Dear child of sorrow - son of misery!
Wrote Keats of Chatterton, that boy poet with curls of red hair who drank arsenic as a way to stop living. In the painting of his death by Henry Wallis, which I always loved, he wears bright blue breeches - short trousers that stop just below the knee, binding tightly to the joint. Details I obsessed over: the way his small hips curved up towards the open window, the oppressive feeling of aloneness against the crowdedness of a smog filled city skyline, how desirable his grey white recently dead skin was.
‘The whole trouble with Western Society today is the lack of anything worth concealing’ said Joe Orton in his diaries. Now his body, reduced to particles of grey ash, mingles in soil with those of the lover who caved his head in. What bonds are shared still between secrecy, sex and death?
Mark gives us male bodies that are wasted and white. Landscapes of bone, sometimes limp, occasionally overcome. His work edits out noise, stuck in a more general malaise of things not said.
When I see the sculptures in the studio I think of them as queer sentries, flowers held ecstatically upwards in the place where flags at half-mast should be. They come as a pair like candlesticks or columns. An awkward double act that flirts with function but fails to commit. Coupled or twinned in this way, their sameness points to shared conversation and the intimacy of recognition. In his book White Girls, Hilton Als writes of his desire to know a we that mirrors the I: ‘Nearly from the first, I wanted to ‘grow into one’ with him’. These twins are all curves and soft tissue, pubescent pigeon chests and lanky arms.
Let's read unfired clay as a material that ‘is not here yet’. Paused in the process of becoming, full of potential, its fragility a kind of warning: destruction is a matter of time. The dried flowers (as if in retort) speak of preservation, resisting decay, starving off death. Whether disappearing or enduring, Mark’s material languages always resist. His hands labour in a deeply caring way, their investment betraying any dramatic poses the work may pull.
The men (or are they boys?) don’t look at us. Avoiding our gaze they expose their throats, the space between the chin and the clavicle where the skin is soft from lack of sun. This bit of the male anatomy produced by original sin, the Adam’s apple, named after the piece of forbidden fruit that got lodged in the first man's neck before he could swallow. It's a scar, an organic legacy passed on through the bodies of other men.
Life according to Michel Houellebecq is a series of destruction tests. Pass the first of them, and fail the later ones. We should learn to feel pain in every pore. Suffering is the point of origin for writing, from which zones of truth become present. Mark’s sick man, swaddled in a blanket, lips pursed weakly to receive a cup of water, looks as indulgent as this idea of creative suffering sounds. With his head arched over the edge of a rocking chair another man - naked aside from yellow underwear - hangs lifelessly. Still except for the occasional breath or the flinching of a toe, moved by an invisible force. As if draped like a jacket, this body appears to be waiting. Cobalt yellow is described as 'an expensive yellow that was briefly in vogue’, a past luxury. It remained popular until the late 19th century, when cheaper, cleaner and more lightfast pigments like Cadmiums were introduced.
I ask Mark if he’s determined to be out of time? The walls of his studio are full of images that are beige and brown, black and white: Picasso, Hockney, Vaughan and Kippenberger. You can’t help who you desire. Mark seems stuck in some ways, on a colour or a body part, in a period of time, seduced by an atmosphere. Perhaps he sees a kind of magic in images that belong to a moment before gay men were publicly allowed to be? Before the reality of the AIDS crisis and the reactionary moralising of sex, before the onset of ‘homonormative’ and its conservative narratives. In his essay ‘Mourning and Militancy’, Douglas Crimp writes of the ways in which AIDS stole more than the bodies of friends and lovers: ‘Alongside the dismal toll of death, what many of us have lost is a culture of sexual possibility: back rooms, tea rooms, bookstores, movie houses, and baths; the trucks, the pier, the ramble, the dunes.' Crimp talks about the consequences of resisting mourning by describing his own ambivalence to this psychic process. Shortly after his father’s death his tear duct became badly infected and the resulting abscess grew into a golf-ball sized swelling that closed his left eye and disfigured his face. When the abscess finally burst puss oozed down his cheek like poison tears. He has never since doubted the force of the unconscious.
It helps me to think about Mark’s work as an outlet for the things he can’t process. A release of some kind, an attempt at preventing poisoned tears.