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An Interview With Open Sesame Gallery’s Visionary Bronze Sculptor Mark Walker

Zachary Sofia, like many other art industry professionals, is first and foremost, enthusiastic about championing original creative output. In addition to having well over a decade of art agent/curation experience, the Pacific Northwest-based proprietor of Open Sesame Gallery also happens to be an artist. Counting pastels and ink dip pens among his favorite mediums, the creative spirit easily embraces the perspective of those who are guided by the muse. He personally relates to the thrills, challenges, and certainly the deep level of commitment necessary to manifest unique concepts because artists really are his people.

We’re very pleased to present the following inspiring interview with bronze sculptor Mark Walker, whose “very strange yet uniquely appealing work” captures the heart and soul of Zachary Sofia’s mission – to offer “more exposure” to truly skilled, undeniably innovative creatives

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Open Sesame Gallery’s Zachary Sofia In Front of a Ramsey Robin Rye Painting

Highlighting visionary new contemporary art genres such as pop surrealism, lowbrow, cyber punk, “and strange things that I’ve never seen before”, Zachary Sofia’s online gallery and bookstore accepts artist submissions throughout the year, so be sure to send your portfolio images to opensesametacomagallery@gmail.com. Beyond discovering emerging talent, he offers his roster of artists a strong support system so their careers can flourish, as well. One key aspect of Open Sesame Gallery’s promotional approach is, of course, hosting myriad pop-ups and formal art exhibitions throughout the year with ever-varying themes. Represented creatives are further showcased via the gallery’s insightful website interviews and YouTube artist profiles, both of which are designed to reach the proper demographic – art aficionados.

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Robot Relief by Mark Walker and Brian Despain (Patina Bronze Relief)

Zachary Sofia is keen on enabling a larger segment of the art loving population to begin their art collecting journey, or – if they’re already seasoned – to enjoy increasingly more unique acquisitions. He believes that each piece’s pleasing aesthetic is just as significant to the collector as the relationship that they form with it. That’s why – in addition to selling one-of-a-kind works – Open Sesame Gallery’s patrons are encouraged to consider “the worthwhile investment of prints and drawings, which are a great way to collect art without going broke”.

Casting bronze is costly and time-consuming – and not that many people know how to do it – which makes it special and pretty cool.

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Mark Walker Refining A Wax Sculpture Prior To Casting

Exclusive Interview With Sculptor Mark Walker

You’ve been an art educator for several decades, including your time as a bronze casting teacher at Seattle, Washington’s Pratt Fine Arts Center. Does teaching make you spring out of bed in the morning, or is sculpting the stronger draw?

I am an artist…a sculptor…this is who I am. I’m addicted to art. I have to do it. I spend all my time teaching and working on my own personal art. They’re both a lot of fun and entirely integrated into my life. I like the idea of passing my craft onto my students, plus I always learn from them, which helps me to refine my creative practice.

It seems like sculpting gives you an endorphin high. Does the entire kit-and-kaboodle consistently fuel your soul, or does one specific aspect of your bronze statuary and relief work really light you up?

I love art in general but sculpting and making tangible, textural, three-dimensional objects out of clay has always intrigued me. I like putting my hands on my work. From sculpting clay and making a mold to getting it into wax and then finally casting into bronze, I love the creative process of taking a step forward and eliminating the step before it.

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Dystopian Children by Mark Walker (Patina Bronze)

Of all the sculptural materials that you use – clay, wax, plastic, bronze – why is bronze so appealing?

I love its appearance and durability. You have to melt and pour it, yet it’s hard and tough. Casting bronze is costly and time-consuming – and not that many people know how to do it – which makes it special and pretty cool.

Your recent foray into sculpting with plastic is so different and far more pop surrealistic than many of your other works of art. Will that be a regular part of your creative exploration moving forward?

Working with plastic was a self-imposed homework assignment inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. The school I teach at was forced to shut down, so sending students home with plastic molds ended up being a lot more practical. I’ve been having a blast regularly experimenting with plastic, so yes, I’ll definitely continue.

I am an artist…a sculptor…this is who I am. I’m addicted to art. I have to do it.

Sci-fi themes figure prominently in your work, as do skulls and general weirdness (the latter of which you proudly admit). Why are left-of-center themes so appealing to you?

I have an affection for things that are odd rather than conventional. Realism – on the other hand – bores me, which I don’t mean in a disrespectful way. I would simply be bored if I didn’t do weird.

Do you habitually reject concepts in the idea stage because they’re not weird enough?

