Tell us about yourself, where are you from and what drew you to art?
I was born on the west coast of Canada and raised in a rural area of Vancouver Island. I spent a lot of time outside surrounded by rocky beaches, tidal swamps, dense forests and shallow creeks, and I drew a lot. In kindergarten I was told to stop painting so much and go play house, and I remember, at the age of 5, thinking there must be something wrong with telling a kid to stop painting. I don't remember painting again until first year of art school, where I fell head-over-heels with it again.
My late twenties were spent immersed in a group project of young artists led by a philosopher and a painter, both in their sixties. We applied elements of quantum physics, evolution, and non-Euclidean geometry to the fundamentals of visual art, such as pictorial space, colour, and narrative. I then completed a double-major in Philosophy/History in Art, while continuing to paint and exhibit locally, and start a family. Much of my work of the last 15 years (car crashes, strange landscapes) has been a bit of a reaction to the almost over-theoretical work of my younger days, but I do sense a kind of grand synthesis coming on.
What are the major themes or questions you explore in your art?
My current work doesn't start with themes, questions or ideas. Or even images in my head, or drawings. In fact, almost everything I've done as an artist began when something reached out and grabbed me and wouldn't let go, and I tend to not know what I'm doing for years at a time. I mean, I have certain beliefs about the world, and what makes good art, but at some point the origin and justification for my work became not ideas, but visual exhilaration (n. a feeling of happiness and excitement combined with a heightened sense of being alive). I love the physical act of painting, and I strive to somehow channel my experience, knowledge and feelings about my part in the strangeness and wonder of existence, and include it in the act of putting paint down. It's always in retrospect that I decipher what I have been doing, and once I get a grip on that, I usually move on to something else, often not without a painful transition period.
When I asked my 11-year-old son what he thought my answer to your question would be, he said, "life and death". He pretty much nailed it.
Mark Laver, I'm gonna shine out in the wild silence, 2021, 66.75cm x 76.2cm
How do you feel you style developed?
I've been through many changes, stylistically and conceptually. I've worked meticulously within a curved pictorial space, dabbled in abstraction, and painted realistically from life and photographs. Conceptually, the art school approach was to express your true self, and original art would result. Later, I was convinced that to make Great Art, the artist must be immersed in the cutting-edge scientific, philosophical and cultural thinking of the day, and must embed those ideas into his or her method.
Lately, influenced by outsider art, lo-fi folk punk music and Bukowski's "don't try" mantra, I somewhat absurdly try hard not to try hard, and trust in my process, which is set up to embody some of my stronger beliefs about the world, such as the paradoxical dual-singularity of the universe, its inherent evolutionary randomness, the mystery of why there is anything at all, and the idea that reality is something we make up as we go, by trial and error, guided by an innate thirst for order. So I don't plan ahead or impose anything, but simply start painting in one area and let the painting evolve organically without reference to source materials, or even conscious memories. I try to remain open and in-the-moment, responding to what is happening in front of me, and continuing to work until the painting feels right.
Mark Laver, I want to be a shining example, 2007, 122 x 122 cm, oil on wood
You have a series called 'Rural Disasters'. What made you create this series?
This series came about completely by accident, in response to a found photograph of the aftermath of a car crash. I found it so beautiful that I downloaded it and a few more like it, just to possess them. It took me months to actually paint them, as working realistically from photographs was against what I believed art should be, and it was so utterly different from my current practice. But eventually I couldn't help myself, and I became obsessed with wading through thousands of such photographs available in the archives of fire department websites.
Although taken for documentation and investigation purposes, occasionally a photograph would be so strikingly and accidentally beautiful that I needed to paint it. I eventually came to realise that it was the intrusion of the camera (via the observer) that was responsible for what I was seeing. Thus the Rural Disasters are literally paintings of photographs, as much as depictions of events, which is why the paintings include traces of photography such as date stamps, overexposed snowflakes and the effects of raindrops on the lens. It was the digital image on my screen that I fell in love with, complete with traces of how the camera lights up, distorts and otherwise alters the event, creating a version of the incident so compelling that I was moved to make a version of my own.
