The right light

Mark L. Emerson

“Untitled Spring” by Mark L. Emerson, polymer on paper, 2010.

“Untitled Spring” by Mark L. Emerson, polymer on paper, 2010.

Photo By Photo courtesy of JayJay

Preview reception is Thursday, May 12, from 6 to 8 p.m.; Second Saturday reception is May 14, from 6 to 9 p.m. at JayJay, 5520 Elvas Avenue; (916) 453-2999; Through June 25.

Mark L. Emerson’s paintings contain more angles than an emaciated fashion model’s physique. He cites the River City’s atmosphere and jazz music as shaping agents in his kinetic and vibrant series, The Color of Rhythm. The Sacramento State professor emeritus teaches full time at the Art Institute of California, Sacramento, and he appreciates his constant immersion in art, going from the creative classroom to the home studio he built over his East Sacramento garage. Apparently, he’s one of those professors who is keen on doing homework.

What do you teach at the Art Institute?

I teach beginning drawing, color theory, and I teach a class in perspective and proportion. I teach a composition class as well. …

When I was going to Sacramento City College, I started as an advertising major and I switched to fine art because I was taking some art classes, and the faculty there was kind of impressive. Meaning, the teachers were teaching very enthusiastically but also maintaining a career as an artist. And I said, “Well, this is kind of fun.” (Laughs.) … I can work in the studio in the morning and go teach at the Art Institute and draw all day. How good is that?

You use a lot of masking tape to create the patterns in your work. Do you paint a layer, apply tape, paint another layer and so on?

Exactly. Some of the work from a couple of years ago is actually quite complex, as far as lines and stripes. Kind of a laborious process: tape, paint, then take the tape off, reapply the tape, paint, you know, over and over again. In the most current work, [there’s] still tape, but not the layers. They’re kind of fields of geometric shapes—triangles, squares, rectangles, etc.

Your work seems like a visualization of sound, and rhythm is a recurring concept. You play the drums, correct?

Well, I kind of play at them, I can’t say I play them (laughs). I wouldn’t qualify myself as a drummer, but I do have a kit and I do kind of fool around with that. But, yeah, the rhythm and speed—speed meaning fast or slow, both—is kind of the speed at which there’s rhythm or movement throughout the composition. It’s evolved. It’s very important to me now.

What kind of jazz music influences your work?

I’ve always listened to Miles Davis and Buddy Rich, [John] Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and that sort of thing. There’s a lot of improvisation in there, whereas I kind of have a direction that the paintings will take at first, but 90 percent of the time, the paintings will take a different look or different direction.

OK, good, I’m glad you didn’t say Dixieland, because I wasn’t seeing that in your paintings.

Oh, no, no, oh my gosh, no! (Laughs.) … If there’s anything that has a direction correlation [to my work] it’s jazz. But then there’s classical. A lot of the paintings I did a couple of years ago were based on [Jean] Sibelius and even Aaron Copland and that sort of thing. … I can’t really say that this painting is directly related to this song or this piece. It’s more of a loose relation.

Some of your previous work reminds me of old computer graphics or old video games. Did you play those games back in the day?

No, in fact, quite honestly, I’m not thrilled with this digital photography. I really don’t like the way [my paintings] look on the computer, because they aren’t the colors that are paint. There’s a different glow. …

A lot of colleagues suggest that I work on the computer, but, well, for example, if I take a series of photographs of my paintings and I see them on a computer and take the disc out of that computer and put it on a different one, they look completely different. There isn’t a real consistent basis for the coloration on computers, and it kind of bothers me.

Every monitor has different calibration, and every camera a different white balance. But each viewer’s set of eyes is different, too, so, in a way, you’re kind of seeing it on computers maybe like how people see it with their eyes.

Well, exactly. And that has to do with perception and that also has to do with their own history. How much has the viewer seen, or they may not be familiar with any of it, so what are they looking at? What do they see?

Does that make you feel like you’ve lost control over your work?

I don’t have much control. … If they see it on a computer and it looks one way, in real life, it looks completely different. So that’s a little frustrating. I would prefer people see it as it was done, as part of the work on canvas or on paper in a gallery situation is the most ideal.

So your creating process can be laborious and tedious. Are you like that in your personal life as well?

Um, kind of, yeah? I know that’s kind of vague. I would say I’m somewhat meticulous in my approach, but I’m more meticulous in the work, and that wasn’t always that way. It evolved. As I got older, I got more patient.

That was an interesting observation about light you mentioned in a previous interview about living in Los Angeles and how your work was more muted and pastel, and your work in Sac reflects the light here, more vivid and high contrast.

Yeah. Is there a question there? (Laughs.)

No, it’s a statement.

It depends on where I’m living. When I did three years in L.A. the colors were very, very muted and pastel, cause that’s kind of the atmosphere … which is an almost impossible thing to paint. It’s one of those very, very abstract things. But atmosphere does kind of have color, kind of a shimmer.

Where will the next series take you in your evolution?

Well, that’s a good question. And I’m not sure. It’s a transitional time. … The work in the next couple of months will probably kind of resemble the work that is in the show, but there are more textural things that I want to try.