I don’t reject concepts as much as I bring them into my own reality. If you look at my body of work, everything I create is different, but each individual piece builds on what I did before. They end up becoming one piece, all uniquely detailed…all weird.

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Puzzle Baby by Mark Walker (Wax and Clay Work In Progress)

When viewed through a computer screen, it’s difficult to determine how your baby doll head series is constructed, but the multilayered effect is really interesting as well as extremely creepy. Was that effect the result of trial and error or did you hit the ground running?

I hit the ground running. There’s trial, but not really error. I remember dropping a bust once and making a mold out of the broken parts. The multilayered aspect of my baby doll head series came to me one day while I was working with resin and eating candy. I suddenly thought, “Oh shit! I’m putting a candy wrapper in there!” Now I save all my candy wrappers.

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Baby Death Star by Mark Walker (Plastics, Mixed Media)

Regarding your fondness for integrating baby doll heads in your art, is warping something that should really be regarded as sacred what specifically appeals to you?

What interests me about them is that they’re perfect and flawless. I like making them just plain weird and imperfect by taking them apart, adding fake teeth and pulling the lips off. I think that pristine things like that deserve to be messed with.

I don’t reject concepts as much as I bring them into my own reality. If you look at my body of work, everything I create is different, but each individual piece builds on what I did before. They end up becoming one piece, all uniquely detailed…all weird.

When do you know that you’ve finally landed on the right combination of weird?

Years ago when I first fused two baby doll heads together, it looked like they were pulling away from one another while simultaneously smiling at each other. That piece only took 10 minutes to create but it inspired an intriguing creative path. When I’m working with baby doll heads, figuring out the most appealing arrangement is like working on a puzzle. Once I find the right aesthetic, I attach them to a clay base that I’ve already covered with artistic details. With other sculpting projects, I come up with a design, but – while I’m manifesting them – I generally see details in the clay as if it’s taking to me.

Are the messages that you hide in your sculptures on par with Al Hirshfeld concealing his daughter Nina’s name in his many illustrations?

It occurred to me that I could do much more than just sign my name to a completed work of art. The messages that I place inside the base of my large sculptures – which no one will ever see – are like a time capsule that includes things like the date, weather, and a little about my family. For smaller sculptures, I integrate details onto the surface design. Fans can attempt to find all of the details that I include on those pieces, but they still may not be apparent.

You seem to be extremely fond of dipping into the annals of art history for your own creative inspiration. Which art periods and aesthetics resonate the most with you?

Yes! I’m influenced by a lot of historical masterworks, from the 13th to the 18th century. I love to emulate and modify amazing patterns, hand gestures, and other elements in my own practice. Roger Delivering Angelica by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is a great example. In my version, a robot replaces Angelica. I really enjoy looking at Christian and church art – it’s so busy and detailed – and paintings, specifically. I’m also inspired by contemporary horror and science fiction movies.

I have an affection for things that are odd rather than conventional. Realism – on the other hand – bores me, which I don’t mean in a disrespectful way. I would simply be bored if I didn’t do weird.

I love that you’re an unabashed fan of emulating ideas. Some artists aren’t that transparent.

The images that I “copy” in my art, which come to me while looking at mundane things like laundry, or simple things like negative spaces, textures, etc. – are tweaked so much that they become my own original concepts.

Is artistic plagiarism a concern of yours, especially in this internet age filled with trolls who delight in delivering a death blow of criticism behind the comfortable anonymity of their screens?

Not one freakin’ bit. I’m influenced by other work, but the ideas change drastically during my creative process and my end product is entirely different.

About 15 years ago, you ran into Brian Despain at an Astoria, Oregon gallery. That was your first introduction to his work, which resulted in an ongoing creative collaboration (including several pieces available through Open Sesame Gallery). What a wonderful art-nership you’ve both nurtured!

A few years after that show, I reached out to Brian and he ended up sending me an image of a robot looking at a couple of birds on his arm, which I added my own creative touches to. Since then, we’ve created at least 10 pieces together. Each of our processes is time-consuming, but the realism and tangibility that I add to Brian’s sketches always ends up being complementary.

Do you and Brian intend to continue building on your creative collaboration?

We haven’t hashed out what our next project will be, but we’ll definitely still partner up. He does want me to give him sculpting lessons!

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Skull King by Mark Walker (Bronze Relief)

I like putting my hands on my work. From sculpting clay and making a mold to getting it into wax and then finally casting into bronze, I love the creative process of taking a step forward and eliminating the step before it.

