Connecting with Artist Mark Jackson

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

by Josh Gane

It was during a conversation with a friend that I decided that I wanted to interview local artists. My friend convinced me that it would be mutually advantageous to do so: artists would get to share their work and I would get to share mine. Beyond any material advantages that these relationships might offer, such as expanding our respective audiences, there is also a positive sense of community that is created in that effort. It seemed like a win-win. After making the decision to follow through on this suggestion, Mark Jackson was the first artist that came to my mind.

Mark is a local, abstract painter and former coworker of mine, and he is someone that has something very valuable to offer our community. I contacted him and asked if he would be willing to let me interview him and write an article about his art. He agreed.

Our conversation began with me giving a background on what I am currently doing as a writer, and why I wanted to write about him. Though I began my current blog with a vision of writing about arts and culture, I explained that it had expanded to include politics. He interjected, “All art is political. It is an extension of people’s lives and of how they see the world.”

Jackson, from Buffalo, MN, is a self-described naïve artist, as opposed to someone who is classically trained. Though he took an art class or two in junior high and high school, he was not inspired to create anything meaningful at that time. He spent most of his free time interacting with friends and enjoying life. For many years, socializing, college and work kept him occupied and, for the most part, content. But, after many years of the same, Jackson found himself largely uninspired. Though he was surrounded by people, he felt that something was lacking.

After a string of mishaps, Mark sank into a depression. With little more than a few hundred dollars, a borrowed car, and behind in rent, Mark needed a serious change. He took some much-needed time away from the chaos, and he was able to gain some clarity. Jackson decided that he needed something to give his life direction and purpose. He made the resolute decision to acquire a hobby. He narrowed it down to two specific activities, playing the drums and painting.

That same year, Jackson, at the age of 34, found himself drawn to abstract painting for the first time. While watching box-set DVD collections of TV dramas like Mad Men and Entourage, his eye was drawn to the plentiful artwork displayed on the walls of these shows. There was one piece in particular, a red and gold abstract in Entourage’s Ari Gold’s office, that really moved Mark. He thought, “I can do that.” And the beginnings of an idea began to take hold. He considered trying it. His godmother gave him a gift certificate to an art supply store. He kept it safe for six months before he finally relented and made a purchase of some basic supplies. Still, he did not go straight home and paint.

It was not until a sleepless night, sometime in 2016, that Jackson could no longer procrastinate. He tore back his sheets, flipped on the lights and began to paint. Forty-five minutes later, he finished his first painting. Mark made it clear that this was a record time for completing a painting. Some of his projects take many months. But the first painting came pouring out as if it had been there all along. Mark felt enormously relieved. He posted the painting to his Facebook page, went back to bed and slept until morning.

When he awoke, Mark was quite surprised when he received over 80 ‘likes’ for his first piece. Jackson clarified that it is not always the case that a painting gets such a positive, initial response. But this time, for Jackson’s first painting, people took notice. Something began to happen. Mark was connecting with others in a new, positive and creative way, but he was also connecting with himself.

Mark explained that until that fateful night, self-discovery had always taken a backseat to what he believed was expected of him. Societal pressures weighed heavily on Jackson, and he often put those superficial things ahead of exploring what he truly wanted in life. Jackson majored in ‘Legal Studies in Business’ as an undergrad, and considered a career in law, but something about it never felt quite right. It felt forced. But when he finally broke through and painted that first piece in 2016, he was relieved of his former burden. He was choosing his own path.

The above mentioned piece is one of two that Jackson refuses to sell. The second of these two non-sellables is Mark’s fourth creation. It was after the fourth painting, according to Mark, that he sat back and felt as though he were looking at someone else’s work. He had exceeded any expectations that he had for himself and gazed into the painting with the same wonderment as he would for any artist that he respected.

