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Alumni Spotlight: MARK OPIRHORY

Charis Carmichael Braun (2008) interviewed Mark Opirhory (2009) to walk a little while with Mark through his world.

Hi, My name is Mark Opirhory. I grew up in NJ, live in Brooklyn NY. I paint and draw. I’m fairly introverted and used to spend a lot of time out in the woods. Since moving to Brooklyn it’s been less so.

What's peculiar about where you came from?

I grew up in a fairly quiet town right on the border of suburban and rural life. There was a lot of space, but not much to do. There were many folk tales, such as stories about an abandoned missile silo, an infirmary, tons of ruins in the woods, and "The Midnight Walker" (a whole story about how this guy who would walk over this overpass every night at 12 - how he lost his daughter in a car accident and he'd walk around looking for her). Some people even say he gouged his eyes out. I imagine he’s not around anymore, he was pretty old at the time, at least 20 years ago. Needless to say, it was an interesting place to grow up and explore!

For what do you search?

I generally get excited when I’m out hiking or walking and shoot some interesting photos for reference. The whole collection of imagery to paint is a big deal to me: I committed to only using photos I took for painting years ago, so each image is very important to my working process. What I’m searching for is imagery that tells a story, in many ways my story. I want every image to have personal meaning, otherwise making art seems pointless for me.

On what are you currently working?

I’m currently working on a painting which is a combination of figurative and landscape aspects (as most of my works are). It’s the final in a series of 3. I generally don’t like talking about work that isn’t finished and hasn’t yet been exhibited publicly, but it’s based on photos I took around 2016 and has to do with objectification. Overall, the whole series is about the urge to connect with people and its emotional stress.

I also work as an art teacher, which takes up the majority of my time. I’m really interested to see how young students grow, there’s definitely a parallel in this and my work. We’re all constantly changing, evolving. How this happens is fascinating. To see in real time the ebbs and flows of human development helps me reflect on my own transformations.

It’s important for me to feel like I’m contributing to society in some way. Teaching has satisfied that for a bit, but I’m considering a career shift to enable me to have more productivity with my art. A job that compliments the creative process. I have found that teaching is often about grading, assessments, and other formalities, and I think it feels strange to critique development. As if a student's growth, something that is particular to the person’s internal and personal capabilities doesn’t meet your standards. It can be stifling.

Detail of one of Mark's paintings, in-progress.

What do you find challenging about your work?

Challenges come in a variety of forms. If we’re talking about production, it is space and materials. I like to use a lot of paint, which can be expensive. Also, like many artists, storing art is a constant struggle.

Regarding challenges for the viewers of my work, I think there’s not a lot to decipher. I tend to stay away from heavy handed symbolism, preferring a minimalist image. What’s left out is as important as what’s left in. A lot of what I paint has to do with how it’s painted. The choice of colors and how the paint is handled. The stylization is also referential. I do consider myself representational, but I’ve got an abstract, almost modern approach as well. Because of this, people probably don’t know how to read my work. I’m not an academic, not an abstract expressionist, not an impressionist, but I carry a bit of each of these (and more) into my work.

Mark's palette.

While composing work, It’s definitely challenging to balance an image. Making sure there are no signs of civilization, managing figurative elements, organizing value structures, and composing. All of this plays out in Photoshop and Lightroom. I tend to plan ahead, trying out a variety of options digitally. There are so many paintings I don’t create, opting for a different variant or waiting for the right moment. Knowing when to paint something is challenging, there’s only so much time.

What do you find rewarding?

The most rewarding feeling while painting is building up paint, getting the impasto to really show a texture. Or the feeling of subduing a whole layer in a painting with a unifying glaze. Or scraping/sanding down a section to open up the form/shape the surface. Those tactile moments are wonderful.

There’s also something truly sublime about being out in the natural world. Doing a multi day hike or even just getting out for a few hours. It cuts away all of the customs we carry in our everyday life. We’re constantly governed by formalities, bombarded by consumerist promotions, and engulfed in self glorification. It’s nice to feel a part of something greater, to step out of the systems that govern us. To simply live.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with the city. There’s so much to do, maybe too much. I often think maybe I’ll pack everything up and move to the middle of nowhere. Who knows, maybe one of these days.

The future hopefully will provide opportunities to work much larger. I’ve been wanting to for a while, but space/time is limited (I paint out of my living room like so many other artists). I actually have trouble working small these days. I’ve been exploring options for exhibiting more regularly as well. Hopefully it pays off.


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