On the last weekend of Once Upon a Time at the Gavlak Gallery, The mastermind behind the collection talks about how he would define his craft. After some time thinking, the talented Marc Dennis calls it a “Spectacle and meditation.”
And to anyone seeing his works, it’s easy to understand why – It’s tongue-in-cheek, a little brazen, and brilliantly satirical. As one of the most introspective artists in the scene, Marc’s work combines different facets of his life. Taking inspiration from the 17th century Dutch Master, Memento Mori Motifs, Caravaggio, and even the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum robbery.
Marc Dennis’ beginning as an artist was not a path that he thought of embarking on in the first place. “ I Never wanted to be an artist. I liked drawing and painting. But I didn’t have my first oil painting until I was 10. It wasn’t good, yet it was fun. At least I tried, picked up, and I hadn’t started painting until later and worked to better my skill set.”
At the age of 13, Marc never thought that being an artist was a job, let alone that there was room for being one. He only knew of commercial animators that worked for Disney, Mad Magazine and comic books. But it wasn’t until a specific turning point in his life that he transformed his entire ethos on life, from listening to The Ramones like a true punk kid and getting into trouble. He turned to art, creating the most hyper-realistic works that merged traditional methods and modernity.
As a result, he could corral all his ideas into visionary masterpieces. While the exhibit does showcase remnants of the Vanitas series, you will find Disney and cartoon birds, amongst many others. “ I can go on for days and weeks about what inspires me. But, I knew I had to put my ideas and memories into a body of work and choosing flowers showcases that. Because let’s face it, the world needs more flowers.”
Bringing back the conversation to Marc’s ‘style’, the paintings he’s worked on represent a twist on the trompe-l’oeil motif. In recent memory, many of his paintings have painstakingly painted tears and rips, done uniquely. While some might assume this comes from the current theme of people defacing art. Truthfully, this trend started way back, specifically in the 1990s, based on how the world’s most expensive paintings were ripped away from the Gardner museum with box cutters.
When Marc learned of what they did, oddly, it became an inspiration that he had to internalize because of how people were troubled by the violation of each masterpiece.
“I was intrigued and curious as to how they did this. When they cut the painting, did the blade go through the surface? Did they have to cut it twice?” A scientific curiosity led to purchasing a box cutter, visiting the studio and cutting up one of his old paintings. When he ripped it up, it became a visceral experience that led to him wanting to know more about what happened to the paint and the way it was chipped at the edge.
That’s when Marc’s style transformed. It became true to his image and interests. As an artist, he seeks to fool the eye of viewers and critics and since then, the accolades have kept coming — and for him, the fountain of creativity never ceases to stop. He never chose oil painting in art school, despite his initial adversity to it. But in the end, he pursued the medium that eventually created a series of beautiful, eye-catching paintings that were sensational upon first sight.
One of his works, Memento Mori – a still life of florals that represents everything in a contradictory state of joy and decay, utilizes chiaroscuro, which serves as a backdrop/ lighting effect that makes the still life come alive, in an exaggerated and highly detailed way. The phrase itself sets to remind people that life and beauty is fleeting.”
“I have a very different take on beauty, but nevertheless, people came to understand beauty as some prototypical notion, but ultimately it has to do with the fact that nothing lasts forever, which is why flowers were the most popular motif.”
Dennis began to realize what was in front of him when he was conceptualizing how this could be shown. In the middle of it, nestled amongst the photos, notes and sketches, was the new portrayal of Memento Mori, waiting to be produced.
Nowadays, with social media, artistic opportunities are ripe for the taking. But the advice Marc gives out to young artists is to keep introducing the public to their work, bearing in mind that the art world can be a lonely and isolating business. “You have to be better than the next person, but you could be the best and still not get noticed. My work wasn’t recognized for years. Yes, people liked it. I sold and had group shows to build up my resume while building my career. If it happens overnight, that’s pretty damn rare.”
For him, the foundation of his work wasn’t just about learning the skills. It was having the determination and willpower to be a master. He painted every single day and night for three years. He would go outside with a paint box, canvas and an easel in the snow and paint despite the weather conditions. Marc saw the desire to be amongst nature and by fully immersing himself in the situations he finds himself in each time. Because for Marc, that desire motivates him to continue, despite everything.
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