Andrew Wood, lead singer of the Seattle alt-grunge bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, sadly passed in 1990 – at the age of just 24 – following a drug overdose. Future Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament were founders Mother Love Bone, so it makes sense that your bronze statue of Andrew is included in the Museum of Pop Culture’s (MoPOP) “Pearl Jam: Home and Away” permanent exhibit. Prior to that commission, were you aware of Andrew Wood’s connection to the alt-grunge movement?

I knew of Mother Love Bone but I had no idea who Andrew Wood was.

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Andrew Wood Memorial Sculpture by Mark Walker – Museum of Pop Culture (Seattle, Washington)

How did Jeff Ament end up commissioning you to create Andrew Wood’s memorial sculpture?

I was just minding my own business while working on a bronze Husky for the University of Washington. I had the head on my shoulder when an ex-student of mine from Pratt Art named Pandora approached me. She said that her boyfriend was looking for someone to create the Andrew Wood memorial sculpture and I told her, “I’ll do it!” It turns out that her boyfriend was Jeff Ament. I was stunned.

With a tree-like body – twisting vines anchored to the ground – and inviting, outstretched arms, your bronze sculpture of Andrew Wood seems messianic in nature…but it also seems like a visual riff on his last name and the fact that he is now forever a part of the earth. Were you intentionally trying to portray Andrew as a rock god? Did Jeff guide you down that thematic path, or were you given free rein?

Jeff is the one who wanted Andrew growing out of a tree since his roots are in the Pacific Northwest, but I was encouraged to incorporate my own ideas into his memorial piece. I wasn’t given reference images, and I didn’t even sketch my own ideas. I just spent a lot of time studying Andrew’s style, what he wore – all those stars – which was very inspiring. I decided to include an image of Saturn spinning out of control on Andrew’s sculpture since that’s really what happened to him in his young life.

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Andrew Wood Memorial Sculpture by Mark Walker (Detail)

I’m influenced by a lot of historical masterworks, from the 13th to the 18th century. I love to emulate and modify amazing patterns, hand gestures, and other elements in my own practice.

Was that the first time you created such a formidable work of art, both in scale and emotional presence? Were you stressed out the entire time you worked on it simply due to the high expectations?

Yes, it was the first time I did a memorial like that, which was definitely stressful.

In terms of time commitment and idea manifestation, what does a project of that size and importance require?

It took almost three years to do the modeling and four years to complete. I came right home from school and worked on it every night until 11 p.m. There are three versions of my Andrew Wood sculpture, including the 8-foot Museum of Pop Culture version, one for Andrew’s mom Toni Wood, and one for Stone Gossard (which is in the process of being cast).

Did you have to present first/second/third incarnations to Jeff Ament for approval? How long did the tweaking process and ultimate approval take?

I created just one incarnation in clay which – fortunately – didn’t have to be tweaked. That clay version was scanned into a computer in order to make the eight-foot memorial. When Jeff initially walked into my studio, I unveiled Andrew’s memorial and he almost cried.

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Andrew Wood Memorial Sculpture by Mark Walker (Detail)

Let’s imagine that you’re commissioned to design your own bronze memorial. What details would be absolutely crucial?

My signature! The most important thing to me is that my name is located somewhere on the sculpture, and the best part of finishing a piece is the creative process that leads me to the end product.

I like the idea of passing my craft onto my students, plus I always learn from them, which helps me to refine my creative practice.

What secret message would you incorporate in your own self-designed bronze memorial?

Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve all that I get, which I never overlook. I’ve received a lot of encouragement throughout my life from my mom, my teachers, and friends to make the most of the gift that I’ve been given, so I’d thank all of them.

Sum up your sculptural work ethic in 10 words or less.

Wild, dark, emotionally unstable, detailed, texturally absurd, and warm at heart.

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Robot Pierrot by Mark Walker and Brian Despain (Bronze Relief)
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Mindwarp by Mark Walker (Clay Work In Progress)
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Open Sesame Gallery’s Zachary Sofia In Front of a Shawn Foote Painting

Photography Credits: Angelo Comeaux, Wendy Johnson and Scott Nelson of Jackson Scott Studios

Mark Walker Social Media Accounts

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Open Sesame Gallery Social Media Accounts

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About Author

Longtime eco-journalist, art wordsmith and creativity connoisseur. Anything that hovers in the right-brained spectrum or is born out of unbridled imagination elevates my spirit. I probably revere mother nature's ever-changing shazaamy brush strokes more than the average humanoid. Technicolor art supplies make me weak in the knees, as do wet-nosed luvvies.

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