I am an abstract painter, and an art historian. I grew up in Los Angeles, with prolonged stays in London, Paris, Bonn, Vienna, Florence and Sierra Leone. I received my BA from Harvard University, my MA from UCLA and my PhD from Columbia University in New York. I also followed a course of classical training in drawing the figure at the Accademia N. Simi in Florence, Italy, receiving my Credenziale in figure-drawing there in 1978. I went on to teach at various California State University campuses and at UCLA Extension before taking a tenured position at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 1997. In 2005 I migrated back west, settling in Cedar City, Utah as Southern Utah University’s Professor of Art History. In 2011 I was belatedly but blissfully married, to a brilliant and beautiful medical professional, taking on parenthood, as well, to two talented and charming children.
I’ve published a dozen or so papers on various aspects of the transition from traditional to modern art in Europe and America between 1880 and 1920. And I’ve been a practicing painter for forty-three years. My productivity as an artist falls neatly into two separate periods: a traditional representational phase that lasted until 1989; and my current work in non-representational modes of expression. I am at home in both genres, and I see no good reason for the conflict which some feel persists between them. For a survey of my earlier work, much of which is representational, please visit www.andrewmarvick.com.
For me, painting is a natural and indispensable way of responding to life. I see the formal language of art as a universal one, independent of its content.
Methods and Media
I’m occasionally asked how my paintings are made and what materials I use. I begin with a vague pictorial idea suggested by either pre-existing textual or pictorial imagery. The chief prompts come from a broad variety of published texts including scholarly publications in art history, philosophy, physics, archaeology and the like; poetry and poetic prose; and popular verse. Underlying these verbal cues are the impressions I have of existing works of pre-existing abstract or non-representational art from any number of sources, artists, cultures, historical periods and locations. I then apply some measure of structure to a surface in an effort to make the idea visible. Finally, I introduce, adapt to and to an extent control a series of accidents that both threaten and facilitate the expression of the idea. Over the years my familiarity with the accidents attendant to my medium and process has grown, such that random events now only rarely defeat me, and are usually my allies. I used to reject 90 percent of my efforts; nowadays I keep a little more than half of what I begin.
Because I mainly paint with watercolors on texture-enhanced surfaces, I've explored painting on a broad range of papers and fabrics over the past ten years or so. My current preferred surfaces are: 300-lb. extra-white watercolor papers from Arches (for rough grain), Fabriano Artistico (for hot-press) and Kilimanjaro (for cold-press); soft 90-lb. hot-press papers from Garzapapel, a Spanish brand; Amatruda, a delicate and light-weight Amalfi-made mould-made paper; and Calligrane, a similar paper made by a small independent French distributor. I get another variety of desired effects from the impressively dense and hard 140-lb. Twinrocker feather-deckled hot-press papers. An entirely different terrain for watercolor than the mould- and handmade cottons, but no less exciting in its own way, is the synthetic substrate from Yupo (Japan). I also take an occasional bumper-car ride on Indian rag papers like those distributed under the Shizen and Khadi brands – these are of inconsistent quality, and they sometimes deteriorate at a swift rate, but that's a not always unwelcome contributor to my creative process. I paint on canvas, too, but because I apply numerous texture-media to my large-scale substrates, I'm far less concerned about the quality or brand of the canvases I begin with.
For watercolor paints, I use almost exclusively single-pigment products in order to maximize the saturation of color in my paintings. This is necessary because nearly all of my imagery will darken during the course of the creative process. I favor the German-made Lukas Aquarellfarben1862 and Marcello Dworzak's new formulas of American-made Da Vinci-branded paints. Winsor & Newton Professional, Daniel Smith Extra Fine are excellent, well-known brands, but generally not better than either Da Vinci or Lukas, which are more reasonably priced. There are also some exceptional artist-grade tube paints from M. Graham, Maimeri Blu and Holbein. Like countless other professional watercolor artists, I carefully follow the critical analyses and recommendations of Bruce MacEvoy at handprint.com. For oil paint, my main stock is from Blue Ridge, Williamsburg Handmade, Daniel Smith Extra Fine and Sennelier’s Huile Extra-Fine. For drawing I use willow charcoal and graphite on cheap Bristol. My inks are Pilot's “Iroshizuku” ("Color-drop") take-sumi, as well as the German Kaweco and French J. Herbin 1798 lines of cartridge inks.
I use mainly the cheaper brands of student-grade brushes because my treatment of them is too neglectful to justify better quality, and because I seldom leave a brushstroke unadjusted by a touch from a paper towel or a finger-tip. I spend a lot of time dripping, glopping and dabbing with a wide variety of sizes, glazes, mediums, gels, varnishes, turps, saps and lacquers from Polyvine and Golden, as well as ProCeed, Perfetto, DecoArt, Adicolor, Delta, Gamblin and Sinopia. I work either on pristine paper surfaces or on more durable substrates that can withstand the addition of pumices, marble dusts, mica, gessoes, plasters and other adulterants. Finally, depending on my patience with the process, activity in the studio may draw to a close with the reckless application of dry heat.
Until 2008 oil was my primary medium, but since then I've signed only a few dozen medium- and large-scale oil paintings. Instead, over the last decade the purity and delicacy of watercolor has consumed me. The shift to this primary medium, following a decades-long commitment to the European oil tradition, has led me to hobble together an unusual hybrid medium incorporating watercolors, oils, acrylics and a large variety of texturizing additives. Since 2012 I've completed at least 500 paintings in this eccentric medium – most of them quite small, though some stretch across areas as expansive as six square feet. Viewed together, these mixed-media paintings form, I think, a suitably eclectic record of my continuing interest in the possibilities for stylistic amalgamation of 13th- through 19th-century European painting aesthetics, non-western ways of seeing, and the formalist abstract and non-objective experiments that proliferated around the world between about 1900 and 1960.
In 2014 I made a short demonstration video that gives viewers a chance to see the basics of my method in small-scale painting. You can find it here.