It’s an exciting time to be an artist, especially a plein air painter. Find inspiration here with Mark Shasha.
by Laura Vailati
Art enthusiast and Editor at Miami Niche
Artist Mark Shasha considers plein air to be the most honest form of painting.
His way of thinking and being has led him along a polyhedric artistic path in which he has incorporated all the arts, including writing, storyboard drawings and illustrations, acting, music (his guitar is a faithful companion), and the fine arts to which, although he has always painted, he has come of age. The common denominator in all his experiences has been storytelling.
This process is a language that took shape at an early age: he was an “imaginative child” and when taking long walks on the beaches of Connecticut, he was inspired by the landscape to invent, narrate, and draw his own stories.
This peculiarity has remained unchanged over time and has led him to make courageous life choices, in which his need to decide and communicate directly, without intermediaries, has always prevailed over the rest.
For example, Mark has written several short stories, including “Night of the Moonjellies,” a best-seller inspired by the true story of his grandmother, which was considered “a classic” by Smithsonian Magazine. He has also veered away from careers in action movies and illustration to devote himself to plein air painting.
Painting outdoors not only significantly improved the rendering of the paintings, which were always brighter, but also greatly sped up his compositional skills. Today he devotes no more than 60-75 minutes to create a work on what he considers an ideal format for plein air painting: a surface that is 16 x 20-inches or less. He tends to prefer quiet places over busy urban scenes, being drawn to where lush nature prevails.
His need to put his thoughts on paper has found poetry a valuable ally. “I like the format of poetry because it is a very nice way to find out how I feel about something and it takes me on a journey with thought, through time and space,” he said. Mark is particularly drawn to elements that create emotion in him and with which he brings to life works that, as the fine arts teach, contain a story that has a beginning and an end confined to the dimensions of the canvas.
There are many elements that attract his attention and he is always looking for a story to tell in his compositions, like when he was a child. “No matter what the subject is, I trust that there is something that attracts me and then I look at it and try to figure out what it is,” he said.
Another important component in his style is his use of light, an element that he considers central to the whole story. His paintings are imbued with a light that is reminiscent of Sorolla’s style, and while in his choice of palette, which is very clear, he is reminiscent of Monet, in the brilliance of his works he harks back to Van Gogh. What is certain is that he does not like to paint dark canvases because, he says, light canvases tend to invite the viewer to enter the story, to interact with it.
To do this he must first focus on the emotional storm, on what he wants to capture, because, “The canvas is precious and it’s all I have.”
His refinement of thought together with technical knowledge led him to develop a practical and valuable color system, based on making small strips of white paper that he often uses to match the palette.
This method enables him to relate tonal and chromatic values and color temperature simultaneously, saving much time later in the later process. On each strip, he reproduces the color, perceived from a distance, of each individual element he intends to depict on the painting, including details that he sometimes reserves to refine in the studio.
“Detailing is the fun part of the story because you have to see what to highlight, balancing the values and making sure you have a finished piece,” he said. Mark methodically starts his oil paintings with an underpainting of Umber color that he combines with a mixture of turpentine and linseed oil, like a wash.
Mark is an artist who is hardly satisfied with his own work and is therefore constantly challenging himself in pushing his own limits. He does this not only by experimenting but also by comparing himself with other great artists. Social media is, he says, “an excellent means of connection that allows for constant improvement because images, unlike in the past, are before our eyes at all times.”
However, social media can never replace, according to Mark, the passion and beauty of the work of the gallery owners who represent him, including Jane Bell (Illume Gallery West), Lisa Skelly (Huse Skelly Fine Art Gallery), and Marco Pierce Galleries Inc.
A nice definition Mark gave about contemporary art is the parallel between the greats of the past, from the best known such as Sargent, Sorolla, or Zorn, to the lesser known such as Russian artists Isaac Levitan or Ivan Shishkin, and the contemporaries. He says, “Today, in a second, we can find about 50 painters, scattered all over the world, who can make paintings of equal beauty and technique to those of the past and that’s great because this is a very exciting time to be an artist.”
Connect with Mark Shasha at www.markshasha.com.