by Tom Waters
Standing behind some visitors who were admiring a painting by Mark Boedges recently I was struck by their comment, addressed to the subject of the painting. The painting, “Along Old Hollow” depicts a run-down home along a back road in winter. The detritus of country living is piled up outside. It’s gritty, and complex, full of texture, variety and muted color. Their observation was about how the work was “authentic”. While the comment was directed at the authenticity of the scene, a common one in rural Vermont, it could have been directed at every aspect of Boedges’ practice of making art.
Often quoted as being drawn to “the grittiness, cragginess and layered, fine-grained texture of the natural world”, many of Mark’s paintings are of the less-showy aspects of the landscape. Through Mark’s eyes, and his painting, you are exposed to the beauty of subjects often overlooked, but no less worthy of appreciation. It could be the backside of a vernacular Vermont farmhouse, rail cars sidelined on the track, the inside of a woodworker’s garage and workshop, or an abandoned fishing boat. In each case the authenticity of the scene asserts itself.
It’s not that Mark ignores the more commonly considered ‘beautiful’ aspects of the environment. His paintings of the Colorado Mountains, Vermont barns, fields, woods, and notably his paintings of forested streams and waterfalls are sought after and highly prized. What all these paintings share is a devotion to rendering complexity simply, color accurately, and light realistically. Look at any painting by Mark Boedges and you come away awed by the effectiveness of how he captures so much detail with so little complication. His approach may involve layering, scratching, splattering of paint and the use of various brushes to make a myriad of marks which introduce interactions and effects that convey the complexity of textures and surfaces. Resulting in a beautifully harmonious finished piece.
Born in St. Louis in 1973, Mark’s path to where he finds himself now began as a child who loved to draw. All throughout school he showed talent and enthusiasm for drawing, and eventually painting. Art as a career option was not something he considered however, and he attended college in Kansas City as a civil engineering major. He later switched and received his degree in philosophy. It was here in college that he began to explore painting en-plein-air and kindling his love of art.
Following four years of full-time employment, painting when he could, Boedges began to realize his love of painting might be something he could seriously pursue. The University of Boulder had a studio arts program and Mark enrolled and spent the next couple years developing the foundational skills he needed to strengthen his painting skills. It was a time when most art programs in America downplayed traditional art and realism and emphasized modern art. Still employed part-time working with computers, Mark struck out on his own in 2002 with the goal of making it as an artist.
During this time he focused his efforts on plein-air painting events and started to build both a reputation as an artist and a body of work. Yet it took the encouragement and gentle push of his then girlfriend, and future wife, for him to step out of his comfort zone and display a couple dozen of his paintings in a tent-sale. He sold out. This was the first big step in building his confidence in his commitment to painting full-time.
After moving to Vermont from Colorado Mark found his work and focus shifting. Gone were the endless 5, 10, 20-mile vistas he was accustomed to painting. The Vermont landscape presented a more close-up, closed in environment with its forests and valleys. “I wasn’t good at painting close-in but I was excited about representing the complexity and variety that offered. I learned to paint textures and details.” Tinkering with his process he learned to incorporate new methods that let the paint do much of the expression and use techniques to manage the chaos. To this day mountain streams with rocks and debris, in all seasons, are a favorite landscape subject.
In 2007 he entered the 2007 Plein Air Easton Art Festival in Maryland, a large and prestigious juried competition. The experience was an eye opener. ”I got schooled pretty hard by that event.” His work did not show very well and he returned home upset with himself, but determined to improve his craft and dedicated to learning all he could to get better.
One of the lessons he learned was that the most successful paintings “felt finished entirely across their surfaces. I’d been capturing the essence of a scene without finishing the surface of the painting.” One of many lessons he would learn from and incorporate into his practice.
Mark continued to paint, and to enter plein-air events and his work improved. He started working with established artists including an association with Richard Schmid and the Putney Painters. Curiously his work is often compared to that of Richard Schmid even though he had already established a style and approach to painting independent of this association. You can see the similarities in paintings like this one, “Unionville” done at Plein Air Easton in 2016.
If you’ve attended a workshop by Mark or watched him paint, you can attest to his devotion to getting clean color, placing it in the right spot and then leaving it alone. Traits reinforced working alongside the Putney Painters.
