Artist and printmaker Mark Curtis Hughes has the pleasure of kicking off a new series of artist interviews on the Young Arnolfini blog. Mark is currently studying in London to become an art teacher and graduated MA Multidisciplinary Printmaking at UWE in 2013.
Hi Mark, let’s introduce you, how did you get into art?
Visual art has been my ‘go to’ form of expression as long as I can remember. I’m much more comfortable drawing than I am writing or speaking and lets just leave dancing out of it… When I was younger I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but my schemes always revolved around doing some sort of art, and gradually I became more self-aware of where my particular abilities and interests lay, and so I started to focus on them.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The mistakes we make shape who we are today, so I’m not sure what advice I’d give my younger self. I think I’d tell myself to be more open to other people’s advice. And I’d probably ignore myself.
Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on at the moment?
I’m in the early stages of a project at the minute. The last work I made was inspired by the mythology surrounding the character of the Fisher King; a wounded leader whose land had turned to waste. I love this idea of the artist/viewer moving through this environment and witnessing various elements of it. So at the minute I’m thinking about how I can develop this theme. In the stories there are a number of significant but archetypal women, so I’m thinking about how I can introduce those characters and what their significance is for me and for the audience. But I’ll just say, I’m not trying to illustrate the story, I’m trying to generate an environment through which I can explore and examine my own world. The great thing about myths is that there is a precedence to mix and match and twist the focus and the sources, and as an artist I feel that gives me a licence to play. At the moment I’m training to be an art teacher so I have to balance my practice with those professional expectations. At the start of the year I decided that I wasn’t going to do any printing because it’s a time commitment. But that gives me the opportunity to try out different things I wouldn’t have time to do if I was devoting all my free time to hacking woodblocks. I really wanted to work on a large-scale, and so at the minute one of my walls is taken up with a collage which I try to work on every evening after school. It’s something I feel I can dip in and out of. But artwork isn’t just about making, and I find being an art teacher is a pretty good way to re-examine and reflect on your practice and philosophise about art generally.
I think I’d tell myself to be more open to other people’s advice. And I’d probably ignore myself.
What is your work desk like?
I have two desks. One for writing and one for making and dumping. Environment is really important. If you don’t have a space that works for you, you need to make yourself work for the space.
Your process is based in cutting – woodblocks, paper cuts, collage – so what’s your go to tool for your work?
My favourite piece of equipment is my sketchbook. I kind of romanticise then and view them like Indiana Jones’ notebooks. They’re a great resource for me and a nice object to flick through. I draw whenever I can, and I have my sketchbook with me all the time. That’s where my ideas start life. Whether it’s from a doodle or from a quote or reference I’ve jotted down. The sketchbook is also where I bash out ideas and try to form compositions. My process is bourn from wanting to have a very spontaneous and tactile approach to my art, and over the last few years my work has been realised as reduction woodcut prints. You’ve got the two elements of printing, cutting the block and then printing the image, both of which I do by hand and both of which have this wonderful haptic feel. I love this idea that you’re excavating the block and unearthing some ancient image.
When you google your name what comes up? How do you think you come across to a browser?
Have you been to any good exhibitions or events recently?
The best exhibition I’ve been to recently was the Multiplied Print fair at Christie’s. There were stalls and exhibitions from a range of national and international print workshops; including CFPR from Bristol. There was a huge range of different types of printing.
The best way to get good at talking about your work is to practice… Save the arty bollocks for arty people because they can filter it.
How do you avoid the dreaded artist’s block?
I avoid artist block by making my practice very accessible and a fun place for myself to procrastinate or retreat too. You need to have a little part of your brain set aside for ‘me and my art’.
Some young artists find it difficult to talk about their work – do you have any advice?
The best way to get good at talking about your work is to practice. I find that having a fairly linear making process makes it easier to talk about what I’m doing, but any kind of hook, like a particular artist or your subject matter. It’s also important to think about your audience. Save the arty bollocks for arty people because they can filter it. If you’re talking to people in a pub or school kids or even family members there are different ways of performing the ‘I am an artist’ speech.
What is your relationship with social media – is it good, bad or ugly?
I hate social media, but increasingly it’s something that we are all becoming dependant on. And you have to remember that if you’re applying for a job or if you have an exhibition the first thing people will do is google you. When you google your name what comes up? How do you think you come across to a browser? My blog comes up first (I’m not paying for a website until I’m earning enough from my art to pay minions to maintain it) and it’s taken me a while tweaking it to make it something I think I’m comfortable with. I hope at the very least it shows that I’m active and enthusiastic.
Thanks Mark! Talking about your process and your work makes me want to pick up a scalpel, make some paper cuts and also delve into an adventure story, both in equal measure.