Mark Horst dreamed of becoming an artist, but the family business steered him toward more heavenly ventures.
Both his father and his brother were ministers. Horst earned his doctorate in divinity.
But when the Albuquerque artist’s wife retired and took a weaving class, he was inspired to paint.
Sumner & Dene Gallery is celebrating 12 years of the art of Mark Horst through July 30.
I spoke to Horst via email because he is currently battling throat cancer.
Kathaleen Roberts: Tell me about your background as an artist.
Mark Horst: I’ve studied a lot of things. But art has always been a part of it. I was a history major in college, but my work study job was running the pottery studio. I wrote my history papers in the library with big art books opened in front of me and around me – as if the art might get in somehow. I did include every studio art class I could stash into my schedule back then.
But when, later in life, I knew I had to paint full time, I audited classes from some outstanding teachers at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. And just to up the intensity a bit, I did two “Painting Marathons” at the New York Studio School with Graham Nickson. They were utterly exhausting and ridiculously helpful.
Roberts: When/how did you know you were an artist?
Horst: I knew. My friend Keith Seilor and I used to meet on Saturday mornings to copy the illustrations out of our Sunday school Bibles. Pretty gruesome stuff it was.
But I fell in love with the potter’s wheel and built my own in high school. I came home from school and went right to the basement to throw pottery. So then, looking at shapes and color and the feel of the work was in me. All that lay dormant for 30 years.
Roberts: Who were your influences?
Horst: As a painter, two artists shaped my understanding of what and how to paint. The South African painter Marlene Dumas uses photographic references and drippy, inky paints to explore a range of personal and social issues, but much of her focus has been on the female body and the social objectification of women’s sexuality. And she’s just wild as a painter. She’ll paint with anything, ink, oils, acrylics on canvas, paper, wood.
I just found her painting practice to be liberating and it fit with my personal impatience as a painter. I just don’t like finished paintings. I don’t like paintings where all the question have been answered and all the ambiguities resolved. My best work, I think, leaves some wildness.
The other great painter I look at a lot is the British portraitist Jenny Saville. I’ve learned a smidgen from her movement of paint and her exploration of color. So I’m actually a little reluctant to call her an influence. She’s just always intriguing to me.
As I’ve grown as an artist, and particularly as I’ve pushed into the realm of public art, I’ve fallen head over heels for Kiki Smith, who seems to use every medium ever imagined to explore her ideas. I need another lifetime to even imagine an art practice like hers. But of course, that hasn’t stopped me from spending weeks casting beeswax models of Ken dolls and posing them until they melt in the sun.
One other artist who I love to watch is based in Mexico City: Jan Hendrix. He’s a guy who’s worked with digital scans of trees and plants to create some of the most stunning sculpture I’ve ever seen. And he’s been a big influence on my work as a public artist. I just love the idea that the patterns of the natural world can offer so much richness and joy.
Roberts: Why male figures?
Horst: So I came into painting, with some serious training in life drawing and working from models. I was good enough at it, but I didn’t feel like what I had to say as an artist was going to come out of painting models.
I didn’t feel like painting women was any of my business. Male painters have said what they have to say about the female body. If you’re interested, fine. But honestly, I don’t think men have much interesting to say about women’s bodies and maybe it’s time for them to try listening. Imagine.
So the male figure is something I know about. And I chose to stay there and see what happened. It’s not over yet.
Roberts: Why do you paint the figure exclusively?
Horst: Well, actually I don’t. The show at Sumner (&) Dene includes a new study I did in Old Town “Old Town No. 2,” a young woman reading while a cat looks on, “Young Woman Reading,” and two women at some kind of table looking surprised by something “The Blessing.”
I’m especially interested in this last painting because it represents just a toe in the water of narrative painting. I was thinking about Carravagio’s “The Supper at Emmaus” paintings, where the disciples recognize Jesus after breaking bread with him. And I just wanted to see how this element of surprise and recognition, might look in my work. So there it is.
But the figure is such a wide open and challenging subject matter. One of the first projects I did after moving here to paint full time was a series I called the Holy Family. And it consisted of 50 portraits of the perpetrator’s and victims of violent crime – mainly from photos I found online in St. Louis. And I used that series to explore different ways of moving paint and letting a subject’s life speak through the image.
I remember I had a rule that when I felt a presence looking back at me, the painting was done.
After the Charleston Church shooting, I painted large, loose paintings of the victims. So painting the figure has never felt like a limitation to me.”
Roberts: Tell me about your public works.
Horst: In 2016, I had the chance to work on a large wall of HB Construction right behind Buffalo Exchange in Nob Hill. I’ve always loved street art and the mural tradition of making art accessible to everyone. So I painted a young girl reaching for a chicken, which I was thinking of as a metaphor for Albuquerque and its relationship to the natural world. But the image seemed tender and fresh to me. And the students at Monte Vista Elementary School were very enthusiastic about it and that was so much fun for me.
I recently completed a one-day installation for SOMOS ABQ that was a real joy to work on. It was called “The House of Earth Music” and featured 100 terracotta bells that I threw, suspended on a large wooden frame. When you pushed the wooden levers, the bells clanged together and made some beautiful, ancient, haunting sounds. I loved it.”