Around 2017, Mark sold his first piece of art to coworker, Sarah Rathman, for fifty dollars. Mark described the experience as uniquely joyous. He felt a bond with this buyer. In painting this piece, Jackson felt the joy that comes with artistic expression. Then, in giving a piece of himself to Sarah, he was communicating that joy. This was mutually beneficial to both parties. Sarah would be grateful to forever have a piece of Mark on her wall, and Mark would be happy to know it. And finally, this experience would drive Mark to keep creating, and bond with another audience, and so on. This circular motion of what Mark referred to as “good energy,” would be the deciding factor in Mark’s quest to find his purpose – Mark would be a painter.

Mark’s creative process is largely improvisational. When Jackson sits down to paint, he has no preconceived notion of how his painting will take shape, other than some basic color ideas. The only near constant is his use of pink, his favorite color, in almost every painting. Mark learned color theory on his own, but he relies more on instinct than he does any formal rules. All of his inspiration arises in the moment, while the final product slowly takes shape on the canvas along the way. He just starts painting and follows where the paint leads.

The fact that Jackson is untrained makes him the artist that he is. He learned his craft by trial and error, and his naïve approach has the advantage of making him feel less constrained. He does, however, battle what he calls “imposter syndrome.” Essentially, this means that Mark originally felt like an outsider in the art community because of his lack of formal training. But, this original insecurity has become one of his greatest strengths over time; There are no parameters to Jackson’s art.

There are, however, some reoccurring structural themes that provide some order in the chaos of the abstract. Specifically, line emerged as a major thematic, stylistic structure in his art. He often uses a tee square to achieve this desired effect. Another interesting touch, specific to Jackson’s art, is a stenciled signature on the back of the painting. He feels that his signature is intrusive on the front of the work itself, and, by signing the back in stencil, he provides another structural contrast between order and confusion, front and back.

When Mark ‘finishes’ a painting, he hangs it on a wall in his home to provide a different perspective for himself. If he is satisfied with the product a few days later, the piece is truly finished. It is often difficult for artists to determine when to stop painting. In this sense, Jackson airs on the side of caution.

With a finished product, Mark assigns a four-digit numerical title for his work, often corresponding to something related to the painting, such as the birthday of a person that has commissioned him to paint or the number of days that it took to complete a piece. He can spend anywhere from five to fifteen hours, or more, on a painting. His first commission, titled 0204, took 204 days, and was the inspiration for naming all paintings thereafter. The title is the only trace of the artist’s own intention and meaning.

Mark made it clear that after he sells a painting, the meaning belongs to the buyer and anyone else who might observe. Once Mark is finished, he sees his own feelings as irrelevant in relation to other people enjoying the art in their own, personal way. He only wants people to feel something, especially if that something is joy. He once visited the home of someone who had bought his art and hung it upside-down relative to how he had created it. He took some time to consider it before offering any commentary. In the end, he was happy to have them hang it that way. That was the way that they experienced it, and that was okay.

Jackson’s art sells anywhere from 200 – 1,000+ dollars, but Mark would paint regardless of compensation. Painting provides Mark a reprieve from everyday life, a healthy escape from reality. He is happy to have painting as an outlet, and he encourages others to do the same. He wants to use his story to inspire others to express themselves freely: “Everybody appreciates art on some level. People think, ‘I could never do that!’ You can. I didn't think that I could do it either. You just have to start, like I did.”

Reflecting on this interview, which consisted of 3 hours of phone conversations, my initial impulse to connect with Mark was validated. Listening to another artist share his story reminded me how similar most humans are on a basic level: We all yearn for meaning and purpose. In this way, we are all connected.

Our eyes deceive us, when we see the lone painter in front of his or her canvas, for they are not alone. They stand with a long history of artists who came before them and the shared emotions of each and every human. This is the main reason that I believe art is therapeutic for both the artist and the audience – they are never alone; They are truly connected. Just as Mark told me, "While we may deceive and lie to one another, art never will."

Find Mark's Art on Instagram at

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