Vesta 2008: Mark Satchwill Interview
Faun Helen of Troy Eros
I first became acquainted with Mark Satchwill’s art while trawling images to add to the Parallel Perspective’s People’s Gallery. Specifically I was looking for a portrait of the infamous Elizabeth Báthory, the so-called “Blood Countess.” I was getting a little disappointed by the art work available—then I spotted Mark’s portrait & knew this is it! Mark has extensive galleries of his work online. The historical thumb prints are fascinating. His portraits of divinities & humans are often sexually charged, but also reveal an inner dimension, a naked vulnerability. Mark has a striking talent to capture the essence of a subject’s personality with a light, delightful & subtly erotic touch.
MARK: I was
born in 1966, my father was a baker and he and my mother ran their own
business. I became aware quite young that I had an aptitude for drawing and
painting and by my early teens that seemed to me to be where my
destiny lay! After school I completed a Foundation course (where you try
different disciplines to see which you like best i.e. painting, sculpture,
textiles etc) and then went on to a three year degree course in Graphic Design,
where I focused on illustration. I had a difficult time on the course and by
the end of it had a folder of work that I didn't like much and my confidence
was in tatters. After a few months half-heartedly trying to find work as an
illustrator I got a job in a record store and more or less gave up
painting for 15 years. I would dabble occasionally and actually took a year out
and got an exhibition together which was held at Adonis Art in London in 2000.
After that I dropped it again until 2005, after the death of my mother. In
2006 I gave up my job and decided to try and make a living from my art. I had
an exhibition of portraits that April and then began to use the internet to
sell my work, which I have been doing ever since!
MARK: I'm not sure there was an epiphany...it kind of snowballed. There was no one else in the family interested in art or with any artistic experience, so I was on my own with it. It seemed a totally natural thing to be creative—and whatever I absorbed into my brain, be it films, music, books, found it's way out again in drawings and later paintings. At secondary school (or High School) I was fairly quickly adopted by the art teachers and as school progressed it became what I was known for, from designing sets and posters for the school plays to winning competitions and prizes for the school.
JEF: I think I should drop that “epiphany” question. No one seems to have had one, myself included. Anyway, it’s great that you had teachers who were also mentors—and who recognized and appreciated your talent.
PARALLEL PERSPECTIVES reflects a strong Pagan component. What are your thoughts about modern Paganism?
MARK: I see Paganism as people trying to connect with nature and a sense of tradition and respect for the earth. I was raised Catholic, though I haven't practiced since my teens. Recently, when I've been searching for subjects to paint, I find I'm drawn to the Saints and other Catholic religious figures, as well as the old Pagan Gods. I think really they are all part of the same thing, which is trying to understand and make sense of a natural world we have little control over. As most people reading this will be aware, most of the Christian celebrations like Christmas and Easter just replaced older Pagan rituals, one belief system replacing another, but really it's all a similar sort of thing. The Pagan gods were just more organic.
JEF: That’s very nicely put. My patron saints are Francis & Joan Of Arc (included here.) It’s interesting how many recovering RC’s (me too) & Jews are attracted to (1) Marxism and/or or (2) Paganism. I suppose it has something to do with an early authoritarian mindset, although I think many ex-RC’s have a special feeling for the Cult of the Virgin Mary that easily translates as The Great Mother in the neo-Pagan sense. Catholic & Jewish rituals were dramatic & ritualistic (still are in the Orthodox sects.) A lot of devout people are drawn to Kabbalah, with its emphasis on the Feminine aspects of God.
Who do you see as major artistic
influences in your life?
MARK: Well, I would say Boticelli and the Pre-Raphaelites were big influences on me in my youth and now. Waterhouse and Burne-Jones in particular. I also liked David Hockney's figure drawings and paintings. Illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley. Gustav Klimt. Artists who created beautiful work with an element of the fantastic and romantic.
JEF: I love Waterhouse & his melancholy ladies floating down river streams.
What sort of influence has the web had on
you & your work.
MARK: Well, without the web I wouldn't be doing any of this! The Internet has been a blessing for someone like me who is really quite shy and was very lacking in confidence. Through putting my work in online galleries and communities I've been able to find an audience that would have been impossible previously. It's also allowed me to sell my work without having to go through a gallery, so I can sell directly to my customers and build a relationship with them. It's allowed me to make a living (albeit a modest one) from my art that seemed impossible ten years ago. It also means there is a lot more competition for people's attention but that means you have to think about strategies and work a bit harder to get noticed. I've met a lot of very kind, helpful and talented people through the web and there are some great groups (hello WNW!!) who are happy to share information and experiences. It also means working long hours and constantly updating and posting new work but it's worth it - I'm having a ball.
