Mark Chapman is one of Art@Africa’s represented artists. Chapman Mark was born in Kimberly, South Africa, and having grown up in the small towns of Stilfontein and Klerksdorp, he attended Milner High School. After completing two years military service after high school, he moved to Johannesburg to study graphic design.
Finding the constant critique of formal design training counter to his way of working, he left after six months and began a twenty-four year-long career in the mining industry.
Mark only got his start in sculpture and ceramics many years later, when a potter friend gave him his first bag of clay while living in Johannesburg. He has since returned to his creative roots, and begun working full-time as a sculptor and ceramist, and has gone on to develop his very own new generation pop art style. In conversation with Chapman we start to discover more about his work.
Fig.1, Mark Chapman, Storm, Bronze, (Art@Africa).
Could you explain your artistic background and education, how is it that you came to become an artist?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Unfortunately art was not a subject available to us back then. After 2 years military service I went to study graphic design but left after 6 months. Just wasn't my thing. Too constricting!
I then spent the next 24 years in the gold mining industry as a production foreman. After taking a retrenchment package I joined my girlfriend in her domestic training business in Johannesburg.
It was here that she encouraged me to get back into art. A friend gave me a bag of clay and I started trying my hand in sculpting. I went to some classes and started making a lot of pieces. Someone liked what they saw and got me in touch with a gallery owner, who invited me to a group show. The rest, they say, is history.
What have been your best-loved exhibitions to have been a part of over the years?
Obviously, your 1st exhibition is memorable. My 1st solo exhibition at the Stellenbosch Woordfees was my big breakthrough. Lots of work and lots of fun. Then being invited to exhibit a big piece on the cliffs in Hermanus, for Fynarts was amazing. The piece called ‘Stop’ gets to stand there for a year. It becomes part of the scenery! I was very proud.
What artists have inspired you, or if none which artists do you enjoy?
As my art has developed my favourite artists have also changed. My 1st love was the work of Johnson Tsang. A master of porcelain sculpture. My other favourites are Lisa Clague, Luke Huling, Marc Janssen, Rabi Montoya and Kim Simonsson. The artist who blows my mind at the moment is Alan Waring. His creativity and skill around his animal sculptures are amazing.The reality about art is there is just so much great stuff out there it's impossible to name all who inspire you. There's a million bits of different pieces that I love. It's those bits along with what's going on in your own head that leads to the work I end up with.
Fig.2, Johnson Tsang, Under the Skin, Ceramic, (art people gallery).
Which is your favourite work you have created?
I don't think I can come up with one single favourite piece, I've created, but Tank Girl that was at Woordfees came out just perfect. Also my Gas mask Kid, the big metallic fish called, Bob and my 1st Bronze Stop.
I look at your sculpture ‘Stop’ and this is what comes to mind to me:
The little character that is synonymous to your style draws attention to the innocence of the future generations that will have to conquer the problems the past generation have created. Your child like figure does not cower away from the problem but stands strong and prepared, the childhood innocence of this piece can be seen from the hat that covers the figures eyes. In hiding the eyes of the child, I believe that this future generation doesn't understand the extent of the problems they will have to face.
Could you explain what you intended to portray in ‘Stop’?
Stop evolved into a kid with a very important message. He stands alone, with his hand held out in front of him trying to stop what's coming. And what's coming is Global warming, with the rise in the ocean. His message is quite clear. We have to do something about it!
Fig.3, Mark Chapman, Stop, Bronze, (Art@Africa).
Are there any other messages you'd like to convey in your art in the future?
The Blue Dot series that's coming is along the same path. The body of work will point to our lack of care to save the only planet we have, along with various species that we are destroying without any real outcry.