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Random Thoughts: A Community Conversation with Mark Witzling

By: Kate Uptergrove

Mark Witzling

Mark Witzling with some of his paintings. [Mark Witzling photo]

This week, West Newsmagazine talks with Mark Witzling, executive director of Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design and a second-year entrepreneur in the Saint Louis Emerging Artists program. Painting with oil and cold wax, Witzling rarely uses traditional paint brushes; instead, he works with a variety of tools like pastry scrapers, rollers, sticks and even old credit cards to apply and move paint around the canvas’ surface. Witzling’s art will be showcased at the Saint Louis Art Fair in Clayton, Sept. 7-9.

What are some misconceptions about your job?

Oftentimes people don’t understand how long it takes to actually create an abstract painting. It can look like it’s very straightforward and simple but it’s actually a very complex process. You’re building layers and layers of oil paint, so if you can imagine how long it takes layers and layers and layers of oil paint to dry … it can take quite a while, and I don’t think people realize that. Another thing that goes along with that, that I don’t think people realize, is that a lot of art-making and the creation of art is time that the artist spends alone. You’re in your studio creating work and it’s a very solitary process.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve painted?

I just completed an artist residency in May. I spent time in a place called Orquevaux, France, about three hours outside of Paris, painting at the Chateau Orquevaux. I was there with about a dozen artists and they were there from all over – they were from the Philippines and South Africa and Amsterdam and St. Petersburg, Russia. It was a really powerful kind of an art-making experience to work with artists from all over the world. It was fun.

What have you created of which you are most proud?

Every piece that I create is different. A lot of times, people will ask, “What’s your favorite painting that you’ve made?” And I don’t have necessarily one favorite painting, what I have is a favorite section of every painting. There’s always a little piece of something that you did that you really like – you know – like I really like this particular effect. And so, I have lots of small snippets and favorites rather than one overall favorite piece. 

Is it hard to part with your work?

It can be. One of the things that you learn is a saying that a lot of artists use: “Don’t fall in love with the first layer.” My process is using many, many layers to get this real depth in the art and if I fall in love with something in that very first or second layer it can be really hard to ruin it. But you have to go over it and you have to learn that it’s all part of the process. 

What is something you can never seem to finish?

I think there’s always unfinished work. There’s always more that can be created. You never get enough time in the studio so there’s always unfinished work. But the thought that occurred to me when you asked this question was a little different. As an artist, you can never have too many art supplies. There’s always something else you want to buy and try and expereiment with – it’s part of the fun and satisfaction that comes, I think, from painting and trying new techniques and seeing how it can be adapted to my own style. I think that’s particularly true for me because I don’t use only traditional tools. I’m not limited to just finding the next new paintbrush. Almost anything that can make a mark in wet paint can be used. My favorite tool of the moment is a pastry scraper. It’s great. It moves the paint around beautifully

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