Mark Dunst is an abstract artist best known for his expressionist painting. Instead of relying on a signature technique, he focuses on a process of serendipity. He strives to let go of expectations and be open to making mistakes. Lots of them.
“My paintings come from a place where I'm trying to be comfortable in a place of not knowing. I don’t ever know where a painting is going to end up. It’s a constant back and forth between doubt and acceptance.” The marks on the surface are a record of this struggle and only when he lets go does he start liking what's happening on the canvas. He knows its done when the work feels at peace and there’s an aesthetic reconciliation.
A big part of his art is about confronting himself. Brokering a truce with the discordant parts that he's either been avoiding or trying to numb for so long. He spends a lot of time in his head where uncomfortable feelings seem to duck into the shadows. “Chasing them, pulling them into the light and examining them on the canvas, I think that’s what keeps my work interesting to me.”
Mark’s art is a search for balance between tension and tranquility; angst and peace. He's looking for reconciliation where these dichotomies can peacefully coexist. Introspective whites and grays are juxtaposed with more extroverted colors. His expressive brushstrokes record moments of excitement, frustration, mindfulness, and doubt. The intertwining layers of marks, shapes, lines and colors reveal the work's history—its story.
Mark was born and raised with his brother in Colorado Springs, Colorado, by a single mom who was a school teacher. “My childhood was pretty average. I was a quiet kid. I usually preferred my sketchbook to interacting with people. I wasn’t a recluse, but I liked to study people from the fringe.”
Earning his BFA in Painting from the UnIversity of Colorado at Boulder, where he met his wife, Mark immediately found a job in graphic design. “Growing up I was discourage, by very well-meaning people, from pursuing a career as an artist. A job in design was more acceptable.” After moving to Minneapolis, he and his wife and two kids moved to Los Angeles before finally settling in Portland, Oregon. Mark has held positions as Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Art Director, Creative Director, Partner and Owner of successful marketing, graphic design, and interactive design firms.
His clients and colleagues appreciate his ability to successfully meld his creative acumen with their business objectives. You would think that Mark's winning many awards for his designs over the years would validate his work for him. “Awards are great, but I didn’t seek their recognition. In fact, I’ve never entered an awards show. The fact that my clients were so proud of the work that they entered it into a show—I find that much more rewarding."
In addition to his long work hours and his coveted family time, Mark kept busy with trail running, skiing, mountain biking and scuba diving. But something was missing and he couldn’t put his finger on it. “There was just this general feeling of malaise. I tried for years to fix it, but I just couldn’t shake that feeling.”
For his birthday, his wife and kids got him a nice easel which sat unused in his garage for years. "I was just too afraid to start, I knew I’d fail. Then one day my wife grabbed this big canvas and started painting." That gave him the confidence to do something. He started with figure drawing sessions at a nearby community art center. A couple months later he was motivated to set up a studio in his garage and he finally started painting again.
Having been reintroduced to his calling and with the unwavering support of his family, Mark now spends most of his time staring at a canvas instead of his laptop screen. He traded up to a better studio space and transitioned from figurative and landscape work to abstract. “Working non-objectively, I'm able to say things on the canvas that I just can't with landscape and figurative work. There’s more of a direct connection between what I'm feeling and what ends up on the canvas."
When asked why he paints, he thinks for a bit and finally says, "I think I paint to answer questions I don't know how to ask."