The color and the shape
The short answer: Reno native Mark Ceccarelli is a 37-year-old bellman who paints powerful, preternaturally colorful, neo-Fauvist acrylic portraits and scenes meant for easy comprehension and enjoyment. His work is easily translated into its large emotional blocks and components for immediate understanding. He does the work for the viewer.
The long answer is complicated by the last 100 years of modern art and Ceccarelli’s desire to simply paint in the language of bright color, and to do so in the same hedonistic style and familiarity that he appreciates in the art of his influences. If “derivative” is the worst thing someone can say of a painter’s work, then his work is, admittedly, derivative. Like the work of Henri Matisse, Ceccarelli’s paintings put style way before craft, yet he adds a distinctive tongue-in-cheek awareness that seems to look back at the viewer and wink off any need for brutal theoretical criticism, like a really pretty girl wearing a fake nose and glasses.
He’s not concerned with the one-upmanship of the effete “avant-garde” crowd racing each other around exponentially thinner and thinner edges of style and theory. Ceccarelli just likes to paint. And when he sells a painting, often through a chance encounter with a co-worker or someone happening upon one of his paintings hanging at the Aroma Club, he admits he doesn’t ever really know what to charge for them and he often sells them for a fraction of what he probably could get if he was more of a shark. “I had to start letting my wife price the paintings,” he says.
Ceccarelli’s general modesty is betrayed by the slightest touch of a gentle pasha in his leisurely walk and presence. His first brush with success came in a high school art class when his watercolor portrait of then-president Ronald Reagan was picked to hang in Reno City Hall.
Ceccarelli laughs. “Art class bored me,” he says. He says he purposely turned in his best work at the beginning of the year and then coasted through the rest of the year using just the threat of his potential.
“I think that I always wanted to be an artist, but I never thought I could do it. It felt out of my reach. It was something that always happened to somebody else,” he says.
After getting married and moving to Mississippi to be around his wife’s family in 1999, Cecceralli began taking his paints with him to his job. “I was working the graveyard shift,” he says. “I’d set up my canvas and my paints at my bell station and could pretty much work most of the night without much disturbance. And when people noticed what he was up to, Ceccarelli says they often took great interest in his work. “I started thinking, maybe I have a little something here,” he says modestly.
Now with two young kids, Ceccarelli says it’s hard to find time to paint, but when he does, he knows what kind of subjects catch his eye. “I like to paint chubby, or otherwise what most of society deems as ‘unattractive’ or ‘flawed types’ of women,” he says, finding their “flaws” more interesting than “perfection.” The inherent tension in things provide a natural drama and narrative arc to his work.
His “Last Dinner” painting depicts 11 smirking grotesques—disciples—who appear to be sitting on stools around a square bar tended by the Holy Savior himself. The men are cartoonish caricatures, but the painting dilates across every inch of the canvas, showing Ceccarelli’s natural gift for making paintings that register and resonate their easy bliss almost instantly.