One of the alumni from our Defining Practice course, Mark Pearce has set up an innovative new arts festival in West London. Creative Mile, now in its second year, reaches out along a stretch of otherwise unassuming highstreet and brings together a group of over 70 local artists, museums and art centres across multiple venues over a stretch of a mile. This year the theme is ‘colour’.
Mark started making art in his 40s by going to a local painting and drawing class once a week, but quickly realised it wasn’t enough. It was a 10-week foundation course at the Slade where he really began to develop.
Last year the event saw over 3,000 visitors and was nominated for the Hounslow Community Awards for its ‘outstanding contribution to galvanising people and organisations to work in partnership’. Exhibitors included painters, sculptors, printers, ceramicists, hat makers, mosaic artists, jewellery makers, poets and musicians as well as eight art venues.
A ‘graduate’ of the 2021/22 Defining Practice course at Newlyn, Mark Pearce is now also a commissioned artist operating out of his own studio in Brentford, London.
For someone who lives and works in the in the capital, Newlyn seems like a long way to come when there’s so much on offer on his doorstep. Why did he choose to travel down to Newlyn and the far South West?
“I’ve done all my previous courses in London so there was a curiosity to do something outside of the city, and to see what that would add. Newlyn was a really attractive location. And I liked the idea of a weekend’s studying at Newlyn, then going away, making things for 8 weeks and then re-joining the tutors and students to review and discuss my progress. It had a good rhythm to it.”
Mark started making art in his 30s by going to a local painting and drawing class once a week, but quickly realised it wasn’t enough. It was a 10-week foundation course at the Slade where he really began to develop.
“I started to understand what it means to be an artist and how to think like an artist. It was life changing. I wanted to do more and the decision to sign up to Defining Practice at Newlyn came about because I couldn’t see myself doing a Fine Art degree – I don’t like the academic side of things, the having to write and explain what I’m doing. I just want to get on and make things!”
Many of us come to Newlyn School of Art not necessarily feeling like we can call ourselves an artist yet, but Mark says that the year-long Defining Practice course – together with the progress he has made since – has flicked a switch and helped make him think more creatively.
“It informs pretty much everything I do and has helped me to think big as Co-Founder and Creative Director for Creative Mile Festival. Since Defining Practice, I’ve started approaching the festival as an artist – rather than an organiser. It’s almost like I’m viewing the town as a canvas for showing people’s art, displaying art; that’s what’s driving me. It’s a form of activism. I’m doing something in my community in the hopes that people get to know their neighbours, and have fun together, and that’s really important when everyone is feeling so divided at the moment.”
Although the festival’s inaugural year was 2021 it was through one of his one-to-one tutorials with Lead Tutor Faye Dobinson this year that he realised that there were aspects to his artistic practice which are purely about generating participatory art.
“She said that part of my practice was involving other people and building a sense of community out of it. I hadn’t really recognised that as being part of my creative self. But she named it – and then I could suddenly see it. That conversation was really important to me. It helped me consolidate who I am and what I stand for.”
Creative Mile uses art as a channel to connect people. The festival asks everyone to dress up in their brightest clothes, “pushing people out of their comfort zone to wear something that they wouldn’t normally consider”, says Mark. “Because that’s what being an artist is about for me: thinking big, challenging conventions and trying something new so that people start working together towards something where art is the heart. But what’s also good about this is that I’m also developing my own network. It’s not just how good you are at painting, it’s equally about promoting yourself and getting your art seen.
Mark’s art is certainly noticeable. With a focus on pattern and portrait Mark’s current sculptures – the direct result of doing the Newlyn Defining Practice course – combine the two elements. The sculptures came about because one of the initial tutorials was about extending the life of the art the students had already created. Caught in the melee of launching the Creative Mile festival in September 2021 Mark was running out of time and ideas for bringing something to the next Defining Practice weekend. Wondering what he already had to hand and that he might use, he picked up some portraits that had been lying in a drawer.
“There was something sort of stencil-like about them so I started cutting them out and getting involved with the relationship of the shadows they made. This led to me wanting to make them rigid, to throw more shadow, which is when I realised that I could make sculpture. So now they’ve been made in MDF, Perspex and steel. One MDF sculpture is going to be about 1.5 meters and the other 2 metres. So for me this is where Newlyn has had an immediate and exciting effect on my art. They prompted us to respect and re-use what we already have, experiment with it and extend its life. It’s worked for me.”
As well as running a festival and working on his Perspex sculptures what else has he been doing since leaving the course?
“I’m working on a big commission. At 2. 8 x 3.5 metres it’s the biggest painting I’ve ever done. It’s for an office in Marble Arch, central London and was commissioned by an interior designer. The course we did with Jesse was really helpful in terms of how to work your way into a large painting… It stopped me fixating on the finished surface, and I began to think about the canvas as a material, about creating layers and underpainting. It’s been invaluable. I’m using a combination of paint brushes and rollers and I’ve ordered some new big rollers. So that’s been interesting having the confidence to do this now, and feeling that the price was something I was able to ask.”
Getting a big commission so soon after completing the course is an amazing outcome for any Defining Practice student. Has he always been this confident?
“Like most artists, I doubt sometimes about whether I am any good. But in this past year at Newlyn I’ve got great feedback with my art and my ideas so I’ve learnt to trust myself. If I like it, I like it. And maybe that’s enough.”
Creative Mile – “The Brentford Art Trail 1 Mile 3 Days 8 Venues 7- + Artists”
www.creativemile.org 2 – 4th September, Brentford, London
Blog article by Fanny Johnstone