Paintings Beyond the Pale
Mark Erickson is an American painter and the appeal in his paintings is due to its spontaneous unchecked expression of energy. The surface is very sensual. You get the feeling of the artist’s physical involvement with the canvas in the creative process, especially in recent paintings which seem to invert the painting process.
The surface of the canvas is covered with smooth layers of pigment of the darkest black, along with varied bright colors. Beneath the surface are the markings of a painting underneath. Most is hidden to the viewer’s eyes. Our imagination must reconstruct the painting from what is only hinted at.
Looking at these works is like discovering Pompeii beneath ancient lava as though the paint was pulled from the canvas to reveal its underside. Mark’s canvases are a fine example of the archeological approach to contemporary painting. – Angela King
Looking at a painting by Mark Erickson is an experience in color and movement. Bright areas of pigment slash across a brilliant background or float above expansive landscapes. The viewer is gripped by an immediate and powerful response to the sheer explosion of color and the substance of the paint itself.
A quote by one of Mark Erickson’s painting professors stated, “My paintings are intended to be additions to rather than reflections upon ‘life.'” Hassel Smith may have meant to push his students to continue in the long tradition of putting paint on canvas. The paintings that Mark Erickson produces are interpretations of this same abstract language refined to high eloquence. A mid career, disciplined painter, Erickson offers an approach to abstraction in his paintings that have the essential elements of harmony, light and contrast.
His work originated in theory from Abstract Expressionism, where at mid 20th Century, was a groundbreaking revolution in American art, it now becomes a rich tradition and point of departure. Influences of painters of the 1950s are evident in Mark’s work, yet the direction is Erickson’s own, clearly felt as the paintings breath the fresh air of contemporary thought. The works on canvas appear as if somehow you abstracted a modern-day color cartoon, word bubbles and all, twisted and turned it inside out and then splattered it forcefully against a white wall.
The Dutch-American painter William DeKooning once noted that all paintings are in the long run either landscapes, portraits or still lifes. In Erickson’s work, they are decidedly landscapes, but the terrain traveled is sometimes uncharted and is as internal as it is external.
Mark Erickson was born in Hollywood, California. His early education was completed in California, Germany and Italy. He is a product of his experience on both continents and a family history combining the traditions of East Coast aestheticism and Wild West freedom. Mark completed his art training at the San Francisco Academy of Art and the San Francisco Art Institute. Another of Mark’s painting instructors, Sam Tchakalian stated in class, trying to intimidate his students and lead them to a higher reasoning in the true understanding of painting, “You have to have conviction, paint as if it means everything, the rest is bullshit.”
Mark’s mother and grandmother were New York City artists. They studied under Hans Hoffman and knew Franz Kline before & after World War II. Erickson’s father was a jet aircraft designer and pilot, his father’s father a cowboy and a Marshal in the Dakota Territory.
Often his paintings have an urban energy with whirring colors flying across a brightly lit metropolis. The shapes, so perfectly formed, propel the pigment off the surface of the canvas. Erickson, transforming the flat plane, breathes life and depth into his paintings and pulls the viewer into the experience. He does this by modulating color against color and form against form in such a way that you feel you can travel within the work. It is easy to see his quick progression in experimenting with differing aesthetic issues and emerging with his own very original and individual voice.
The Mercury Series
Represents another “leap forward” in this artist’s remarkable oeuvre. The series is inspired by the passion shared by Mark and his late father, Ernest Erickson – a WWII bomber pilot and recipient of the British Distinguished Flying Cross – for the historic Mercury space program and the pioneering “Mercury 7” astronauts. The senior Erickson worked at NASA and the top-secret division of Lockheed, The Skunk Works; became friends with the legendary pilot, Chuck Yeager; and was with McDonnell Aircraft during that company’s design and construction of the original Mercury spacecraft. The paintings feature bright organic shapes and lines, seeming to hover weightlessly over a field of predominantly black, subtly suggesting figures, objects, or possibly the “Mercury 7” insignia floating in the dark, still expanse of space.