Mark started calling himself a full-time artist back in 2011. His work can best be described as Painterly Realism. Over the next several years Mark would go on to compete at plein-air events and win numerous awards: Best in Show at the American Impressionist Society, the Wayne Plein Air festival, Vermont Plein Air, Door County Plein Air, and Scottsdale Salon of Fine Art. He won the Joseph Hartley Memorial Award at the Salmagundi Club in New York City, the Bohnert Memorial Award with the Hudson Valley Art Association, and the Artistic Excellence Award with Southwest Art magazine. He won the Grand Prize for Landscape as well as a feature article with International Artist magazine. One of the most rewarding was undoubtedly Best Architecture award at Plein Air Easton in 2014, the very place he felt he “got schooled” a few years earlier. To this he added a “Artists Choice” award at that event a year later.
Boedges now both paints and teaches workshops, around New England as well as in Arizona and Colorado. He is represented by several galleries across the country and enjoys an international following. When teaching he stresses the same lessons he learned as an artist and incorporates this into his practice: Accuracy in all things; drawing, values, colors; Put the paint on the canvas, leave it and don’t touch it again. He starts with a sketch, or series of sketches to work out composition. The first paint layer is often applied somewhat abstractly with an under-painting representation that is loose and fluid. He tweaks and refines the composition. Then he builds the painting slowly, mixing his colors accurately, getting his values correct. He works around the canvas, emphasizing areas of interest with greater contrast, color temperature changes, and edges, leaving other parts less refined, yet complete. He describes his approach as “I am slow and methodical. At least in terms of when the brush hits the canvas.” The finished works are fresh and full of motion and energy, detailed yet loose, and always feeling “authentic.”
Today Boedges spends equal time painting on location (en-plein-air) and in the studio. An accomplished plein-air artist, being true to the scene is important to him. Time spent painting outdoors is indispensable and it is here where he starts almost all of his paintings. Paintings are started on location in one or two sessions, and can then take days to finish to his satisfaction. He has incorporated the use of photographs for capturing some of the information he needs to finish his work in the studio. His focus is on representing complexity as simply as possible. The result is a balance of the spontaneity and immediacy of painting done on location with the control, reflection and contemplation of work done in the studio.
As he explains in his interview Plein Air Podcast with Eric Rhoads at outdoorpainter.com (https://www.outdoorpainter.com/pleinair-podcast-mark-boedges-painting-greens/) “I love complexity. The density of information. I love an intricate painting. I like detail and want to see that in my work, but I don’t want to spend months and years on a painting. I look at someone like Schmid and he gets that complexity without spending that much time. Its done through layering and letting the layers introduce complexity. Letting the layers breathe through. You get unexpected interactions.”
Equally comfortable painting the magnificent peaks of Glacier National Park as he is setting up outside his garage and painting the toys and gear his family spills out every summer, Mark embodies the goal of every artist – to paint what he knows, what feels true to him, and what he responds to. With a degree in philosophy he often thinks about “Art” and “What is Art?” One of the gifts of the 20th century, he feels, is the complete democratization of art. Everything is Art. And anything is Art. This is freeing. “I can do anything I want. I don’t have to make a judgment of what is worthy of being called ‘Art’, it’s just a creative process.” Mark recalls a similar moment when an instructor told him when he went out painting “Don’t be afraid to turn around.” The less acknowledged view can be the better subject to paint. A lesson he has learned well.
What comes next for Mark on his artistic journey? He has been exploring painting larger. He recently completed a 40” x 60” piece, en-plein-air, and has plans for more. The larger canvas forces him to think about what and how he paints given the out-sized impact and additional real-estate a large canvas provides. What the larger size will reveal about his mastery is something we can all look forward to.
When I think about the overheard comment at the gallery I realize the word “authentic” perfectly describes everything about Mark’s work. Ever striving to improve his craft and expand his knowledge you can always feel and see the authenticity of his work. Come see for yourself with a visit to the Bryan Memorial Gallery, in Jeffersonville or visit us online to check what is available at http://bryangallery.org.
“I’ve heard it said that the little village of Shelburne Vermont is reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Perhaps, but in its modern incarnation nestled immediately adjacent to a busy intersection with Route 7 there is little sense of the quiet Vermont village that once was. It’s noisy and the constant stream of cars in all directions is inescapable. Nevertheless at less traveled times of the day, such as early in the morning when the rush of cars has yet to begin, you can catch just a glimpse of that bygone village. This painting is meant to straddle that divide. The country store depicted here is truly the epitome of a Rockwell painting, both inside and out. But the modern cars parked out front and across the street speak unmistakably to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Perhaps in time these cars will place this scene at what the future may regard as the zenith of our capitalist, fossil-fuel-based society in a way no one can foresee. Only time will tell. I have little doubt that the country store will still be there though, largely unchanged.”