JEF: I can
definitely relate to what you said. Although the Web has its horrors, it has
also opened up amazing possibilities for artists. Now you can get your art out
there & not have to die in order to become famous—or just
self-supporting—or just happy with what you’re doing.
What advice would you give to a young artist if they asked how best to earn a living at their craft?
MARK: I'd say take advantage of the opportunities available to you now like the web - get seen, get noticed, work hard and practice, practice, practice to hone your skills. Persevere - it's a tough business, expect criticism both fair and otherwise, expect rejection, expect strong competition. Failing everything else find someone rich to marry and support you so you can do your art LOL
JEF: Favorite musicians/artists/films?
MARK: I'm a bit of a horror buff, have been since I was young - love the old Hammer films, anything with Peter Cushing. John Carpenter, Hitchcock, anything with Bette Davis, The Wizard of Oz, etc. I could go on all night. Same with music, I have 1000's of CD's, from Abba to Dead Can Dance to Yma Sumac but big influences on me were Marc Almond, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gary Numan, Toyah, Grace Jones and Kate Bush. They all in one way or another either directly influenced my views, my art or led me to writers and artists or musicians that further enriched my world. Writers Like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Angela Carter and Anne Rice were big influences too.
JEF: Any future plans or projects you’d like to
MARK: Simply to continue creating work that people enjoy and to continue reaching a wider audience. I've worked in smaller sizes for the last couple of year so I'd like to do some larger work and maybe have an exhibition. I also mainly work in watercolor, so a move into acrylic or oils would be interesting. Mostly to stay happy and healthy and continue enjoying my life!
inspired you to do the Báthory portrait?
Obviously I like it--and do find her fascinating, even more so than Vlad Tepesch (the “real” Dracula.)
Anything else you'd like to share about her or the subject?
MARK: OK, Elizabeth Báthory. The portrait came about as I was doing a series of portraits of historical figures. I have a biography on her by Tony Thorne but, as he states, actual factual information on her is scarce. I think what's interesting about her is how the legends have grown around her (many of which were introduced in the 18th Century). While it is entirely possible she was a cruel woman who had a sadistic nature, it's also possible that she was a victim of a male dominated society who was highly prejudiced against women who held power and property. There is no doubt that her "accomplices" in the crimes were swiftly tortured and executed and she herself was never put on trial, just locked away in her room until she died. That in itself is rather suspicious. I also think that any crimes committed were also highly exaggerated and embellished by rumour and for effect. However, fact and fiction have become inextricably entwined, in much the same way Anne Boleyn was believed to have six fingers and three breasts and it's unlikely we will ever know what really went on.
JEF: From my researches I’m convinced that Elizabeth really was a monstrous serial killer. It’s true about the male dominated society you mentioned, but she actually had a good reputation as far as her administrative skills went. She only got into trouble when she went beyond her boundaries & started snatching aristocrats or girls associated with aristocrats. I think they would have gladly lynched her (or whatever unpleasant alternative they did to rogue gentry). But because she was an aristocrat that wasn’t allowed—I think for the same reason Elizabeth I was afraid to behead Mary, Queen of Scots. It would set a dangerous precedent. At any event, I highly recommend “Countess Dracula”. Ingrid Pit is really fantastic—and definitely “campy”—as Elisabth.
Portraits of Elizabeth & Mary Stuart are featured in the Mark’s gallery of
JEF: I really like your historical figures gallery (well, I guess that's obvious.) Are they figures you have a special interest in? For example, I've been fascinated by the Tudors for a long time—art, music. etc.
MARK: Absolutely, most of the figures I've painted are people I have books on and have read about. I've been interested in the Tudors since childhood, my interest first grabbed by Holbeins amazing portraits and the costumes. Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth in particular fascinated me. My childhood imagination was inspired by the myths, especially about Anne, the six fingers, that she was a witch, her headless ghost etc, and I learned a lot about drawing faces from copying Holbeins portraits. Later I studied the whole period in more detail at school and have continued to read and find inspiration in the people of that era. It seems a period when many fascinating women were living and interest in them hasn't waned. What I tried to do with my own work is to capture an essence or idea of the person and convey that in the expression. So many period portraits of that time are kind of flat, because they were symbolic rather than expressive. They were about status, not character. So I went back to original portraits and used the same costumes and jewelry to keep a connection but then played with the faces to get my idea across.
JEF: Thank you so much, Mark.
Thank you for your art & for providing a holiday treat for