Mark Laver, God doesn't always make the best goddam plans does he?, 2008, 160 x 19.5cm
Who have been your greatest influences?
The five years in my late twenties that I spent in what was called an "Art Cult" by the local arts and entertainment newspaper was an extremely formative time, and it lead into my university studies where I specialised in phenomenology, existentialism, philosophy of art and art history. My list of favourite artists includes Soutine, Burchfield, Guston, E.J. Hughes, Tom Thompson, Henry Darger and Emily Carr. I love Medieval art, outsider art, early cubism, vanitas still-lifes and some surrealism. I also studied the pictorial space of early renaissance, Cezanne, cubism, Escher, and Frank Stella's book Working Space. Finally, I gravitate toward serious, ambitious current painters and I am always discovering painters on Instagram that I didn't even know were out there. My good friend and great photorealist Neil MacCormick has helped me find my way more than once, by reminding me of the importance trusting my gut over somebody else's theories. I am also indebted to music. I like my music earthy, fleshy, organic, raw, genuine, intelligent and true, whether it's folk-punk, alt-country, classical chamber music, jazz or hard rock. I want my paintings to look the way my favourite music sounds, and I often paint with headphones on loud, and use song lyrics as tiles. Finally, although I lead a secular life, I grew up attending Sunday school at a little evangelical church in the woods, and my mothers spirituality has certainly rubbed off on me.
Mark Laver, The sun it has passed, now its blacker than black, 41 x 61cm. oil on wood
What's next for you in 2021 and what are you looking forward to?
2021 is going to be great. 2020, with a few months off from work, has kickstarted things for me again, and I feel the momentum building. In January, my first international exhibition Admirational Invitational continued in Seattle, and I'm excited to be working with the folks at False Cast Gallery an ambitious brand new contemporary space in San Diego, beginning with Earth Sign, a show of contemporary landscape paintings. At press time, I am in talks with a long-established gallery in the Chelsea district of New York, and have sent some work there for consideration.
As someone who takes art seriously but has been fairly isolated on this island, I feel like my work is just now reaching a larger audience. Things are really looking up, and my long worked-for goal to be painting full-time seems closer now than ever. This is great timing as I've just received the permits to build my beautiful new studio on my property here in Victoria. It will triple my studio space and time, and I intend to utilise it to the fullest; it will allow me to work larger again, which I have done in the past, and the extra time will be a dream come true, and the paintings will be better for it.
Mark Laver, One of these days these days will end, 2014, 76.2 x 101.6cm
Tell us about your studio?
My current studio is a 10'x12' space in a building in the light industrial part of Victoria. It's too small now, but it certainly beats the unheated garages and rat filled basements I used in the past. My new studio should be ready by summer and will have 12-15 foot ceilings, a polished concrete floor, a storage loft and northern light. My young artist friends and I used to claim that there was an inverse relationship between how nice your studio was and the quality of the art being produced there. But now I say "Fuck it! I'm gonna build myself a nice studio!
I also paint outside, and from my car, both in daylight and at night. When I paint outdoors it's kind of all-or-nothing. I paint fast, and hope for the best. I don't plan anything-I drive or walk around until something makes my heart jump, then I go for it, and finish a painting in one session, almost never touching them up back at the studio. They take between 15 minutes and 4 hours, and if they don't have the magic on the spot there's usually little I can do to fix them.
Finally, if you were able to interview any artist past or present, who would it be and why?
What a great and difficult-to-answer question. I immediately think of artists of the past. Some answers seem too obvious, others I would be too intimidated to talk to! They were all just people though weren't they? It's been easier to realise this the longer I am at it, but the great artists of the past all seemed superhuman to me at one time.
There is an artist working now on the island of Sardinia, Italy, and I don't know much about him but I feel a certain kinship. His name is Siro Cugusi and he's one of my favourite artists working today. His work has elements of landscape, still-life, surrealism, abstraction, expressionism and more, and I relate to his ambitious approach and scale of working, and I feel like we may have shared some similar influences. I'd like to see his work in person and I sense I could learn a lot by talking to him.
Mark Laver, where gods are born and gods lay down to die, 2021, 81 x 61cm, available at False Cast Gallery, San Diego USA