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, Harryís Uptown Bar & Grill and Lost Sock Laundromat, Wichitaís 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, Iím a Jayhawk. Unlike some people, I think Wichita is just the right size and a wonderful place to live. Iím a WSU fan. I love the Midwest, its four seasons ó grinó when not below zero. People have been very enthusiastic about my art. For instance from the Nifty Nut Houseís 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. Itís 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 ďthere is nothing new under the sunĒ. Because I donít 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: Itís 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), itís 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 itís in. In this manner, itís 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 Vinciís Mona Lisa is the greatest painting of all times and my favorite because itís not just iconic but itís 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 ďAlice in WonderlandĒ (72 feet long x 12 feet tall at Wichitaís Mindfire Academy). Tell me why.
A: Itís a whimsical fantasy, thereís so much in it. Itís so large and colorful. There is a lot of perspective and not a lot of philosophy. Itís just a virtual world full of variety.