Mark Hopkins was Born in Poughkeepsie, in New York State. He attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota where he received a degree in fine art in 1981. In the following years he lived in Minneapolis where he painted scenery for theater and opera and freelanced as a muralist, portraitist, and interior designer. In 1987 he moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand. He taught English at Chiang Mai University for a year until he started a cabaret business called The Six-Pole House where contemporary artists, poets, and musicians exhibited their talents. At the same time he maintained an art studio in the upper floor the 100+ year old Chinese shophouse which housed the cabaret. It was at this time that Mark’s early style was formed. During those years he played minor roles in TV and movie productions, traveled to Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. where he saw some of the wonders of Asia like Borobudur and Bagan and initiated connections with established artists and musicians in the region. These experiences have played a lasting role in the inspiring Mark’s later artistic expression. The color, the styles of art, and the traditional forms and ways of life are a continual influence in Mark’s creative process. After a few years Mark moved to Bali where he took on work illustrating books on Asian architecture, culture, and natural beauty. He also started a business providing graphic design and mural decorations for companies around the region. In 1997 Mark moved to Singapore to expand his business into making props and costumes for events, providing art restoration services, and painting portraits for prominent families on the island. In 1998 he met his wife Maria and moved to the US a year later. Of late, Mark works as a muralist, portraitist, and art restorer while also painting personal works in studio. He currently resides in Rhinebeck NY, where he tends his gardens between travel excursions.
Contemporary human culture is perceived by many to be dystopian: there is a sense of discontinuity between the person and their world, their truth, and their happiness. Isolation has been ubiquitous since long before Covid. Modern life is surrealistic: days and years unfold in dreamlike bubbles. Our perceptions are automated by algorithms that form our worldview and with media crafting a reality derived from what we watch but do not witness. Experience is fragmented. This is classic surrealism. My work seeks to knit the dissolving dystopia back into a coherent whole.
Interview with Mark Hopkins
SurrealismToday: This is your second time being featured on Surrealism Today. You were originally featured in 2019. What are you thinking about these days?
Mark Hopkins: Like many artists, I have been digesting the events and changes of the past three years. It feels like life has become more surreal; spaces divvied up and guided by directional arrows and faces hidden under protective masks or people encased within plastic barriers. We have seen our communities morph in interesting ways. People are more solitary and we interact more and more by proxies like phones and computers. Elon Musk makes the case that we are evolving into cyborgs; only our machine parts–for now–are external. One idea that I intend to use in upcoming work is how the nature of being ‘human’ is affected by the dynamics of these recent societal changes including the introduction of the Metaverse and AI augmentation. I find these trends both fascinating and a bit scary. Perfect for a good painting.
ST: How do you introduce yourself?
MH: Lately I have adopted my website name ‘hopkinesque‘. It has a ring to it.
ST: What do you tell people when they ask about the ideas in your work?
MH: It’s tricky. Visual art is, by nature, a non-verbal mode of communication… otherwise we would be writers and story-tellers, right? So it’s a challenge to explain art and more specifically content-heavy art like Surrealism. I like talking with people about the general themes of my work; the myths and mysteries of ancient religions/culture, sacred geometry, the evolution of humanity in the 21st century, etc. Often the Ideas expressed in specific works are intentionally made ambiguous to prompt a viewer to explore a range of meanings – or to posit their own into the work. With multiple interpretations possible for the same painting (not only from different viewers, but from a single viewer at different viewings) it’s more likely that I will ask people what ideas they see in a painting rather than tell them what I intended them to be. It makes for very interesting exchanges.
ST: Can you tell us about this latest series?
MH: I was thinking of the idea of the ‘Savior’ in a troubled world. Sometimes it feels like we are sinking into a morass of climate change, racial strife, all manner of social and societal changes and it would be nice to have a hero show up and sort the lot out. Who would that person/entity be? What would they do? Would they get it right? Maybe it takes not a hero, but a fool to do it. Maybe it’s us… we are the fools… we are the ones we have been waiting for all along. Maybe we have the answers, the tools, and the grit to rescue ourselves. All we need to do is have the motivation and the confidence to get started.
