Mark Evans Story –
Please could you tell us about your background and how you came to be an artist?
I grew up on a farm in the welsh mountains, and as a kid, while my mates were all indoors playing atari, I was out rock climbing, jumping from cliffs into ice cold waters. I’ve always loved wildness, I think I’m most alive when something’s at risk.
my granddad gave me my first knife when I was seven, I used it to carve images into bark of trees around the farm. then in 1995 I left wales to study fine art in London, it was pre-millennium and there was a digital revolution in the air, the YBA had exploded onto the British art scene, I was told by my professor that ‘painting is dead’ – all this was going on around me, but I couldn’t shake my childhood primal desire to play with knives.
then five years later, in the winter of 2000, just after the turn of the millennium I was trying to clean a blood stain off a new leather jacket I had just been given that Christmas. I scratched through the blood into the surface of the jacket, right into the suede or the ‘nap’. that tiny etched patch of contrast in the leather suddenly became my own archimedes ‘eureka’ moment, as if an explosion went off in my mind. I saw a world of possibilities. I locked myself away in a garage for the next few years and focused on developing this new technique. I was living as part artist & part mad-scientist trying to perfect the process that I’d accidentally discovered. that blood stained jacket was the spark that led to my first ever leather etching.
How do you manage to work such intricate designs into the material?
It’s micro sculpture within a tenth of a millimeter, and I’m an obsessive perfectionist about it. full blown OCD. I have spent hundreds of thousands of hours slicing, etching, making tiny meticulous marks with scalpels. it’s an obsession with me that bleeds into all areas of my life. I need my studio ordered and tidy. my knives all need to be neatly lined up. my studio has to be cleaned every week. I need symmetry, balance, and order or I cannot think. trust me, I’m a nightmare to live with!
After more than a decade – what’s the thing you enjoy most about working with leather?
Leather is ancient, but still remains ‘cool’. leather has heritage, yet it is still rock ‘n’ roll. leather just gets better with age. leather is masculine… from gladiators to wild west gunslingers, but also leather is feminine and sensual. I’m drawn into a bakery by the smell of warm bread. leather is like that, it has it’s own aroma that appeals to me. kinda like good coffee, or grass-cuttings, the scent evokes something. leather was once a living, breathing creature and in a plastic, synthetic, digital world, leather is authentic. it’s a world away from digital media, it’s real. it’s skin.
How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
In one word… brave. so many times I just sliced right through the leather, ruining it, destroying the hide and the art… and my fingers! I’ve cut my fingers and hit bone more times than I care to remember. it’s painful & dangerous. and it’s nothing like painting where the artist can just paint over any mistakes. I have nowhere to hide mistakes, zero margin for error. but I love that, the risk of it, knowing the pressure’s on all the time. in my work there’s no ‘apple Z’ . what is done cannot be undone.
What’s been the biggest singular influence on your work?
That’s too hard to say – I have dozens of influences, both living and dead; caravaggio, van gogh, george bellows, francis bacon, peter howsen, damien hirst, bart gavigan. and music… I need music.
Which piece have you enjoyed working on the most to date?
Over the past 3 years I’ve been working on a 50-square-meter installation for the st. regis hotel in kuala lumpur, that has been an amazing experience. the work will be unveiled later this year.
What do you do to keep your ideas fresh?
I believe it’s important to keep inspired by constantly taking risks, pushing boundaries, otherwise we stagnate. I try to go off-radar as much as possible and ditch the distractions of e-mail and the phone. when a storm strikes a city most people run for cover and find shelter from the savage wind and rain. but I believe the artist is meant to do the opposite! to keep ideas fresh we need to face the elements, climb the highest building and there get struck by lightning… and then live as a lightning conductor.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?
To not be afraid. I had a lot of hang ups and fears as a teenager that held me back. I try to learn from my many, many mistakes, and I’m learning to be afraid of nothing. the times I’ve been afraid to mark the leather, scared to make that first incision, I have always been at low points in my life. the more fearless I am, the better the work comes out. fear always makes us hold back and nothing can progress when we are afraid and intimidated.
What compels you to create artworks and what other compulsions do you have?
It’s hard to say in words. I just have to create every day or I wouldn’t be able to function. it’s almost not a choice anymore. that sounds dramatic I know, but it’s almost like breathing, if I stop I’d die. other compulsions are similar, I write story and film and it’s something in me that just has to get out or it suffocates my mind, like idea gridlock.
What’s the last thing that made you say ‘wow’?
My latest boxing images. I have never made work this good. I had an epiphany last week and locked myself away in my studio for four days straight. I’ve just created the best piece in the last twelve years of work.