Mark Gould thrives outside the box
By Rosemary Carstens
This story was featured in the August 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art August 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art August 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Taos artist Mark Gould takes to heart the saying “rules were made to be broken,” and the result is vibrant, compelling, and contemporary. He frequently brushes aside the boundaries of convention in the service of portraying fresh and evocative landscapes. Who says leaves must be green, or gold, or brown? Why not a sizzling magenta or a soul-satisfying ultramarine? Why not demonstrate the kinetic rainbow of effects as sunshine penetrates a deep, shadowy forest? Gould is achieving growing recognition for his bold approach to interpreting the natural world.
This approach comes, in part, from the physical environment in which he grew up. Gould was raised in a small, rural farming community in northwestern Iowa. He spent his youth “working on farms and exploring the fields and pastures” surrounding his home. For a time, his family lived near a river, and the flowing water fascinated him. The river’s unfettered, natural chaos contrasted sharply with the tidy rows and fences of the region’s farmlands; and so the tension between wilderness and orderliness imprinted itself on the budding artist and can be seen in his work today. A good example is his ongoing series called My Neighbor’s House, which features highly structured houses embedded in explosions of abstracted color and form.
“Memories of that rural terrain I experienced as a kid are always part of my recipe when I begin a painting,” says Gould. “I think those early impressions stay with us and can form a subtle self-portrait within any artist’s work. I spent so much time in that outdoor environment that I now channel those experiences into the initial stages of my landscapes. They may not dominate upon completion, but they are there to some greater or lesser degree. I suspect I continuously react to them throughout a painting sequence, sometimes rejecting or obliterating them to deal with influences of real-time situations, other times allowing some part of my past to suffuse the scene.”
After a dozen years in the Denver area, Gould now resides in Taos, NM, with his wife, Mary Domito, and a Scottish collie named Maggie. He has always found himself deeply affected by New Mexico’s terrain. “Taos has staggeringly beautiful combinations of geology, meteorology, and astronomy,” he says. “Just stand at the Rio Grande Gorge’s edge while a full moon rises above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the sun sets behind the Brazos, and you will see what I mean.”
Despite being surrounded by such awe-inspiring landscapes, Gould is not interested in realistically rendering a scene. He fights the tendency to fall into that habit, employing various techniques to push through to more imaginative interpretations. He relies heavily on his intuition, and he allows his materials to guide him through each painting. Gould wants to capture more than “a mass of visual factoids.” His goal is to present “sensory-based experiences,” he says, and to evoke the universal and personal simultaneously, so that others may access the work through their own memories.
Deborah Fritz, co-owner of Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art, presents Gould’s work this month in a show titled Arcadian Calm. “You cannot talk about Mark’s work without talking about color,” says Fritz. “As he works through a painting, he wants one color to complement the next, and the next, and so forth.
Color is the first thing our clients talk about when they see his art. From there, a growing awareness of the depth and texture of each piece emerges.” Gould’s latest body of work, titled Coppice/Arcadia, invites individual interpretation and engagement. “These idyllic scenes of trees and pastures welcome viewers into a world of warmth and the embrace of color,” says Fritz. “We feel Mark’s future is bright with this new direction.”
Gould’s pathway to becoming a full-time artist began quite traditionally. He completed a bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Iowa in 1977, received a full scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and expanded his studies through a variety of classes at the University of Denver, Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Denver Art Students League, Colorado State University, and the University of New Mexico. Among the artists Gould most admires are Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, and well-known 20th-century American painter Richard Diebenkorn, who is associated with abstract expressionism and San Francisco’s Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. An ironic quote from Diebenkorn both inspires Gould and keeps him from taking himself too seriously: “I can never accomplish what I want—only what I would have wanted had I thought of it beforehand.”
Gould used to teach chess to an after-school club and finds similarities to the game in his painting process. In chess, you never know what move your opponent might make, but you must be ready to react to whatever it is. “You need the same attitude in painting,” he says. He encourages his materials to “do what they want to do” and then makes spontaneous decisions in response, whether to a color choice or an organizational element. Staying open to possibilities is essential, as is avoiding preconceived ideas about how the finished piece should look.
Gould works primarily in acrylics on board or canvas but sometimes has fun veering off into other media. Mostly a studio painter, he does sketch and paint outdoors and takes photos that ultimately become reference materials, or, as he puts it, “sensations” that he calls upon in new works. He might start a painting en plein air, then develop it further in his studio. His art is an amalgam of texture, marks, and layers, and virtually any object at hand might become a tool. Once, while working outside on a windy day, a gust slammed his canvas to the ground, embedding seeds, dirt, and gravel into the wet paint. Back in the studio, he noticed that some of the seeds had created an interesting effect and left them in, moving on from there.
Gould is a bundle of energy. He paints fast, using acrylics because they dry quickly and allow him to rapidly move on to the next layer. If a result doesn’t feel right, he scrapes the paint off and starts again, pushing himself beyond habit to inspiration. A vast array of paints, solvents, trowels, brushes, scrapers, chisels, an air gun, or any one of his large collection of palette knives might be put to work at any point.
All of these tools and techniques come together to dazzling effect in works like LET LIGHT MOVE US: ARCADIAN 940, where Gould’s otherworldly infusion of color bathes a forest scene with a sense of rebirth, of re-emerging into the light after a dark journey. Here Gould uses backlighting to great effect to accentuate the scene’s atmospheric quality. Note particularly the explosive energy he creates with short brush strokes that radiate outward from the sun, then slowly give way to longer, cooler strokes around the edges of the canvas.
Inspiration usually strikes Gould outdoors. While he can take urban intensity in small doses, he thrives in natural settings and requires regular doses of solitude. But, like any artist, he sometimes runs up against a roadblock. He says he sometimes listens to Celtic music when he’s having trouble with a painting, or to rock and roll if he needs energy. With wry humor, he adds that he sometimes asks himself, “What would Batman, Forrest Gump, or Rocky Balboa do with this mess?”
Gould’s paintings are held in private and public collections internationally. He has participated in numerous one-man shows and group exhibitions and is a regular participant in the annual invitational art residency program at Colorado’s Chico Basin and Zapata ranches. There he has the freedom to roam 87,000 acres, painting to his heart’s content. One of the high points of his career so far came in 2010, when the prestigious Gilcrease Museum presented him with the Williams Award for best of show in painting at the annual Collectors’ Reserve invitational exhibition.
Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of Gould’s passion for art. His conviction that “great art comes from an artist’s personal vision” pushes him to continually challenge himself, to break through artificial or commercial boundaries. As he puts it: “The more personal my vision is, the more spirited my art will be.”
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