Return of the Myth is a complex piece that grapples with free will, free choice, risk, consequences, and the infinity of chance. The Mandelbröt set is pictured in perspective under the bubble dome symbolizing the infinite or what some might call God. Footprints represent the journey to wisdom or the ‘return’ we embark on as we seek the divine or the ‘myth’ of the divine. We see a pair of Putti. One is tethered, his mind locked into the world of ‘reality’. The other is floating in a world of spontaneous freedom full of risk yet full of possibilities. A stylized zygote at the bottom is the binary opposition found in ‘male/female’, ‘light/dark’, ‘good/evil’, or the yin/yang of the Tao (nothing is known unless its complement is known.) The zygote also symbolizes birth/fertility where life and ideas begin. What the symbolic assemblage in this piece means is a question every person has a unique answer for.
In 2010 Carlos Santana returned to Woodstock (now called Bethel Woods) to play a concert. He began the show by walking onto the stage and saying; “Welcome to ground zero… of LOVE!” (We were closer to 9-11 then.) It was the start of an amazing concert – so alive in spirit and so beautifully played by a music-master of the 1960’s rock age.
I appreciated the way he inspired his audience with talk of unity and universal love. So, I decided to paint a piece for him as a gift. The image behind Santana is of the great Mayan calendar. (The calendar reached the end of one full cycle on 21 December 2012 and some thought the world would end at that time.) Santana floats in front of it as a Yogi in meditation. Thin wisps of pinkish mist represent the fragile time of a life on earth and the eyes within the mist are those of awareness and also those of Horus, ‘The all-seeing’. Below Santana is the Chinese character for ‘heart’ or ‘corazon’ in Spanish. Floating in the air are heavenly spheres, symbols of the universe and of the Gods of old. My hope is to give it to Santana some day, but as yet I haven’t had the chance.
This one is a foray into abstraction. The meaning is entirely in the title: Xenophilia is the attraction one has to something completely different.
Michaelangelo painted God giving the spark of life to Adam in the Sistine Chapel. It’s one of my favorite images in art and the inspiration for this piece. In our 21st century reality Humans no longer live in the primordial world depicted on that Sistine ceiling. In our world we have become the creators. Push a button and worlds appear…. money flows… and reality shifts and alternates. The bytes in Adam’s Apple send emojis to Eve who is lost in the mall of Eden… the new temple. The snake is extinct. Old, fossilized gods watch in impotence as we step into a digital future. This painting loosely represents these thoughts and has a poem that adds a philosophical aspect to them:
‘X’ is the space where Adam thinks…
And heeds temptation’s taunting
Took existence to the brink
His bites of knowledge haunting.
The viper Knew where best to strike
The heart of human pride
The staff, that rod, he used to spike
The rib where God’s forbidden fruits abide.
Adam’s Dad was not amused
The Master knows no laughter
Initial Sin, was he accused
And Grace came a-tumblin’ after.
Now we’re stuck in Eden’s crime
We wage the cosmic raffle
Take a leap or do the time
The prize is Adam’s apple.
SurrealismToday: What is the last painting you completed?
Mark Hopkins: The Last Supper.
It’s a take-off of DaVinci’s Painting of Christ’s Seder before he was crucified. But this piece is inverted. Christ is missing. The sadducees are at the table, not the disciples. This is the eschatological dinner for the end of days. The characters in my painting are interesting personalities at the forefront of recent events and are drivers of the directional shift humanity is undergoing. It’s a huge piece (12 x 4 feet) with a lot of symbolic imagery to think about so everyone will understand it differently. The conversations I’ve had with people over The Last Supper have been amazing.
ST: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
MH: I had no idea. It never occurred to me that I was going to be something or somebody until I had to apply for college. I threw a dart at the proverbial board and went for engineering. That lasted about three months before I quit and leapt into art.
SurrealismToday: What piece are you most proud of? and why?
Mark Hopkins: Probably the piece called ‘Concentrate 666‘. It’s a magnum opus: it’s 7 feet tall and exhibits some of my best painting skills. I am pleased with the composition, the color work and the concept. It’s a statement on the crazy idea of waging war in a nuclear age and how true wisdom (the Buddha) sees past the machinations of humans for power and wealth and into the peaceful bliss of knowledge and love.
ST: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
MH: “Conquer the small.” This is especially useful when young. Growing a career, working on complex stuff, conquering the fright of a blank canvas is easier in small manageable chunks.
ST: What is one thing they tried to teach you in school that you knew immediately was wrong?
Mark Hopkins: Art! Ha ha! Art teachers can’t teach you art. They can teach skills and techniques, culture and history, how to critique and write well, how to knit ideas together, how to see… But they can’t teach that creative act called ‘art’. It has to develop on its own from practice and life experience.
ST: Who is the one person, dead or alive, that you would like to have dinner with and why?
