By Rosemary Carstens
Landscape painter Mark Haworth has an engaging smile and a slender, athletic build. He greets visitors with friendly southern hospitality, and it’s immediately apparent that he enjoys his life and loves his work. One look at his art, and you know the Texas landscape is in his blood. Haworth frequently paints the Texas Hill Country, striving to interpret the essence of its wooded canyons, spring-fed rivers, and hillsides blooming with spring wildflowers. “The scenery here, and the beautiful quality of light as it falls on the land, are constant sources of inspiration,” says the artist.
Haworth’s paintings are notable for their ability to draw viewers into the settings. Darrell Beauchamp, executive director of the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, MT, remarked on this recently, saying, “Mark makes viewers feel at home in his scenes, as though they’ve visited the place before. His paintings capture special moments in time and relay a sense of both the familiar and the unknown, allowing for distinct personal connections.”
ROCKBOUND, a study in serenity, is a fine example of Haworth’s talent for enticing a viewer to linger. The artist found the spot while hiking through Sabinal Canyon in central Texas. “The quiet pond enhanced by the striking play of autumn light, the abundance of different sized rocks and boulders, and the transparency of the reflections on the water held all the elements of mood and light I love to paint,” he notes.
One couple who has connected very personally with Haworth’s art is John and Carole Flournoy. About eight years ago, they saw a 6-foot painting Haworth had done of the area around Doss, TX, near their ranch. “I called him at home,” John recalls. “Although that painting had already sold, Mark agreed to paint a painting the same size for our home in Boerne, TX. We gave him the freedom to pick whatever scene he wanted of our ranch, and, of course, his finished work was fabulous! We recently acquired another piece titled TWO INCH DUSTING, a scene of late-winter snow on cactus and mesquite trees with the Hill Country in the background.”
Second only to his art, music plays an essential role in Haworth’s life. His mother was a concert pianist, and during his childhood years, as he sat hunched over a card table in his bedroom drawing birds, battle scenes, and landscapes, the music of Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven swirled constantly around him. He developed an early interest in playing the guitar and majored in music when he first entered college. Today he counts his classical and acoustic guitars among his most treasured possessions and, whether painting or not, constantly listens to classical guitar music, “especially Marcin Dylla, John Williams, Christopher Parkening, and Andrés Segovia,” he says.
Haworth’s knowledge and appreciation of music informs his art. He emphasizes the strong synchronicity between music and painting: “They are both designed around mood, rhythm, and texture.” He goes on to paraphrase the Swedish painter Anders Zorn, who said that great music is great because of simple melodies, augmented by layers of complexity. “Great art has simplicity at its heart. You have to go in with feeling and emotion. I don’t think I could have become an artist without the study of music,” says Haworth.
In addition to music, Haworth’s experiences in the natural world have been important. The 58-year-old artist was born in Houston and grew up in suburban Bellaire, TX, where he roamed the outdoors doing all the things that define a wild and free childhood. There were several deep, bayou-sized drainage ditches, filled with reeds and cattails, where he and a couple of his friends caught turtles, water snakes, and crawdads—“great pets for small boys.”
“Those ditches were my wilderness,” he says, where his love of nature was born. When he was 11, his family moved to the west side of Houston, where they lived across from the Edith Moore Nature Sanctuary—20 acres of wooded land with the scenic Rummel Creek running through it. There were big, expansive fields along with woods and a multitude of birds. “I was in heaven! I hung out in those woods every day, building tree forts or just hiking around, riding my bike everywhere,” he recalls.
Haworth’s father was in the advertising business and had many artist friends. He remembers being impressed with all the paraphernalia they had in their studios when he visited them with his dad. His parents often took Mark and his five siblings along on trips, and wherever they went, they always took the kids to museums. In 1963 they stayed in New York City for three months. Mark and his brother would catch the subway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the paintings of 19th-century American landscape master George Inness stood out. “He had that poetic mood that draws you in,” says Haworth. “He doesn’t spell it out but leaves room for you to imagine.”
While in New York, young Mark became intrigued with drawing the pigeons he could see from their apartment windows. His parents gave him a drawing tablet and binoculars, and he really got into birds, checking out library books and copying species after species. He became so fascinated with pigeons in particular that, in junior high, he and a buddy joined an adult group and raced pigeons for several years. Early in his art career, when he was working mainly in pastels, birds became the focus of his art. He participated twice in the prestigious Birds in Art show at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wisconsin, and one of his pieces was chosen to be part of a yearlong traveling exhibit.
Shortly after entering Sam Houston State University to study classical guitar, Haworth became intrigued with the work of nationally renowned portrait painter Glenn Bahm. An opportunity arose to become the painter’s apprentice—a decision that would change Haworth’s life. At first he just did varnishing and glazing. Then Bahm began showing him what to do in the backgrounds of the paintings. Through the study of old masters’ techniques, Bahm provided Haworth with a solid grounding in art fundamentals. “Most of those teachings were focused on values and composition, the importance and subtleties of edges, warm and cool colors, along with grays, and how they read in aerial perspective,” says Haworth.
He quickly discovered that art was his natural habitat. With music Haworth had to work, work, work. But with art, it felt like “home.” He switched his major to art and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art in 1977.
Haworth later studied with Howard Terpning, twice taking his workshop at the former Cowboy Artists of America Museum (now the Museum of Western Art) in Kerrville, TX. Haworth was impressed with Terpning’s exceptional generosity in sharing his knowledge and experience, as well as his relaxed and approachable personality. “Howard was an inspiring artist to study with,” says Haworth. “Early in his career he was one of our country’s leading magazine illustrators. He studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where my daughter studies painting today. You could say Howard was the last of the great American illustrators from the 1950s through ’70s, before photography replaced magazine illustration. Those illustrators really knew everything about painting. I wanted some of that knowledge to rub off on me.”
Recently Haworth has been drawn to subjects in the remote Big Bend country in Texas. He likes its savage beauty. “Everything there stings, sticks, or stabs you,” he says with a chuckle. “It’s so beautiful, and it looks so clean. There’s something spiritual about it.”
Big Bend is not all about starkness, however. During a few brief seasons each year, the desert becomes a celebration of bold renewal. Dull, dusty cacti that appear to barely survive suddenly explode with delicate, startling bursts of color after the rains—such as the scene Haworth portrays in THE MIDAS TOUCH. What first caught his eye was the strong diagonal component. “I was inspired by the backlit prickly pears against the reddish rock formation. That dark background really set off the beautiful glow from the pale golden blooms—a Midas touch!” he says. “I was intrigued by this delicate treasure in the midst of such a forbidding landscape. It’s these kinds of contrasts that I love to portray in my paintings.”
For Haworth, the world around him comprises a visual symphony, a harmony of light and color, tone and texture. He carefully selects individual notes from his surroundings to compose his own unique painterly melody, one that reverberates and lingers on for viewers and collectors alike.
InSight Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX; Astoria Fine Art, Jackson, WY.
Miniatures Show, Collectors Covey, Dallas, TX, November 12.
Celebrations Invitational Show, InSight Gallery, December 1-23.
Featured in November 2010