Mark D. Pendergrass

Storytelling walls

WRITTEN By OKSANA CUEVA

The artist at work

The artist at work

Spring almost rhymes with sprint. But for the award-winning illustrator, talented muralist and musician-turned-author, life has compared more to a marathon of accomplishments. On the verge of his 64th birthday, the creative jack-of-all-trades who has never graduated from college has no intention to slow down. From Nifty Nut House, Harry’s Uptown Bar & Grill and Lost Sock Laundromat, Wichita’s walls collectively perspire color. Still, Pendergrass is ready to paint a story with a literary brush.

Q: Who is Mark Pendergrass?

A: Right now, I have a hobby in music, a career in art and I am working on a professional career in writing. Above all, I am a storyteller.

Q: Although earlier in your career you travelled extensively and worked abroad, the current direction of your career evolved over the last 26 years in Wichita. how has Wichita contributed to your artistic evolution?

A: I love Wichita and I love Kansas, I’m a Jayhawk. Unlike some people, I think Wichita is just the right size and a wonderful place to live. I’m a WSU fan. I love the Midwest, its four seasons — grin— when not below zero. People have been very enthusiastic about my art. For instance from the Nifty Nut House’s mural, I get calls from people telling me they love that picture. I like hearing that they like it.

Q: What is it about having large spaces to draw on?

A: When a friend of mine suggested that I do murals, I was afraid it was too big a task but when I finally did it I loved it. I produce a template on paper, and once approved I do simple math to increment the size. It’s quite different from album cover illustrations; size changes everything. I have just grown to love drawing on big surfaces and using big brushes. I have an impressionistic style, also called painterly style, where you can strongly see the brush strokes.

Q: What are the challenges of being a visual artist in Wichita?

A: Basically, being able to schedule outdoors work in the good season and interior work in the bad season. The weather in not always conducive for outside murals.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Other artists, I love to see what other people are doing. All I am is an amalgamation of what I saw and of the things I absorbed. I believe this to be true for all of us like a Bible scripture that says “there is nothing new under the sun”. Because I don’t have formal training, I used to pour over art books. I would look at a picture and figure out how to reproduce it.

Q: How do you describe your illustrative and painting style?

A: It’s storytelling, narrative. My artwork is telling a story visually. Like the gorilla there (points at a 10 f x 10 f mural inside the Mindfire Academy), it’s more than just a gorilla with a cigar. Some see him smiling while others find him sinister, but he is telling a story.

Q: Your paintings have a playful, almost childlike tale feel. What message do your paintings generally carry?

A: Usually happiness. I like to portray happiness. I like my art to be smart in the sense that it uses the space and fits the character of the place it’s in. In this manner, it’s more than just a painting, it tells a story. I pride myself on the sense of humor found across my artwork.

Q: Your visual art oozes a desire to depict American ideology with its sports and pop stars. Your characters always have a cheerful look. is that deliberate or unconscious?

A: (pauses for a second then laughs) I consciously do it but I would subconsciously do it anyway. da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is the greatest painting of all times and my favorite because it’s not just iconic but it’s mysterious. I like my art to be open for interpretation, the storytelling kind of interpretation.

Q: You mentioned that of all murals so far, your most representative is “Alice in Wonderland” (72 feet long x 12 feet tall at Wichita’s Mindfire Academy). Tell me why.

A: It’s a whimsical fantasy, there’s so much in it. It’s so large and colorful. There is a lot of perspective and not a lot of philosophy. It’s just a virtual world full of variety.

Smiling or sinister? Pendergrass's storytelling is open for interpretation.

Smiling or sinister? Pendergrass's storytelling is open for interpretation.

Q: All through history, close camaraderies were often formed between painters and writers. it was believed that one expressed with words what the other did visually. An example is the friendship between Picasso and Hemingway. You on the other hand, seem to have mastered both artistic expressions.

A: Words are beautiful, they are like a paintbrush. That’s why I gravitate to poetry so much. I started writing poetry before writing a great song. Then I lost focus of the writing, absorbed in my artwork.

Q: Well, you seem to have rekindled your writing passion. Talk to me about your novel “The Green Man." It’s the epic journey of a frustrated musician who meets a two-thousand-year-old man and is eventually led to a path of self confrontation (available to download for Kindle on Amazon.com). How much of that is your story?

A: I am every character in that novel in some way or another. We all have a darkness we had to deal with in our lives so the bad guy or the protagonist, it has to come from us. If there is an ego in writing, it is that we always write ourselves. We always tell our story even when we never lived it, it lives in our heart so it comes out through writing.

Q: Your songs, your murals and overall outlook on life are permeated with a spiritual touch. how much of an inspiration is your Christian faith?

A: I almost feel like without my faith I would have nothing of value to say.

Q: So what is your philosophy in life?

A: (sighs — that’s a good question) I don’t know enough to be God, so I don’t try.

Q: What are your current projects?

A: I have a number of indoor projects here at Mindfire Academy and several paintings across Wichita. My passion for years was art but now it’s more writing. Telling stories through novels.

Q: How have you contributed to the advancement of Wichita being more conducive artistically?

A: Personally, I am very supportive of anybody who is an aspiring artist. I’m getting ready to be involved in a child mentoring program for art. I taught at the City of Arts for children as well as summer classes (drawing and sculpting) at Mindfire Academy.

Q: What was it like for you to be featured in the documentary “Up Against the Wall: The Mural Art of Mark D. Pendergrass” presented at the 2013 Tallgrass film festival?

A: I told Bruce (Blank, film director), “you might as well know right now that whatever you do, I won’t like it.” When asked why, I said, “words are beautiful, they are like a paintbrush”

Q: What do people need to know about you?

A: I don’t advertise so anybody who needs a good mural, illustration, logo or signage creation, here I am here.

Mark is married, has three children and lives in Wichita. Several of his short stories ("The Miracle of Leon Mackilroy", "The Window Curtain" and "The Satchel") are found for download on Amazon.com. Mark holds four Album Cover of the year Awards: Two Gold and Two Platinum RIAA, Four GMA dove Awards and Five NARAS Grammy nominations. His official website is colorspiracy.com

 
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