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Access: Artist in Residence Mark Thomas Gibson


Mark Thomas Gibson has a lot to say, both with his words and with his artwork. This edition of Access gives you the opportunity to hear directly from Mark.




In Mark’s own words…

Can you provide some background on your artistic process? How did Spring Break and Ruthless come to be?

My work pulls from events occurring around me. These events vary in magnitude but I feel they usually are not simply affecting me but many others as well. When I make the decision to produce an image I have to get honest about how it makes me feel and how I convey that feeling to others who might feel similarly.

For the painting Ruthless, I wanted to commemorate the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by creating an elegant, forceful, and solemn image. Something simple, sleek, and slightly subversive. Her famous jabot floats in the air gracefully at first viewing. Upon closer inspection while looking at the jabot we see a serrated edge. She was the perfect mix of refinement with an acknowledgment of one’s quiet power. That composition of character has always felt like the highest form of elegance to me.



Spring Break, is a satirical piece staging the events of spring break 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. I am originally from Miami and there is something to be said about being raised in space where a major element of your economy is tourism. Decisions involving neighborhoods, beaches, Local News, education and politics are all tied to revenue that comes from tourism. Not many American cities can even imagine the level of intrusion and strain these economies place on residents. The Governor of Florida has chosen time and again to place leisure for tourists over the lives of its citizens. I use the tools of caricature and mockery to satirize this event. In the piece titled Spring Break, I have young revelers dancing in the pesticide haze of the crop duster overhead, as if they were at some makeshift rave, discarding cans of hard seltzer into a polluted ocean. This satire on tourism during the pandemic is intended to bring some sense of levity to an otherwise upsetting spectacle.



You just had a show, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood at M + B Gallery is Los Angeles. Can you share more about the show?

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, is my first solo show in L.A. with the amazing M + B Gallery. The show addresses America following the 2020 election, the insurrection at the capital, and white supremacy.

One of the more significant pieces in the show is a piece called Biden’s Entry into Washington. The image borrows some of the imagery and title from James Ensor’s Christ Entering into the Brussels, 1889. I felt it was important to commemorate that moment in history through painting–to think about the mix of individuals and the conflation of several different moments in history on a single space. I felt an image that placed the insurrection in close proximity to the inauguration of Biden was an important way to describe the divisions in our country rather than to have one image prevailing over another.



You describe yourself as an American history buff. How does your interest in American history influence your work?

Our country is so young and unique when we think about it in relation to other countries around the world. What I enjoy about American history is that it is my history. My family, like many other families, almost define themselves from who was the oldest ancestor who started off here that we can recall. To know American history is to know myself and how I position myself in the world. America is special and we must remember that it’s all of ours but we must stay vigilant. To know its history is actually a very beautiful thing. It tests us when we must acknowledge our history’s failures as well as our achievements, these can become teachable moments where we can agree we can do better. It may be difficult, but it can be done.



You are a Florida native. How did you end up in Philadelphia and what are your thoughts on the arts in Philly? What is working and what isn’t working.

I ended up in Philadelphia because of what I saw every time I visited the city. It is a city with an incredible amount of potential, in its people, institutions, and arts. What I feel personally needs to happen is that there needs to be more connectivity between our arts institutions, which include our universities, museums, galleries, and collectors.

I believe that Fitler Club has a unique opportunity to bring people together from across the city in conversations about art. That is why I felt inclined to participate in the 2021-2022 Artists in Residence program. When meeting fellow artists who also participated in this project, meeting curators, directors and the staff at Fitler Club, I felt a deep desire for connectivity, and that desire should not be squandered. It should be embraced.



What’s on the horizon for you?

I am currently a Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University, a Pew Fellow at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and I am looking forward to possibly putting out new books and shows by the end of the year. Right now I am regrouping after the closing of my show Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood at M+B in Los Angeles and I am focused on my studio practice. I want to take the time to push my work into something special that I will someday be able to share with the community of Philadelphia.

More work by Mark Thomas Gibson.

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