Mark Stemwedel

Everything a Painting (General Statement)
My paintings pull from my daily experience—both internal and external. They mimic the fragmented dialogue that continuously plays in my own mind. From the profound to the mundane, the paintings map my relationship to the world through color, form, imagery, and language.
At the most basic level, I believe that painting is the poetic expression of the experience of being in the world. It pulls back the shell of our routine, opens us up to the possibility of shifting our consciousness, and pushes us beyond our everyday awareness into an honest and real moment. It is the search for some authentic connection with the world through the very act of painting that is the driving instinct in my work. Painting is a way of knowing, understanding, and acknowledging the world and my existence in it. The translation and distillation that occurs through the paint and the process captures something genuine about my experience.
A painting should simultaneously pull you out of your own reality and make you feel its weight more clearly. It can oscillate somewhere between the tangible nature of the physical and the ethereal thinness of experience. There can be a moment where the unique and unexpected visual experience forces the viewer to transcend—if only for a moment. Above and beyond the image, content, or whatever is being communicated, the primary measure of a successful painting is this.
These paintings develop through intuitive and spontaneous means, which offers the opportunity for unexpected outcomes. They document an evolutionary process of asserting, negating and reasserting my observations. The process acts as a method of investigation and discovery to create moments of revelation and reflection. Environments emerge from the surface, letting chance unveil obscured meanings and unconscious thoughts.
Reoccurring imagery revolves around the landscape and architectural forms but often include language in someway, symbolic or metaphoric representations, or just painterly gesticulations. These elements impart a structure to the organic development of the paintings, stand as the foundation of the paintings’ language, and elicit a psychological space lying deep within our emotional histories. Symbolic, metaphorical, poetic—it becomes a mystical alchemy.
The suggestion of a larger narrative is often implied but veiled through the apparent incongruity of the individual elements. Any particular intended meaning is obscured while asserting the sense that there is meaning to be revealed. The images I develop are intended to create a sense that there is meaning in the work, even if this meaning is not immediately available. The ambiguous or cryptic nature of the message is a deliberate attempt to explore and invent different ways of developing a narrative structure. I want my paintings to create the implication of meaning, which pushes the viewer to engaging in a process of interpretation.
The Book Cover Series
The book cover series is a relatively recent body of work. I repurpose book covers, typically from books found at second hand stores, into drawing or painting surfaces.
These books start off as discarded text, usually insignificant or second-rate novels. The text block is separated from the cover, which then opens the interior of the cover as a drawing surface. Replacing the text with my drawings develops a new context for both the book and the imagery I create. The book has an inherent structure that I find interesting. Most viewers have significant experience with the structure of books and innately understand that format.
The idea of the discarded text, the obscuring of the text, or the insignificant nature of the text creates an interesting relationship for the images created. Placed within the context of the found or reclaimed book cover plays off the history of the object and its casting off. The actual surface itself has acquired a patina from its previous life. There is also a reference to the idea of palimpsests, which refers to manuscripts that the original writing has been removed to allow for new text to be written on top of it.
The development of invented narrative moments are formed out of the juxtaposition between the subjects, their interactions, the space they reside, and the arbitrary nature of their actions. Grounded within the context of the reclaimed book cover, the imagery created plays off of the history and meaning of the object’s original intention. There is also a direct influence from my interest in old illuminated manuscripts such as the Voynich manuscript and the Ambrosian Iliad.
Any particular intended meaning is obscured while implying a larger narrative. I look to the narrative to raise questions rather than make statements. This pushes viewers to interrogate the image further and dig for an interpretation. The moments created act as a type of visual kōan, a Zen Buddhist statement or verse that is purposefully paradoxical, where truth can be unveiled through absurdity. There can also be a sense of these as providing a punch line, and the viewers are left to construct the joke themselves. Often the work includes text or other symbolic and metaphorical references that further engages in the ways that we create and communicate meaning.