among the local press. It has always been that the visual art businesses world flourishes in locales where there is steady art coverage.
Mark related to me, “I have been painting since I can remember. Art fascinated me. I remember being surprised that all the kids didn’t draw and paint as I did. I just assumed it was a normal mutual human activity. Fortunately I was encouraged by my grade school teachers who happened to be nuns and favored sacred subject matter. I had no complaint with that because there was no lack of dramatic subjects around and my work hung on the classroom walls. I was quite happy to be the school artist. Over the years I painted more and more until I couldn’t quite find the time for my day job as a Clinical Director of a counseling agency in Pennsylvania. I find painting full-time to be more difficult than working for a living.”
“I grew to prefer acrylic because it is a fast, versatile medium and I paint at a feverish pace. I can layer or change everything about a painting on the spur of the moment because the medium dries so quickly. I often radically change a painting. This is one of the most exciting aspects of painting and it can occur for many reasons. The quick brush strokes simply take me in a different direction than where I assumed I was going. A portion of the painting becomes so compelling that it changes from a supporting role to the lead. Or, I reach a dead end, search for one salvageable square inch of canvas and build on that.”

Mark commented further, “ I am looking forward to being a part of future shows at River Farm and Goodwin House that provide viewers an exciting new environment to see my work. At River Farm (home of the American Horticultural Society), the opportunity for the eye to move from a painting to a window view of a meadow and the Potomac River is invigorating to me. At Goodwin House, the long, well-lighted hallways provide an intimate experience coupled with the friendly, warm nature of the residents “community.” did that
“My own paintings that mean the most to me are the ones that when I finish I say to myself, where did that come from? One example (photo A) is the painting of a road (roads are a common theme of mine) in Spain that was completed quickly with a large brush and needed no further thinking because it has all the elements which I want to have in a landscape. The other (photo B) very different canvas required weeks of re-working and precise drawing with the brush to get the mood and affect that I sought to find. Because I adapt my style to the subject matter, the impression I want my total body of work to take is to make the output appear as though it came from more than one artist.”
Mark was somewhat taken back when I asked how he felt about the coverage and commentaries devoted to artists and their work in the local newspapers. He said that he wondered why there was so little real space given to criticism and reporting of the wider range of good artists in a community that takes so much pride in being an art community. I said there really was some good art reporting in a couple of the papers and that the Zebra and I were working to make it better for the individual artists and art businesses in Alexandria and Arlington, wherever there is the interest and possibility.
As an artist’s promoter I see a comfortable, clear road ahead for Mark Coffey, Artist.

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