Ramble Ramble: A Conversation with Mark Whalen
On April 14, 2019, Over The Influence in LA will be opening a big exhibition of Mark Whalen's latest sculptures and wall reliefs titled Ramble Ramble. From signature totem-like creations with dominating gender-fluid figures to new wall-friendly pieces that flatten his imagery to some extent, the quirky body of work is a continuation of his witty depictions of life’s silliness.
While merging industrial materials with found objects and studio reserves, LA-based Australian artist figured "ramble" would be a perfect metaphor for his recent studio practice and the production of this body of sculptural forms for wall and floor. We got in touch with Mark Whalen, had a peek at his custom production process and got to chat about this particular body of work as well as hear about his future plans...
Sasha Bogojev: You’ve been staying loyal to your palette of pinks and purples for a long time now, when/where are those coming from and what attracts you to them?
Mark Whalen: I love color theory, the way bright and deep colors react when placed side by side or one after the other. People often perceive them as neon or have a hyper-visual-reaction. “What’s wrong with pink?, Ha! Ha!”
When did you start developing totem-like pieces and what do you like about such composition?
The totems or “stacks,” as I like to call them, resulted from a personal response to the work over the past couple of years. My style of sculptural storytelling could be described as stacking of disturbances, conundrums and entertaining questions about life.
How many people does your production include and how much work is done hands-on by you?
Hands are a great analogy. Many people contribute to overall manufacturing. I am constantly pushing the limits of manufacturing and construction. Manufacturing requirements demand great people, and the raw pieces come back to the studio for finishing, color and fabrication. Shout outs to all of the special people who help me build these sculptures from idea to finish.
What is your primary/favorite material?
All of the sculptures and three-dimensional wall reliefs incorporate cast aluminum. Lately, I’ve been working with aluminum, and really admire its ability to take on different architectural features, and add scale to the work. I love the overall weight of the work too. This comes in handy when stacking dozens of objects on top of each other in an imbalanced, indiscriminate way.
Are clean, graphic-like surfaces and lines result of the material used or something you were after in the first place?
Since I am working with non-traditional objects, my goal is to make them appear as if they work together seamlessly. It’s a sculptural balancing act to get each object to perform together and create visual harmony. Each object, color, and surface acts as a different actor on the final stage.
The addition of reflective elements adds a sense of class or timelessness to it IMHO, is that the purpose?
For me, this body of work features a fresh take on contemporary sculpture. I started taking a closer look at how to make unconventional objects really stand out from one another when placed one on top of the other. While experimenting with these “sculptural stacks,” I really loved how surface became an essential character. Each object is a character that contributes to life’s craziness represented in each sculpture. Chrome offers a contemporary point of focus for relaxation, pause, and a moment for peaceful reflection. The metallic surface helps differentiate contrasting moments in each composition. Personally, I’m trying to present the viewer with opportunities to solve these visual riddles. It’s really fun to hear how people interpret the work, as no two people ever say the same thing.
Your work feels light and delicate, is that on purpose and what is the idea behind it?
Thank you. Yes, Ramble Ramble juxtaposes relationships shared between color, texture, and weight. The sculpture works like architecture, a structure that is delicately balanced upon a dimensional object positioned underneath the sculpture. The unconventional objects carefully balance upon themselves to provide the illusion of an acrobatic balancing act.
The inflated gloves and balloons add so much to the feel of the work, do you remember when and how those came into the picture?
For the past thirteen years or so, I’ve always wanted to start incorporating more of what’s encountered during the art-making process. The gloves are a daily tool and often discarded all over the studio floor. The gloves symbolize the different stages my work goes through.
What type of emotions are you trying to convey with facial expressions of the figures?
Great question. I want to leave that up to the viewer, but it represents all of the emotions we all experience throughout the course of a day.
The new show is going back to painting-like works too, but they’re flatter versions of sculptures?
The wall relief sculptures are really something that needs to be experienced in person. Our phones really flatten the life out of dimensional objects. Double Bubble, by example, is a continuation of the floor sculptures onto the wall. It’s a contemporary application that features a super-flat-flattening of the subject while adorning the painting with candy-coated sculptural objects. The visual narrative continues, and it provides a context to the sculptures and stacks. Almost a conversation shared between all of the sculptures in the entire gallery.
Is there a connecting idea or theme of the works in this show?
To ramble is to journey with no plan or preconceived notion, “Just see what's up.” For me, the iconic human shapes, deep color fields, and chromed elements add to my personal journey as an artist. I wanted to engage everyone with the playfulness of contemporary sculpture.
Ramble Ramble is a comprehensive sculpture exhibition that ranges in size from twelve inches to fourteen feet. It’s the first time I’m exhibiting with Over the Influence and wanted this art exhibition to complement their gallery, as well as provide the viewer with as much time and space they need to converse with each piece as they desire.
What do you have planned next?
In the designer toy vinyl space, I have a new color-way for OK Okay coming out at the gallery and one released by Avant Art. Ramble Ramble will also be the title of my new monograph designed by Mark Murphy Design and released during the exhibition. This book will also feature two limited edition sculptures that actually feature the book contained within the sculpture. Kind of a rad nod to the past, but a fresh look at book packaging never seen before.