During the Pandemic: A Conversation with Mark Shasha

Written by: Francesca Sinnott
 
Pictured: Mark Shasha
 
Mark Shasha is a multi-faceted and prolific New England artist.  He’s a renowned plein-air painter and fine art artist as well as an illustrator. He describes his art as coming from his “passion to tell stories”. He considers himself lucky because “he has done what he has wanted to do throughout his life”, creating art , acting, singing ,writing and playing music .
He began his studies at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1979 with the idea of becoming a filmmaker. When taking a class with American illustrator Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji, The Polar Express), he decided to pursue illustration, later publishing children’s books, “Night of the Moonjellies” and “The Hall of Beasts”.
 
Pictured: Night of the Moonjellies cover
 
In 2019, he played Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Gloucester Stage Company. Mark firmly believes that “art works best when it puts the viewer in the picture so that one can live vicariously through the art”.
 
The Coronavirus pandemic forced Mark to adapt his painting practice in a myriad of ways.  He moved his work indoors to his home studio in Swampscott, MA. He usually draws and constructs his paintings on panels in situ but now works from the panels in the studio.  He has not painted from photographs in a long time, as a photo does not capture “the liveliness” of the moment. In Plein air, he’ll paint four to five panels over the course of one day, capturing the changing light, then either finish the smaller panel in his studio or uses it as a study for a much larger canvas that he creates in the studio. When asked how does he know when a work is complete, he responds “I go in with the knowledge that there is a possibility I may not be happy with it”. but the more I paint, the better the opportunities for a successful finish”.
 
Pictured: Sandcastles, oil on canvas, 30x40”
 
Mark’s travel plans have also dramatically changed, because the upcoming 14 planned plein air events are postponed. The titles of my paintings are darker since the pandemic. “Lost Horizon”, a recent painting shows two women on top up of a dune looking out over a distant landscape; He feels this particular title is best suited for a painting in these times.
Mark has moved his communications platform to the Internet through his website, podcasts, and regular posts on Instagram and Facebook to connect with his audience.  For example, in lieu of his attendance at the cancelled “Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, in Florida, Mark completed a video presentation of his work, click here to watch the video.
 
Pictured: Lost Horizon, oil on canvas, 24x36”
 
While proficient in watercolor, Mark works primarily in oils. A consummate professional, he is goal oriented and purposeful, always raising the bar for himself.
He schedules solo shows regularly and creates awareness of his work through his social media platforms, plein-air events , solo shows and associations with renowned organizations, such as such as the Copley Society of Art, the Guild of Boston Artists, North Shore Art Association, and The Mission gallery (Utah) to name a few.  Mark has known of Co|So since the 1980’s when he lived on Newbury Street and he “always wanted to be a member” both for the visibility and prestige attached to it.
American artists Norman Rockwell (“brilliant storyteller”), Frederic Church, John Singer Sargent and Maxfield Parrish (“for realism, textures and light”) influence Mark’s paintings. Mark also admires visionaries, such as Jacques Yves Cousteau (scientist, explorer, photographer and poet) and fictional characters like Willy Wonka who inform his creations.
 
Pictured: Plein Greens, oil on panel, 9x12"
 
His advice to young artists is, “Learn how to draw first…then trust the process … embrace the exploration from serendipity to finished piece not always knowing how it’s going to come together….follow your passions…and understand that being an artist is a difficult thing to do as a full time job. As an artist you have to be willing to be judged, shrug off those knocks and be true to yourself”.  Having said that, Mark pulls out his guitar and begins to strum a new piece.
 
“A lot of people want to be artists, when really all they are looking for is “to be free”.  Art only brings you freedom if you are able to follow your own path and not be worried about what others think. Allow yourself to go where the paint is and let it sometimes let it hurt…your love can sustain you as it has sustained me during this pandemic”.
 
This video "We'll Meet Again," was created by Mark for his artist friends, noting that when this pandemic is all over we will meet up again "en plein-air".
Looking to continue learning about Mark Shasha? Click here.