June 17, 2019  |  

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While studying painting in Perugia, Italy, Mark Segal came across an unexpected style, courtesy of his fellow students: Chinese brush paintings. He'll exhibit some of his works in the show Distinct Realms at Madison Art Cinemas through Feb. 6, 2019. 

Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source

While studying painting in Perugia, Italy, Mark Segal came across an unexpected style, courtesy of his fellow students: Chinese brush paintings. He'll exhibit some of his works in the show Distinct Realms at Madison Art Cinemas through Feb. 6, 2019. (Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source | Buy This Photo)

Mark Segal: Traveling West to Discover the East

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Distinct Realms, a solo art exhibit with works by Connecticut artist Mark Segal, opens on Thursday, Dec. 13 and runs through Wednesday, Feb. 6 at Madison Art Cinemas. The exhibit features Chinese brush paintings in a collection that’s as global as the artist himself.
Mark Segal was raised in Connecticut. As an undergraduate, he attended Paier College of Art in Hamden, where he studied illustration, watercolor, and printmaking.
“I favored drawing and a monochromatic, energetic, sketchy style,” Mark says. “It’s all about vitality, all about mark making. It becomes autobiographical because you can see every brush stroke and get a feel for each movement of the hand.”
A student of language as much as art, Mark speaks both Chinese and Italian in addition to his native English. It was in Italy where he pursued his graduate degree, and where he fell in love with both the juxtaposition of antiquity and modernity and the Chinese brush painting style.
“I first went to Italy when I was 18,” Mark says. “That trip was a starting point, the kind where you know nothing and then something happens. I went by the Florence Duomo and it was one of those experiences that changes you.”
Il Duomo is a cathedral that was built during the Italian Renaissance, in the city of Firenze, or Florence, which was the hub of the artistic rebirth that defines that era of art history.
While an undergraduate student, Mark studied for one month in Italy, and that’s when he decided to pursue a master’s degree there.
“It was not an easy process,” he says. “I was the only American there.”
Mark attended a school in Perugia, Italy, which is situated about 100 miles north of Rome, in the country’s interior. There, he studied painting and earned an equivalent to what an MFA would be here in the United States.
Approximately half of the students with whom Mark studied were Chinese, so not only did he have the chance to hone his language skills, he also had the opportunity to become more immersed in Chinese art styles. Mark also befriended one of his professors, who specialized in Chinese art.
“He introduced me to Chinese painting and I loved it. He taught me and then I took it my own way; my hand is in it,” Mark says.
“It’s really important,” he adds, “that we mix these two influences, East and West. Often, we take art history courses, but don’t see this style.”
Most art history survey courses that fulfill general education requirements cover Western art, with perhaps a quick nod to the art and architecture being produced in the Eastern parts of the world. This is largely due to the time it takes to study multiple millennia of art, architecture, and culture.
“It was a rich, cultural history that attracted me to Italy,” Mark says, “and there, I became attracted to the thousands-years-old history of Chinese art.”
Mark continues, “The way space is constructed is different. There are empty spaces; I’m not trying to impose my own image. This gives the viewer the space to fill in with their own imagination.”
Mark’s paintings depict traditional Chinese motifs, but there’s “a whole lot of room to develop my own sense of modernity. It’s such a dynamic medium.”
For Mark, he’s searching for a way to combine Eastern and Western ideas “into a new aesthetic.”
“That’s something really important to be doing: to create dialogue, to try to understand people who share the world,” he says. “It’s been my privilege to understand and I’m hoping people will take that leap.”
It’s a long leap to take, with two thousand years of history to traverse, but Mark hopes his Chinese paintings will allow viewers to step through to an Eastern culture while holding onto their Western one.
The world has become so globalized,” Mark says.
The show, Distinct Realms, came about through a former professor’s connection to Arnold Gorlick, who owns Madison Art Cinemas.
The theme speaks to the “otherworldliness to what I’m painting: distinct imaginary space you can enter when you look at it,” Mark says.
Choosing the 25 pieces Mark entered in this art exhibit was no mean feat.
“It’s a matter of having a feeling of the quality of each piece. There was a lot of switching in and out of pieces,” Mark adds.
Mark’s book Distinct Realms will be available for purchase as well; it showcases his sketches.
Creating each Chinese brush painting is a process of discovery.
“I see where the ink goes. Sometimes I’ll have the basic design in mind and other times, I will have a certain landscape style in mind,” Mark explains. “I love that spontaneous mode of creation.”
Each landscape takes Mark anywhere from one hour to a couple of days to complete. Then, each piece must be cut and mounted. Prep work includes grinding the ink from an ink stick.
“Different inks have different colors and qualities. Some are better for landscape,” Mark says.
The greatest hurdle during the creative process is often acquiring the materials Mark needs to produce his paintings. All of his materials come from China.
“There’s no easy way to order this stuff,” Mark says.
But for Mark, it’s worth it to create an authentic blend of East and West.
“I think it’s going to be a great show,” Mark says, “a chance for art lovers to see something they may have never seen before.”
He invites people to look closely at his work, and let their own imaginations play in the landscapes he creates. “Paintings are intimate and personal. They’re meant to be seen up close and in person.”
Madison Art Cinemas, 761 Boston Post Road, is hosting an opening reception for Distinct Realms on Thursday, Dec. 13 from 5 to 8 p.m. The show will run through Feb. 6, 2019.
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