Mark Hopkins: Just one? John Lennon in his prime… maybe around 1964. But there are others. Many others.
SurrealismToday: Where is your favorite place?
Mark Hopkins: In the past it was Bali. Today, it’s wherever I am at the moment.
ST: Who are your biggest influences?
MH: My friends. They inspire me to be fearless in art, in living, and in love. And they put up with the result (me).
ST: Which current art world trends are you following?
MH: Good question. Surrealism in digital art. I’ve been watching the shift from physical art into a world of digital art, video games, and NFT’s as people spend more of their lives online. People can now own, trade, store, and display multiple works in one place and they can interact with it as well. Will they want realistic digital art or choose photography? Will abstract art have the same impact on a screen as it does on a wall? Idea-heavy and symbolic work makes more sense in a virtual world, so it looks like surrealism has a strong future there. Beeple Crap is a good example of this trend. For me, I still love the aesthetics of painting; the smell of canvas, the feel of a brush, and the sensual beauty of oils. So I am not giving up my brushes just yet.
ST: What can’t you live without?
MH: Truth… and beer.
ST: What is your dream project?
MH: I’d like to make a painting that affects the world for the better and speaks to people in any future age.
ST: What’s your favorite artwork?
Mark Hopkins: Probably Rembrandt’s ‘Death Of Lucretia‘ in the Walker Museum in Minneapolis. It’s a scene of Lucretia who has decided to take her life after being violated by Tarquin. She is sitting on her bed… or death-bed. She has just withdrawn a knife from her bosom and sits there as her life-force ebbs away in a growing stain of blood on her pure white gown. In her face is a resolute sadness painted by Rembrandt with exquisite sensitivity. In viewing his portrayal of Lucretia one can imagine the intense grief of that moment. The painting moves me deeply 360 years after it was painted. It is a pinnacle of artistic expression. A close second is Vermeer’s ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring‘. Dali’s ‘Persistence of Memory‘ is a close third.
ST: What is currently on your playlist?
MH: Game of Thrones’ reruns.
ST: What gives you life?
MH: The creative process. It keeps me learning and researching. It keeps me plugged in to any and all things I can get my hands on. And it keeps me in contact with extraordinary people. Never is there a dull moment to fill.
ST: What is your superpower?
MH: I am bloody strong for my age. Does that count?
ST: What is your Kryptonite?
Mark Hopkins: Good food. It’s hard to keep trim and fit with all the temptations around.
ST: If you could visit any artist’s studio, whose would you visit and why?
MH: My friend Pranoto’s in Ubud, Bali. I love his work, he’s great to be around. There is always music and art going on, and twice a week he hosts models for figure drawing.
ST: What was an interesting thing you remember buying?
MH: A blanket woven by the Naga headhunters of northern Burma. Beautiful and a bit scary. It’s gorgeous.
ST: What ideas are you currently pondering?
MH: Everything, really. All things are in flux and what we used to think was… isn’t. What wasn’t… might be. Heroes are acting villains for hire, science has become religion, religions are acting weird, and then there’s war, inflation, weather, the true nature of man (or not-man), and who, pray tell, built those bloody pyramids!!?? So much to ponder!
ST: What is one thing you believe that most people do not?
MH: That there was a very ancient culture that existed on earth before recorded history, that it was global in extent, and has left evidence in megalithic structures around the world. In addition, there seem to be threads of evidence of this forgotten culture in myths and early languages.
Surrealism Today: What imaginary place would you love to visit?
Mark Hopkins: Rivendell.
ST: What is your favorite thing in the world, and why?
MH: One of them is a painting by my best friend Richard A. Wilson who has passed away.
ST: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be, and why?
MH: I always wanted to do a collaboration with my two best friends and my college mentor. One friend made poems of paint; beautiful lyrical pieces that really had soul. The other friend, Bruce Granquist, is an abstract painter whose work is precise, beautiful and fascinating in its concept. My mentor A Malcolm Gimse is a sculptor and a profound thinker. His work has multiple layers of meaning and often addresses the existential troubles of humans in a difficult world. My contribution would be the hallucinatory experience of ‘mind’. Together, our work would have made a formidable group show. Sadly one is dead, and the rest of us are separated by vast distances. Next life, perhaps.
ST: What’s next for you?
MH: I’m planning a book featuring paintings and poems. Look for that and some much-needed updates to my IG and website at hopkinesque.com by mid-year 2023. Of course there is always more art… a trip to South America to see ancient megalithic ruins… and, of course, a solo show at MOMA! (LOL)