When an architecturally trained figure painter breaks from his early influences, what expression does he turn to? In Marcus Vincent’s case, a visual element imbued with emotion, a color field that conveys a manifestation of experience.
“Color is important to me,” Vincent says during a break in the mounting of Objekte, a collection of his artworks on display at Utah Valley University’s Woodbury Art Museum. Vincent’s training included mechanical and architectural drawing — with blueprints as their natural outcome — and how to depict the classical and evocative human form. Describing himself as a “visually inquisitive being,” he studied under Trevor Southey, a celebrated Utah figure painter who died two years ago at the age of 75. Now, emphasizing color has outstripped his adeptness in presenting structures and his passion for portraying figures.
The shift away from form and toward color-carried emotional expressions began literally at the turn of this century. Vincent was producing commissioned figure paintings and says they had become a tedious routine. “I had some long conversations with myself about what it was I really need to be doing,” he says. “And this is what’s emerged.”
Objekte — taken from a German notion for “objects” — is an up-to-the-moment collection embodying Vincent’s expressive, years-long movement from structure and form to emphasis on color. “It came to the surface when I was doing an artist retreat in Virginia” in 2012, he says. Vincent rented workspace next to the studio of an artist friend, who had invited him to downtown Staunton, Virginia. It became a time of ambitious transition. “In the process of working through a lot of work rapidly — I think I had six going at a time — some structures popped up that you’ll see in the works here,” he says. “I think that’s when they first started to occur.”
He describes the exhibited paintings as complex pieces. They hint at structure and form and are, in part, “renditions of emotional states of being.” He adds, “These are intended to be experiential and I’ve used the metaphor of like when you find a fascinating pebble in a stream: You don’t ask it to mean something, you don’t ask it to point to something outside itself. It just is wonderful for the state that it is — and that’s what I feel like I’m in,” he says.
One related piece, “Cinnamon Girl,” is hanging in the Meditation Room inside the UVU Student Center. It results from a Zen aspect of Eastern thought, through which Vincent approaches and appreciates painting. He melds his artist persona with his UVU associate professorship in painting and drawing. “I’m working with color, interaction color. I teach color theory, and so I’m very specifically pushing color around in various manners, starting from the intuitive basis but then sometimes checking myself against color structure,” Vincent says. “And so the materiality of the surface, the colors, the hues are important to me, but also that they evoke some sense of presence, or essence, beyond just design, as it were.
“Some people just, you know — breaking up space this way and that tends to be what you get in Bed, Bath & Beyond. But that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m not interested in making clever designs. I’m trying to evoke a certain state of being with the marks, with these shapes, with these structures.”
Since boyhood, Vincent has known he liked artistic expression and decided to be an artist at age 8, then began thinking of himself as an art major while in junior high school. “It’s pretty much been my lifelong ambition,” Vincent, now 61, says. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.”
His father tried to steer him away from fine art and into a related commercial channel: architecture. After depicting the starkness of industrial lines and developing narratives through figures, during the Virginia sojourn Vincent worked to contrast organic elements with geometric forms, à la Vermeer or Mondrian. “More recently I don’t think there is a specific object, per se, as much as it is the nuances that we experience in living life,” he says about favorite subjects for his work.
“The entry point for any of the paintings starts variably,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll start with just a color concept … I’ve challenged my color-theory students that if you ever find yourself getting in a rut, choose the colors you hate and force yourself to deal with them. And so there’s a painting in here that’s a bright orange painting. I’ve been trying to do an orange painting for about 10 years and I finally got one. … You can’t be shy of anything.”
He also speaks of intention and an artist’s instinct: “If I’m really good at getting out of the way, it will veer off into something that is actually better than what I had originally conceived. And if I force it to go through with what I had originally conceived it usually comes out to be something that is . . . I realize it’s just not that good, then I can’t let it live, I can’t let it remain. So I have to look at it, all right: What do I have to do to remedy the problems? Because I forced something to be that, in actuality, isn’t poetic. It isn’t something that reaches that, so I can’t let it exist.
“I’m rather bashful with all of my work,” he says. “I feel a little bit (of) discomfort in the limelight. I’d rather have the work be there; if you like the work, great, but I don’t need to be in the picture. I made it but the most important thing for me is if it feeds someone, it feeds a need for someone or if they experience some kind of joy in it.”
Vincent terms “See the Sky About to Rain,” included in the Woodbury exhibition, a “very difficult piece,” with sheens of gray and subliminal accents of pinks and blues. It is a “a depressing piece,” he says — the piece evokes the event of and feelings surrounding the recent death of his mother — but expresses not merely “anguish that comes through those life experiences”; he says dismal experiences allow people to see and feel “that sorrow is a great place to quietly be.”
While explaining this, Vincent seems to realize a deeper connection between that piece and another, “Break On Through.” It is a painting through which the artist and viewer can relate to entering the other side of grief, and gain something from the experience. The two artworks were not executed at the same time, more like several years apart, he says. One painting, that he finished about two weeks before the show, was begun in 2014; he painted it out three times. Other works take two years to complete, yet others come together rapidly.
Several pieces manifest synergy related to themes expressed in the classic or psychedelic rock compositions of Neil Young, Pink Floyd or The Doors. Vincent has executed paintings with titles drawn from song lyrics or titles, such as the Young-inspired “Expressions I Never Give” and the aforementioned “Cinnamon Girl.” The fine artist has talked with musicians about combining their works but never yet pulled it off.
Vincent has quite a few paintings in which he has recovered the whole canvas with paint or discreetly allowed underlayers to glimmer through. Highlights can change or yield surprises, depending on the viewer’s angle. “I try to be faithful to the intuition ‘cause I think that’s where the authentic work comes from,” he says. “But I realize that when my left brain gets in the way I sometimes will do corny things or things that aren’t so beautifully handled.”
Vincent says “good teachers and hard work” helped shape his own expression, and Brigham Young University instructor Bruce Hixson Smith instilled the virtues of craftsmanship, starting with the production of paints. He respects a variety of Utah artists and their work: “If it’s done well and if there’s a heart in it, that to me is the determiner of what is good.”
A great motivator for Vincent as teacher is his students’ progress and distinctive successes. “The thing that keeps me in it is the joy I get when I see a student make a quantum leap in understanding,” he says. “It’s like the light comes on and they finally understand this indescribable thing we call art versus mere rendering or making pretty pictures, when they start to come alive to the idea that art can be a transformative thing. It’s not just for pretty decorations over our sofas … It’s when I see the students start to take it on their own and run with their own vision and their own voice.”
The artist’s curiosity and boldness also have benefited him. As well as teaching the Masters, he has been afforded opportunities to stand where notable artists have stood and not only gaze upon but hold the artworks of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and others. That “special experience” with Whistler’s art came about when he knocked on a door of The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., during its remodeling and was unexpectedly invited to a private tour. Vincent was able to appreciate the physicality of the pieces, the color and spatial relationships, the beauty of substance and brush marks painted by Whistler. “That was a big experience for me,” he says.
The artist considers his path from the depiction of mechanical structures to mastering human form narratives and then evoking experiences through color dynamics: “I think that one of the things I marvel at most is that I’m doing what I’m doing now compared to where I thought I was going to be as a student.”
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.