Ride On with Mark Seabrook March 22 2022

Mark Seabrook is a Melbourne-based artist and graphic designer, whose figurative works are fastidiously rendered in oils in monochrome or full colour. A self-taught painter, his Art History degree informs much of his work, along with liberal doses of pop culture, absurdism and humour. His paintings often feature unexpected elements and usually reward closer investigation with layered meanings, social commentary and amusement.

What are your earliest memories of art? Was art encouraged during your childhood?

I always drew a lot as a child and that was certainly encouraged. My Mum used to paint on occasion but I didn't start until I was about 20.

The theme of this show heralds back to the Golden Age of cowboy movies. What is it about this genre that draws you to them?

I love the iconography of the classic westerns; the tough guys, the horses, the towns, the landscapes, the showdowns, the music. It's ingrained in all of us – even people who don't like or watch westerns instantly understand what they're looking at. It's such a part of popular culture that even Clint Eastwood's poncho-wearing Man With No Name character was a big influence on the look of Boba Fett in Star Wars.

Describe the perfect painting setup for you.

A quiet house, coffee, loud music, a painting on the easel and for the day to be uninterrupted.

How do you plan and prepare your compositions? 

It varies a lot depending on the particular painting, but for this series it was a lot more complicated than usual.

The first of these paintings, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, was started during lockdown and my local playground didn't have the right type of ride-on spring horse. I ended up sculpting one out of modelling clay but was fortunate that I hadn't progressed too far with the painting before the 5km limit was expanded and I found a playground with the proper horse. I'd got the cowboy/horse proportions wrong and made the horses far too big. Some reworking was required.

So, going forward with the other paintings, once I'd decided on a film, I'd watch it while noting down timecodes of reference images and choose a setting. I'd work out a rough layout, either as a sketch or a digital composite, and get my eldest son, Hunter, to pose on the playground horse while I took photos to get reference images for the lower section of the cowboy and the horse. I'd combine these digitally with countless screengrabs until I had references for all the clothing, hats, boots, background etc. For The Magnificent Seven, by far the most intensive with that many characters, I literally spent hours scrubbing through the movie, sometimes frame by frame.

Have you always painted in oils? Any other mediums you utilise in your practice?

I started painting in acrylic. I went back to it recently and couldn't do it. Everything dries too fast and I found it really frustrating! I use watercolour rarely and do the occasional ink drawing. Ink is great. It's very unforgiving but the results can be really striking.

How do you stay inspired? What do you like to do outside of making art?

Think about making art? With work and family, there's not a lot of spare time, but I do enjoy books, movies, and music. I have been obsessed with painting for the last few years though.

What is the best piece of advice you've received?

I used to be too eager to finish a painting and move on to the next one. A friend advised me to slow down a bit and focus on one piece until I’m really satisfied with it. A blinkered horse runs faster, was how he put it. It seems obvious in retrospect, but to me it was a revelation and led to a
noticeable improvement in my work. Of course, now I find it hard to decide when something is finished and to stop fiddling with it.

Can you talk a bit about your choices with colour? You switch between full colour compositions or shades of black, white and grey. Can you talk us through the choice made to paint with either?

I really enjoy painting in both, but the choice for a particular painting will depend on what I'm trying to achieve in the finished piece. With a lot of my monochrome work, I try to convey the feel of vintage photographs or at least a feeling of antiquity. It would not convey the same message in colour.

Your artworks have a humorous tilt – a lightheartedness and playfulness. How do you maintain this through all your pieces? It is hard being keeping this up or are you one of the lucky ones that manages to keep the glass half full?

It's not something I consciously try to do but I certainly find a lot of things amusing and enjoy the absurd juxtaposition of certain elements. I like playing with scale and substituting an object with something that is similar but very different. Whether that's the little plastic soy sauce fish for giant tuna, or in this case, the playground horses for the real thing.

What would your old-timey cowboy name be?
Ooof! That's a tough one. I think I'd just be that nameless old guy at the end of the bar who rescues his drink when the fighting starts.

Thank you for chatting with us, Mark!