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Mark Youd (Rhymes with Loud) Prepares to Launch his First Major Exhibition

As a call goes out for artists to submit artworks into their next Open Art Competition, the winner of Y Galeri Caerffili’s 2016 event prepares for his first major exhibition. Mark Youd was offered the solo show as part of his prize and preparations are well underway in readiness for the launch early October.

Mark Youd lives and works as an artist in Southerndown. He trained as a draughtsman and, in parallel to a successful career as a designer and technical illustrator, he has developed his personal artistic practice, challenging the traditional approach to portraiture and to painting itself. When he was awarded first prize earlier this year, the panel of judges said they felt that all three of Mark Youd’s submitted paintings would have been worthy winners and demonstrated a great awareness and an ability in both describing the forms of the human face and in understanding the nature of his medium. They went on to say....

‘Mark uses paint intelligently and creatively, varying the surface textures and marks, building forms which oscillate between the novel and the familiar. The image moves in the viewer’s mind from a pure exploration of paint, into a more clearly understood organic form and into a fragmented human face, before the quality of the paint and its application return to the viewer to an appreciation of the image’s more abstract qualities’.

Jan Pennell, owner of Y Galeri Caerffili, was in conversation with Mark Youd to find out more about his work ahead of the show:

JP Firstly, congratulations on winning Y Galeri Caerffili’s Open Art Competition earlier this year. We’re delighted with the prospect of presenting “Fragments”. This is your first solo exhibition isn’t it?

MY Thank you! Yes, it is. I’ve had work on public display before but never on this scale. It’s been a very busy year and I’m excited, and very proud, to have all this work at Y Galeri Caerffili next month.

JP So it’s all recent work?
MY
Yes, there are a few pieces dated 2015, but the majority are from this year.

JP How long would a painting take you to complete?

MY For the paintings in oil, it varies from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, plus drying time between layers - I can often have three or four paintings on the go at any one time in various states of completion. The glass pieces are surprisingly fast in comparison, but the method took months of development.

JP It’s an unusual method, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone produce monotypes on glass before. Can you explain the process and how you came up with the idea?

MY The traditional monotype would have been inked on a copper plate and then printed onto paper. Degas produced some images that way - distorted portraits, in fact. But I came at the technique from a different angle, I wanted to present the solid plate as the final work, so transferring the ink from the paper to the plate.

I experimented with various surfaces until I hit upon a clear plastic film that I’d used in my past as a draughtsman, it takes ink like a dream, but it’s too flexible to present as an inked plate. However, while I was studying the film I held it up to the light and the ink cast a wonderfully intricate shadow on the wall, well, that set my imagination off and I realised that glass was the way to present a solid inked plate and a shadow.

I can’t see final drawing until I pull the inked sheet away from the glass, so it’s always an exciting moment to see what has transferred and what chance marks have occurred. I can’t see final drawing until I pull the inked sheet away from the glass, so it’s always an exciting moment to see what has transferred and what chance marks have occurred. I also turn the glass around to frame it inked side in, so my drawing is back to front. That allows me to judge the drawing with fresh eyes, similar to how I look at my paintings in a mirror while I’m working on them.

JP That gives you a different perspective?

MY Exactly. That way I can spot errors quickly, and see areas that need adjustment. I often turn paintings upside down, or look at them through the camera on my phone, walk around them, look at them from all angles, considering how light acts on the surface texture etc.

JP Your work often seems to change as you look at it from different distances.

MY I hope so, I like to play with perception particularly with my work in oils. You may not see the portrait at first, but step closer or step back and it snaps into view. I often hear people say “I don’t see that one”. I like that, especially when the next person does see it and starts pointing out features. I like that people can be engaged like that, it’s fun. If someone spends a few seconds pacing around in front of a painting I know that I’m making them think, and perhaps showing them something surprising, something they haven’t experienced before. That’s exciting for me, and that’s when a painting becomes art.

JP Some of the pieces seem quite unsettling.

MY Yes, some of them have been described as dark, or disturbing, again, I like that. I don’t set out to shock or to provoke negatively, in fact, the most disturbing ones start out simply as studies of motion and its effect on the face. That kind of distortion seems to be, as you say, unsettling, and opens the work up to all manner of psychological interpretation that may not have been my intention, but the viewer is bringing themselves to the work, interpreting it and completing it. That’s an interesting avenue of investigation for me, and perhaps the hook that I’m hanging all my work on - the fragment. By not showing the whole face, by only suggesting certain features, or by actively fragmenting through motion, I’m asking the viewer to join in, to be part of the portrait.

JP So are these portraits of real people?

MY Yes, most of them are initially based on friends, models, sometimes magazine photos or street photography but I don’t intend to produce a “portrait” in the formal sense, I’d rather the work be universally human. I abstract the face through drawing and re- drawing until I come up with an interesting image, often beyond recognition though sometimes the model’s presence is so strong that no matter what I do it still looks like them!

JP So the paintings all start out as drawings? Can you describe your painting method?

MY I draw the model, very much like you see in the glass pieces, then add or, more often, subtract elements until I’m happy with a design at which point I work on a greyscale tonal drawing in pencil. That fixes the volume in my mind, I can see the painting as if it was a three-dimensional object, like a sculpture.

I prepare the board or canvas with roughly applied gesso primer, moved around with household brushes, sheets of paper, pieces of cardboard, fingers, arms, clothes, whatever I can use to produce evocative textures.

I then transfer the drawing to the board or canvas and begin painting. The background is usually toned with a thin wash, and the figure itself is painted using a restricted palette of just five tube colours - Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Venetian Red and Zinc White. To those I add an impasto medium that maintains the expressive brush and knife strokes. Often I’ll attack the top surface of the painting with wire brushes and sharp tools to reveal hidden layers and make the textures pop.

JP Those textures are very natural, almost rock like.

MY Yes, I’m very much inspired by my surroundings, especially the cliffs on the South Wales coast. I’m fascinated by natural processes, of geology, of coastal erosion, of rusting metal. My palette is based on earth colours for those reasons.

JP Your work certainly seems to have struck a chord with our customers. We’ve recently shipped three of your pieces to Florida!

MY I know! I’ve had enquiries from Cyprus, Brazil, China and Pontypridd! I’m humbled by the overwhelmingly positive reaction I’ve had to the work, not least the Open Art prize, but the strong sales we’ve enjoyed this year are encouraging me to be adventurous with my ideas, to push the boundaries. Your support in that is very much appreciated.

Fragmentswill be on display at Y Galeri Caerffili from 4 October until 5 November 2016. Open Tuesday - Saturday, 10am 5pm, Free admission

Open art submissions will be accepted between 1-10 November. Full details and application forms are available from Y Galeri Caerffili or can be downloaded from their website.