The Opening Response: Mark Thomas Gibson
The Opening Response titles a special series of interviews with artists, curators, writers, composers, mediators, and space-makers around the world. Dialoguing within and around the thematics which have rapidly emerged as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we offer within this frame a differentiated, honest, and beautiful bid at understanding. Weekly, distinct doors are opened into the lives of the contributors; into their experiences dawning on pleasure, productivity, metaphysics, and paradigmatic shifts. Hopefully, these conversations can act as way-posts and lead to furthered empathy, unison, and co-creation. The Opening Response meets the need for weaving the autonomy of a web of conscious communications in times of extreme perplexity.
Mark Thomas Gibson (b. 1980, Miami, FL) received his BFA from The Cooper Union in 2002 and his MFA from Yale School of Art in 2013.
Gibson has most recently exhibited with M+B (Los Angeles, USA), presenting a solo exhibition of 30+ drawings made in 2020 titled Resting Space. He has also exhibited at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Fredericks & Freiser in New York and Loyal in Stockholm, and participated in the group shows Life During Wartime and Woke!, Contemporary Art Museum, University of South Florida, Tampa; Shifting Gaze: A Reconstruction of the Black and Hispanic Body in Contemporary Art, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, VA; The Curator’s Eggs, Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York; and A Being in the World, Salon 94, New York, among others.
In 2016, Gibson co-curated the travelling exhibition Black Pulp! with William Villalongo at 32 Edgewood Gallery, Yale School of Art. The show examined evolving perspectives of Black identity in American culture and history from 1912 to 2016, and garnered reviews in The New York Times and Art in America.
The artist released his first book, Some Monsters Loom Large, in 2016 with funding from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. The book was recently reissued in a second edition in partnership with International Print Center, New York. Gibson’s second book Early Retirement was released in 2017 with Edition Patrick Frey in Zurich and was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Mark Thomas Gibson is represented by Fredericks and Freiser (New York, NY), M+B (Los Angeles, CA) and Loyal (Stockholm, Sweden). He is currently an Assistant Professor of Painting at Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University and lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
JB – Can you speak a bit about your practice formally and the way you migrate between painting and printmaking? There are times when your work resembles a non-sequential comic, what are your thoughts on graphic novels aesthetically and culturally?
MTG – My work is based in drawing, foremost. Navigating social terms of what an object is attached to by the mode of its production for most people is very important. The way I began making art began with drawing and it took me a long time to shake the containers that definitions of different modes offered. It has taken a very long time to figure out what art-making means to me. I have always been attracted to graphic novels and comic strips. Beyond genre, graphic novels and comic strips have been fueled with political subtext. That stream of subtext is what connects me to the medium and from where my own work springs.
JB – In 2016, you curated the travelling exhibition Black Pulp! at the 32 Edgewood Gallery (Yale School of Art). Can you speak a bit with us about how you addressed the complexities of black identity in American Culture from 1912-2016? If you were to curate a second edition, Black Pulp! II (2016-2020), which emerging polemics from the past four years would you highlight?
MTG – William Villalongo, (who co-curated the exhibition with me) and I had several discussions over two years to generate what became Black Pulp! Several fortuitous events took place of over the course of those two years to bring that show to an audience. One of the main points we wanted to describe and explore was the idea of black ownership of our identity. That is to say that there was a visual arms race for black identity and there were many ways imagery could operate as ammunition in this war. Beyond visual art standing as an individual milestone unto itself, Black Pulp! explored modes of making reliant on collective collaboration. It is my belief that some of these actions such as film, music, literature, and activism take on a new form when visual imagery is combined with that process. In some of the cases, we examined art acts in service to a cause by defining an aesthetic. For example, Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, used his knowledge of commercial art and graphic design to great political use. Black Pulp! II is under tight wraps, but I will say that if beauty is in the eye of the beholder then it’s a shame that it is only skin deep.
JB – Fundamental to our participation in the Black Lives Matter movement is assuming responsibility for how we educate ourselves. How does your work address the boomerang between knowledge production and power? Is protest something you consider strongly when you make work?
MTG – I don’t really see an oscillation between knowledge and power. The hardest part is trying to remain open to having your assumptions challenged, no matter how much one might assume those assumptions are based on previous knowledge. You can’t use your fear of being wrong to remain ignorant to anything. The BLM movement has offered the U.S. once again a chance to get clean by not just accepting the horrible history of this country, but instead instilling in us the knowledge that we must do something about it. Our old ways are built upon models that created these problems, so we must be willing to at least examine alternative models if not outright dismantle them. The problem, for our country, is that I don’t know if we really know how to do this work. It is not the natural choice – as is very evident with where we find ourselves.
JB – Your work is highly graphic, bold, and descriptive and often seems a critique on the beast of corporate advertising, can you tell us about your utilisation of captions/text in your work and how you see this serving the overall message of each piece?
MTG – I think about what is available to us when making work. Barbara Krueger made a big impression on me when I was younger. I saw a person who came from a world of advertising and was aware of the effectiveness of the modes in that field to get people to look and comprehend a message. In the old guard way of teaching art – the speed of the read – is often looked at as being cheap. However, I would say it’s the value of the content that is actually in question as opposed to the legibility of the message.
JB – Have tensions stirred and atrocities committed by the Trump administration been productive for art-making, both for you and your community?
MTG – Well I can only speak for myself, but it’s not very easy to think about this psychopath on a daily basis. His bizarre and cruel behaviour compromises us all, no matter your vocation or status, every single day that he is in office. I know in some way I am complicit. This moment is a tragedy not only for our country but for the world.
JB – How do you deal with police brutality as a citizen and an artist?
MTG – Deal isn’t a word I would use to describe it. I support defunding the police. I believe that there is something wrong when a job becomes so affiliated to one’s identity that they see themselves as separate culture and class. They live to protect that status and symbol as opposed to helping people. So, as a citizen, I support candidates that support reform and change. I try to address it in my work. I also get tired of being defined by the cruelty of others.
JB – Would you like to share your thoughts on how to organize varied articulations of POC identities in America? As an assistant professor of painting at Temple University (Tyler School of Art and Architecture) you initiate students into their creative processes, how do you steward their political awareness?
MTG – I am not an organizer. Those individuals who do that work are special and should not be conflated with those of who simply address this reality. In the case of my students, I remind them that they are citizens of the United States of America and with that comes a duty to vote and participate in the affairs of this country. Participation cannot and should not be graded or judged by an objective standard. We must be kind to one another and support and listen to one another as we attempt to make an unknowable change. That’s just my opinion as an individual.