Mark Skullerud

Posted by Doug Paradis on


My painting style is the product of four decades working in several overlapping painting disciplines. Each of them presented fresh demands and provided experiences that have found their way into the work I paint today.

My first job as a professional artist began in 1978 as an architectural illustrator for Walter Dorwin Teague, a national industrial design firm, doing interior and exterior jet design for Boeing. To render a proposed interiors convincingly, gouache paints were mixed to match the colors of individual threads so that the precise appearance of each fabric was faithfully produced. Perspective views for each composition were carefully constructed from scaled airplane drawings using traditional techniques handed down through the years. I learned to paint on the job and on the weekends I paid my lead man Gene Connelly, a veteran automobile illustrator from Detroit, to tutor me in the mechanics of color and brush technique.

In 1982 I opened the Skullerud Studio and applied the photo realistic style of painting I learned at Teague to residential architecture, landscapes, and the depiction of things that did not exist – science fiction. Winning a regional Best of Show award in my first sf competition in 1983, I went on to gain awards in Boston, and cities in the West such as Seattle and Portland. I produced five illustrations for Amazing Stories magazine, the world’s longest continuously published science fiction magazine. These open-ended assignments pulled the cork on my imagination and were responsible for expanding the territory of what I could envision.

My focus turned further from the literal in the late 1980’s to include surrealism and its examination of the character of human existence found in myth and dream imagery. As an associate and later a member of the Dharmic Engineers, a group of Northwest painters exploring the interface of Eastern and Western philosophy, my work addressed fundamental questions surrounding nature of mind, reality, and existence. The influence of mythologist Joseph Campbell featured prominently in compositions that sought to reach beyond the intellect.

In the early 1990’s California and French impressionist paintings caught my attention by virtue of a vitality that wasn’t intrinsic to the landscapes or people they portrayed. The intangibles in these paintings were the character and heart of the artist who felt the world of light as a visceral experience rather than intellectual or photorealistic opportunity. This seemed like a step in the right direction for me. I worked for the better part of the decade painting the seasonal, diurnal sensations of light on eyes and skin.

In the late nineties I ventured into abstraction, severing all connections to the literal world. More than any other style, abstraction pointed to the complexity of being alive as a nonphysical force in a physical body. And, unlike previous disciplines that were concerned with capturing something, I had to learn to let go of conceptual planning and subject. This was a signal change. It meant beginning each painting as a novice in a trade-off of control for intelligent instinct. All the assists of other disciplines, such as horizon line, light source and cast shadow, gravity – all these helps were gone. I traded in everything I knew for a set of crayons. Several years of work in several mediums passed by before I produced anything worth showing. Mixed media, consisting of acrylic background with prisma pencil overlay, was my key to this new world, chiefly because the slowness of pencil allowed for an internal language to develop at its own pace.

By the early 2000’s I had lived without realism long enough to entertain small doses of it in my current work. The difference now was the subordination of representation to the greater, native expression. And the nature of that expression is freedom from the ideas and ideals that force a given mental interpretation. Simply put, the image is set free on canvas, not captured as it was seen or imagined beforehand. Because the ambiguity is clearly defined in a harmonious environment, mystery and uncertainty cease to be threatening. Viewing becomes play. Conclusions are relinquished for ongoing engagement with an image that may never be completely understood conceptually. Such images can be both precise and inaccurate if they make emotional sense.


Artist Statement:

My earliest memory is the pattern of light and shadow made by the blinds next to my crib. Light has been the author of memorable events ever since: islands of color under street lamps; rainbows formed by the lashes of my nearly closed eyes; the long minutes of a freighter dissolving in sunset; a boy’s first look at the moon through a telescope.

Light has been an instrument of beauty in my life. And painting has been a way to enter the game.

Practicing the craft proved to be more than that of course. Painting is an avenue to accomplishment, personal control and freedom. I find meaning and purpose in making images that have never before seen the light of day.

I am attracted to mystery and discovery. The art ism’s I explored were really personal investigations that left a trail of paint leading to the future, the spirit, the nature of color and the love of place. All these investigations have been worth my attention for years at a time.

My methods are straightforward – a graphite composition, followed by one or more small color studies, and finally a large painting in oil or acrylic. The process allows an in depth look that begins with complete freedom and becomes more critical as it moves toward completion. It follows a five-step pattern of Discovery, Balancing, Refinement, Production and Invention. I am at heart an explorer whose jungle is the imagination and an inventor and whose factory is the studio.

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