(American, b. 1954)
For most people, epiphanies strike when they are adults with an accumulation of life experiences. For Mark Davis, such a moment arrived when he was a 14-year-old living in Indiana and saw a picture of an Alexander Calder mobile.
“I felt like it was a part of me,” he recalls. “I went to the hardware store for wire, roof flashing, and cutting shears and created a mobile like his with no knowledge of how to do it. I glued the pieces together because I didn’t know how to solder and made a beautiful copy of Calder’s Snow Flurry with white dots. “My parents loved it so much that they hung it over their bed. But each night, some of the glued dots dropped off and woke them up,” he adds laughing over the imagery from his naïve beginnings.
Mark continued copying Calder, but eventually found his own voice, hand-forming organic shapes and airbrushing them with color to give them three-dimensional depth. “Now my work is more like a painting in space, where everything moves and, as it moves, the shapes and colors change.”
Though his parents were academics, he says, “I did a better job of figuring things out for myself — looking at art and learning from doing it.” Nevertheless, for a long time, he felt bad about lacking the formal training that other artists had. “I realize now that was a benefit, because I just follow my own instincts, and that seems the best path for me,” he says.
In his 20s, Mark moved from the Midwest, which he did not like, to New England, which he does. For the first 15 years of his career as a professional artist, he created high-fashion, sculptural jewelry for clients such as Vogue magazine and prestigious department stores in New York City like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.
In time, he reverted back to his initial inspiration and passion: mobiles. “Usually, I envision something almost like a gesture,” he says of his process. “It’s not about one shape, but form and movement.”
He cuts cardboard to experiment with shapes and placement and then cuts metal pieces one section at a time until he has elements that “create movement in space.” He then adds wire to make the various pieces relate to each other in what he calls a “constellation.” “Sometimes I start with a vision; but a lot of times, a piece evolves as I finish each section. It is really a lot of playing until I feel I have got something,” he explains. The final step involves airbrushing the metal, taking the color deeper and deeper to the edges to emphasize each shape and give them additional dimension.
“The most labor-intensive part is pounding out the shapes to make them organic and fluid. It takes tricky maneuvering with hammering and sanding,” Mark says. “That’s when I get into my Zen thing, as I tap, tap, tap away with my earphones on [usually listening to upbeat pop or alt pop music] — and I am in heaven.”
In 1999, Mark bought his 1883-built Boston house. He removed walls on the second floor, fixed up the attic, and added skylights to make a large, open, “bright and cheerful” studio/workshop (“The attic is where the dirty work happens,” he says). He gets an early start there and then takes an early-afternoon break to hit the gym, run errands, and make phone calls. After that, he works a few more hours, into the evening. He calls that routine “a really good day.”
Over the years, Mark has added to his repertoire to include a range of sizes of hanging and standing mobiles; then wall-mounted mobiles; and, most recently, mobiles with C-shaped arms attached to bases and measuring 2 feet around and 2 feet high. His largest work features LED-rimmed shapes and measures 70 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 10 feet tall. The installation, Healing Waters, hangs above the driveway entrance to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Another substantial commission is an outdoor sculpture, 19 feet long and 14 feet high, for the private estate of the famed Pritzker family.
Mark’s earliest commissions, which spanned 1988-1995, came from Tiffany & Co. to make mobiles for its window displays in New York and Boston. He sold a few of them, including one to the CEO of General Motors and another to actor Richard Chamberlain.
Other notable collectors include Gary Trudeau, Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards, Howard Stern, Lexus, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. Mark needs no external inspiration to continuing creating mobiles. “It feels like it’s what I am made for — to wake up every morning excited about the next step of a piece I am working on or trying a new idea,” he says. “It’s what I live for.”
I have been creating three-dimensional objects ever since I can remember. From childhood to adulthood it has been my way of bringing forth feelings that hide deep within me. There is a wondrous joy for me that results from reaching inside myself to create something tangible and bringing it out into the world. And metal will be in the world for many years after I’m gone.
For the past twenty years or so, I have been putting my creative energies into mobiles. In my teens, I was greatly influenced by Alexander Calder, and for many years I focused my work on sculptural jewelry. As my work evolved, other great artists such as Matisse, Miro and Noguci had an impact on me as well, and my own personal expression emerged and crystallized into these moving sculptures.
The materials for my mobiles are simple. I use sheet metals of different weight and material, steel being the heaviest, then brass, and aluminum being the lightest. Flat sheet metal is formed by the traditional methods of silver-smithing, using hammers and forming tools. The balancing is done by intuition at first, and then as the piece progresses, I am able to fine-tune the balance so that the end result comes as close to possible to my original vision. Initially, my vision is to see the various elements floating in space, relating to-but not anchored to the earth. By completion, each piece becomes its own very personal universe.
Through abstract shapes I play with the concepts of space and relationship. My ideas come from organic life, the human form, and the external landscape, while deeply reflecting my internal landscape and dialogue. The work is playful, joyful, and always changing, and that is the way I see and experience life in all its complexities.
1980 Solo Exhibition at Bloomingdale’s, Chestnut Hill MA of Jewelry and Masks
1982-1985 Jewelry shows in New York City at Artwear, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Ave, Macy’s and Henri Bendel featured in Vogue Magazine, New York Magazine, Harper's Bazaar.
1988 Tiffany & Co of New York commissions mobiles to be used as window displays.
1988-1995 Commissioned to do window display mobiles for Tiffany’s in New York and Boston.
1991-1992 Solo exhibitions of mobile with Judith N Wolov Gallery, Design Center, Boston, MA
1993-1996 Created mobiles for The L-S Collection on Madison Ave and Soho
1995 Group exhibition, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
1997 Solo exhibition, Nature in Motion, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
1999 Solo exhibition, Movement within Space, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
2001 Solo exhibition, Color and Form in Motion, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
2003 Solo exhibition, Boldly Balanced Pucker Gallery, Boson, MA
2005 Solo exhibition, Energy in Motion Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
2005 Solo exhibition, Revisiting Nature Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
2009 Solo Exhibition, Gathering Energy Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
2011 Solo Exhibition, Phase Transformations, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
2012 Exhibitor: AD20/21 Cyclorama, Boston, MA
2013 Exhibitor: AD20/21 Cyclorama, Boston, MA
2013 Solo Exhibition, Form-Color-Balance, Pucker Gallery, Boston MA
2015 Solo Exhibition, Reverberating Gravity Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
Richard Chamberlain, New York, NY
Gary Trudeau, New York, NY
Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards, Los Angeles, CA
Howard Stern, New York, NY
Liberty Mutual Corporation
Rose Museum, Brandeis University
University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital, Chicago, IL
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, IL
Good Samaritan Hospital, Brockton, MA
Congregation Kehillath Israel, Brookline, MA
Temple Emmanuel, Andover, MA
The Farm, Libertyville, IL