More Than Meets The Canvas

Posted on November 10, 2011


By Conor Murray

A man paints with his brains and not with his hands” according to inspirational artist Michelangelo, who said painting is much more than being gifted with your hands. It is in fact taking the subject being painted, visualising how it will look on canvas and what overall message is being communicated to the viewer. Wise words and ones that up and coming artist Mark Gilbert is determined to follow.

Gilbert’s work has been promoted throughout the US and UK with various different exhibitions held throughout his career, spanning more than two decades. His latest project is “Saving Faces”, which looks at people who have been born disfigured and are about to undergo surgery to alter their appearance. Through the use of different methods, Mark has generated a huge amount of interest in his work. With the guiding hands of his mother and father, Mark’s passion for art gradually increased over the years.

“My ‘passion’ for art came very slowly. I cannot deny that my dad and just as much, my mum are responsible for this. Having said that I would be more irritated than excited about visiting a gallery or museum when I was younger. And the fact there was always a studio in the house was like there was a big deal. Having said that it meant that becoming an artist was no big step for me and in many ways may well have been the natural thing to do. Having said that I have three brothers and none of them are ‘artists’.”

“I have to say though that my folks have always been hugely supportive, even when they may not have agreed with directions I took.”

Gilbert goes further into detail on what aspects of his life have made him the artist he is today with the various different influences delving into his work.

“I am influenced by a multitude of things. Other artists and art forms are a constant inspiration. Contemporary artists like Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Alice Neal and William Kentridge are easy to bring to mind. Rembrandt is for me a miraculous painter and is always there and the best. But I get inspiration from movies like Raging Bull and music as well. But most of all I think stories and peoples experience of living no matter how dramatic or mundane are fundamental to my work.”

Gilbert’s latest charity project entitled “Saving Faces”. The charity was set up in 1999 with the sole aim to illustrate how modern facial surgery can benefit the unfortunate people who were born with facial problems. The organisation wishes to show that by experiencing facial surgery can lead to happy and fulfilled lives. Mark and founder of the charity, professor Iain Hutchison, wanted to create this vision that people who undergo facial reconstruction surgery should remember how they were born into the world. Gilbert undergoes this process by painting the subject before entering surgery and then after the procedure.

“The surgeon I worked with, Professor Iain Hutchison created the Facial Surgery Research Foundation/ Saving Faces. I had already completed most of the pictures before it was launched. So the paintings and exhibition are separate from the organization, although each helps a little, to promote the other.

The charity was set up to raise awareness about facial disease and cancer, injuries and disfigurement. It focuses on the main reasons and actions that cause each of these, and researches the best treatments and surgical techniques in relation to this”.

However, Gilbert’s work has been noted for its extremely graphic detail. Uniquely, he paints the actual surgery procedure, visualising it to the viewer. As gruesome as it is, he believes that this is vital for people to see.

“I think they add narrative to the portraits and demonstrate what the people in them have to go through, as well as the extent and nature of what is involved in modern facial surgery. The danger is that they could be seen a gratuitous or voyeuristic, especially if seen in isolation, but I feel they are a vital component of the saving faces exhibit when hung with the patients portraits. Both portraits and surgery images compliment and enhance each other. At least that is the hope.”

Moreover, by participating in this project for a couple years now, Mark has experienced different encounters with the people he painted who in fact have inspired him to continue his paintings for ‘Saving Faces’

“I think Henry the barrister in the Saving Faces show and Roger in the Portraits of Care exhibit. A video with him is on my website (Heartland Proud). Both because they were such remarkable and generous characters who continued to give even at the most difficult of times.” 

 Even despite being successful in his profession, he admits that art didn’t always attract him when he was younger. Despite the various inspirations when he was younger, both father and mother involved in the profession, he was practically interested in following in a different path.

“I always wanted to be a journalist, an would still have liked to work as one especially with regard to politics. At 18 I had the choice of art school or University for journalism, and plumped for art. I sometimes feel I had the chance to do both especially in my work within medicine as the are responding to peoples stories as does journalism.”

Posted in: Profiles