Man of Steel Mark Cesark: heavy lifting, shape shifting
When Mark Cesark ventured into the now scrapped Carbondale scrapyard JY Ranch – JY for “Junk Yard” – he had sculpture on his mind. The New Jersey native had concentrated on sculpture as an undergrad at western New York’s Alfred University, and continued on that path while earning his masters in fine art from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. But on one day in 1997 in that old scrapyard, one piece of discarded metal started speaking to Cesark in a new way.”I came across one particular metal plate, a red and black panel, that was really beautiful, I thought,” said the 38-year-old Cesark, a resident of Missouri Heights. “I thought I could make something more painterly using that.”Cesark had not been the only artist to prowl junk heaps and municipal dumps in search of found objects that could be transformed into sculptural creations. Particularly significant in the field has been John Chamberlain, a Midwesterner whose found-object works found their way into museums and galleries beginning in the late ’50s. But this metal panel wasn’t asking Cesark to be turned into a sculptured form; in its colors and flat shape, Cesark envisioned something akin to a painting. Around that piece of scrap metal, Cesark made “Untitled No. 1,” the work that began his niche in art.At his new exhibit Found & Time-Worn Steel, opening at Magidson Fine Art with a reception tonight, Aug. 13 from 69 p.m., Cesark is still thinking like a painter. The works are all intended to hang on walls, and approximate two-dimensional works – albeit, extremely heavy two-dimensional works. In his methodology, Cesark still resembles a found-object sculptor: He spends large chunks of time scouring junk yards from Aspen to Grand Junction with his torch and cutting materials in hand. He uses his muscles probably more than any painter; chopping, hauling and fabricating large metal panels, he says, is physical labor. But the finished art has more to do with the components of painting: “It’s more of a sculptural process, but the outcome is painterly,” said Cesark.While Cesark has developed in the seven years he has been making this unique form of art, the basis of his technique remains the same. In places like the Pitkin County dump and several yards near Grand Junction, Cesark looks for inspiration in other people’s junked metal. “I get my ideas through the objects. My objects are sort of like paint from an artist’s palette,” said Cesark. He points out one of his more impressive new pieces at the Magidson gallery, “American Action Painting,” the composition of which approximates the American flag. “I got the idea for the flag from the red, white and blue colors from the piece of metal.”
Cesark’s initial interest with this work was in abstraction. His latest works, however, show an expanded concern with concept and social matters. While he shies away from discussing particular political views, he does note that “American Action Painting” – a ragged and worn but bold and resolute version of Old Glory – contains an element in the bottom corner that reads, “Leadership for a growing planet.” The words work like a bumper sticker on a car – placed on a bumper in a moment of heightened emotion, then forgotten but left there for eternity.Other pieces have concepts behind them and, like “American Action Painting,” just what they are meant to convey is supplied largely by the viewer. “Anonymous,” one of the pieces exemplifying Cesark’s newfound fascination with letters and words, spells out “George W. Is A,” with the final thought left open. “It’s like voting. You can fill in your own blank,” said Cesark. Another politically informed piece is “Gas Game II,” made of military gas cans arranged like a tic-tac-toe board. “It’s more literal,” said Cesark. “It deals with people’s theories that [the war in Iraq] is more a gas war, an oil war, than a terrorist war. And it’s like a game – who’s going to win?””Blancmang” has far more obscure references. The title comes from a skit from the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” TV show; the primary material was taken from an old school bus painted in a cow pattern. In its dark colors and absurd history and associations, Cesark sees a combination of comedy and doom.”It reminded me of this menacing shadow figure – and also of the skit from Monty Python, ‘Blancmang,’ which was kind of like the Blob,” he said. “In the English, blancmang is a pudding dessert. It was a comical piece about the blob that ate buildings – so there’s that menacing threat, the unknown. But there’s also a silly side: the Blancmang ends up playing tennis and has a talk show. So there’s this comic side and a menacing side.”Cesark intended to explore the mixture of humor and fear further in a piece built around a clown face painted on the side of a truck. “I had an idea, because the close – that’s sort of a happy thing, but also a scary thing,” he said. Alas, the truck was lost to the crusher before Cesark could salvage it.In addition to politics, fright and comedy, Cesark coaxes more formal artistic messages from his work. Cesark sees a raw kind of beauty in the metal, and an intensity in the worn textures, which he is loathe to alter. And in the juxtaposition of beauty and deterioration, the history of the scraps – which he documents in detail – and what time and man have done to them, and the fact that he is making art out of the world’s refuse, Cesark finds meaning.
“The whole transformation is important to me,” said Cesark, who has had gallery exhibits in Denver, Boston and at the Aspen Institute, and whose work is featured in a growing number of public and private collections. “I want that history of what they were to be reflected in the surface. It’s like an abstract, visual document of history, or man. It’s all man-made; it’s all used. What makes these marks are actual wear-and-tear, actual use.”There’s time, in that wear only comes through time. It reflects on man, too. We’re all here for a time – then we pass on, and hopefully we turn into something more divine.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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