As observed through Mark Whalen’s eyes, the world is a strange and curious place. His paintings, ceramics and sculpture explore darkly comic, elegant tableaux alive with futuristic mini-dramas. Sexual play, arm wrestling competitions, and ominous rituals are the norm. Potted plants, smiley faces, and scientific information vie for our attention: fences and dead-ends abound. He grants an endearing single-mindedness to his cookie-cutter beings in pursuit of their tiny barbarisms. In short, their bliss depends on staying “inside the box”.
“All my work is quite small and intricate – it’s an obsession. I use familiarity, surprise and repetition to play with skewed narratives of everyday events,” he says. Hieronymous Bosch and M.C. Escher are acknowledged influences, as are his research into subjects as diverse as Japanese folk art and Greek and Roman vase painting.
Whalen incorporates elements of decoration, graphic design and architectural rendering technique – props of our refined civilization – to comment on conventional social mores. For him, truth is to be found in looking beyond surfaces of cultural veneer to point out patterns of coercion and acquiescence. Those who research new ways of being – like his figures whose torches bravely light up territory outside the “box” – are the heroes.
Mark has exhibited his paintings, sculpture and ceramics throughout Australia and internationally. His work is held in the National Gallery of Australia collection, Artbank and numerous private collections. He currently lives in Los Angeles.