Mark Penxa is an artist and musician born and raised in Detroit where he still lives with his girlfriend Killorn and their magical pug, although Mark admits their pug is “just in this relationship for the food.” When not working, Mark follows his beloved Red Wings and never turns down the chance to watch The Shawshank Redemption or Three Amigos. I first came across Mark’s work in 2008 through his Stealing Signs project when it was profiled by an ESPN columnist and knew I wanted to work with him some day. Mark is the illustrator responsible for the painting of Jack Trice currently on Kagavi’s home page. You can see his work at markpenxa.com where he also welcomes commission requests. Mark agreed to be my first guinea pig and our interview was a free-flowing exchange of ideas.
As a Detroit guy, what are some of the bright spots of the city?
The city has really become sort of a wide-open flea market, or just a big grocery store, so the weekends are usually spent bombing around looking for artifacts before someone hoards them all. There is also a HUGE food scene here, which is very diverse and fun to explore. For the most part though–even though we’re making a comeback–any free time is spent enjoying the culture for a minute and then getting back to surviving as cheaply as we can. Live music and sports are still the heartbeat of this city. That will never change. For the most part, people here just hustle and take a break every now and then. Friends, family, and music. That’s all we need.
You mentioned the big food scene . . . what food gets you in a creative mood?
I have a fascination with cooking. I’m terrible at it, but it’s a lot like painting to me. I love watching someone cook–I like the process. It is very much the same but I can’t figure it out! Eastern European food, as bland as it is, is how to keep the boiler going. Borscht, sausages and potatoes . . . ridiculous. I like the idea of being able to taste a painting. There are a lot of people here doing that.
Guilty junk food pleasure?
Kagavi was inspired by my grandpa’s campfire stories. Who inspires your work?
It’s VERY much the same for me. The sports related work that I do is a dedication. I know that’s cheesy to say, but it’s honest. I started painting this way as a way to talk about baseball to my grandfather after we couldn’t talk out loud anymore. I basically made flashcards. In doing that I started to get emails from people sharing similiar stories and it just keeps growing and growing. I am very moved and inspired by the idea of history, even if it is false. It doesn’t even have to be sports related, I can find inspiration in listening to someone’s cell phone conversation while waiting for gas. My happiest days are spent on the porch just watching everyone else move to their own beat. I’m mesmerized by it. I like to play a game with myself where I try to notice something that most people wouldn’t because they are too busy.
What are you currently working on? What’s your current project?
Currently, I’ve been working all across the board. I have a day job art directing for a small marketing agency. Once I get home from that I take on painting projects. Lately, most of our work (Mark works with Killorn–who is also an artist–on many projects.) has been refreshing local brands and helping start new ones and get them on their way. Right now, I’m doing all of these things, but it is fun. Every day is different.
I see you are on part three of Stealing Signs. How is that going? Any more plans to further this series?
I tried to do a Road Trip series and it went over like a lead balloon. The idea was to paint portraits of the best athletes (known and unknown) native to each state, but for whatever reason no one “got it.” I have a lot of angry emails from people arguing birthplaces with me rather than doing any work so I kind of became discouraged with it and got back to just painting other people’s memories. It’s just more fun that way. I’m not sure where it will go next. Football is logical but I have no idea where to begin. I would really like to paint a series of athletes that never made it: the local hometown heroes that most of us don’t know about–that has become a challenge. Those are the stories that interest me the most.
Storytelling takes many forms. Who are some of your favorite artists that tell a story with their work?
Ah, well . . . I don’t know. I’m not very art smart . . . Jackson Pollock was a storyteller to me. He was the Bukowski of painters in my book. Every story was tragic and stunk of booze, but it was beautiful in the end and every one of those paintings is a huge painting of a curse word to me. I have never really paid attention to other painters. I’ve always been more attracted to writers and musicians and that list is just too long to get into.
Favorite book or author?
Nerd alert: Dostoyevsky. I’m a Russian literature ponce.
Favorite music genre?
I grew up in a family of musicians. I listen to everything at least once, but at the end of the day I’m a punk.
Where do you want to be in 10 years–what’s your dream project?
In 10 years I just want to be known as a decent American painter. I’ve been lucky and extremely fortunate to scratch the other dreams off of the list at an early age. So that is all that is left. I just want to know that what I did was important to the tiniest degree. I just want to get on that list. I just want my kids to know that I made some sort of a difference, that I moved someone once.