Artist Profiles | Visual Arts

Mark England: A Life Revisited

Mark England in the Salt Lake City home he designed as an extension of his creative practice. Image by Shawn Rossiter.

It would surely come as a surprise to visit an artist’s home and find in it no works of art, no books, and most unlikely of all, little evidence of the owners’ creativity. The home of Mark and Kari England, a charming house on a street devoid of traffic, is as far from that extreme as a visitor may imagine. Not only are their walls covered in paintings and the shelves with countless art books, but thousands of collectable objects, many of them copied from historical art and technology, are arranged in every available spot, in almost-out-of-the-way nooks and crannies, on window sills, and engaged in imaginary gatherings everywhere one looks.As for creativity, at floor level near the tops and bottoms of stairways, and elsewhere as needed, framed openings in the walls act as windows into miniature interiors, as though mice lived in great style within the walls. These spaces, however, are brightly lit, in order to serve as nightlights for anyone navigating the hazards, not only of stairs, but family photographs laid out on built-ins, or the galleries of life-sized busts that gaze back at those who pass them. If there is a home in Utah inhabited by more intriguingly artistic bric-a-brac, we haven’t found it.

On the wall in the living room is a large painting that could easily be identified with the work he is now showing at Finch Lane, or the one just purchased by the Springville Museum of Art. But a close comparison between this twenty-year-old work and more recent ones will reveal that, despite overt similarities, nothing is quite the same as it was back when he first hit his stride. Here is an artist who continues to strive, who has never felt he’s arrived. Instead, part of the reason he may appear, at least on casual viewing, to repeat himself is that he is constantly finding meaningful new ways to arrange the compound details that provide such delight on first viewing, then sustain that pleasure over time.

DC Comics’ Batman takes center stage in this night light, created by Mark England. It sits beneath reproductions of the Sunstone, from the temple built by followers of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois. Image by Shawn Rossiter.


Photographs of Mark and Kari England in an antique frame are surrounded by art objects created by Mark. Image by Shawn Rossiter.


An alcove featuring tile work collected by Kari England. Image by Shawn Rossiter.


The interior of Dolcetti Gelato in the 9th and 9th neighborhood of Salt Lake City share much in common with the decor of the England home. Image by Shawn Rossiter.

Mark England was born in 1959, in a small town near Boston, and grew up always wanting to be an artist. Over years spent first mastering drawing, before moving on to paint, he came to desire nothing less than to contain the entire history of art in his life and his work.

Readers who appreciated Englands unique subject matter and style in the past may wonder why he seemingly disappeared for a time, and only recently began showing again. The explanation is straightforward, but as with most family stories, the telling is more elaborate. Some years ago, Mark and his then-wife, Elizabeth, spent months in one of his favorite art venues, Italy, and on their return started an Italian Ice business that in time they upgraded to gelato. At first, England was happy to alternate painting with running Dolcetti Gelato, which in addition to genuine, Italian-style gelato, provides another outlet for his interior design ideas.

In time, however, it became apparent that while the desserts thrived, the art did not. Even relatively brief interruptions saw him return to a project that had been broken off at a relatively crucial moment, which no matter how things may appear, are really the only moments in art making. Hed return to find he no longer knew where hed meant to go next, let alone what hed imagined to be the goal he was working toward. In time, unresolvable questions became permanently unfinished works. Now come forward a few years and their son, Porter, has taken over Dolcetti, Elizabeth has moved on, and Mark and Kari, together now for six years, have blended their families: his four and her five offspring. Mark was finally able to return to painting full time.

Detail of “Portait of Jennifer” at Mark England’s exhibition at Finch Lane Gallery, June 2024. Image by Shawn Rossiter.

The first thing to notice about a Mark England is that it’s representational. Every object in it is visually readable and recognizable, even when unfamiliar. It’s also a landscape, and the impression that it’s a specific location is correct. It’s not meant to be a secret that it’s either Utah, relatively close up, or Utah within the United States. Sometimes the distant view reaches to the Arctic or the Antarctic, in the latter case including, say, the Andes Mountains of South America. England enjoys variations like turning the map up-side-down, but Utah and Great Salt Lakes, Jordan River, and I-15 are reliable landmarks. Watch for the Spiral Jetty, which is always there, and provides the starting point for orienting the map.

At some point, he must have decided that this was enough to meet his obligations as guide, and the cognitive gloves, so to speak, began to come off. This is where, for a certain kind of viewer, the fun begins. Like any artist alert to his medium’s place in time, England enjoys painting in layers, both literal in his paint and conceptual in his vision. Paint layers are best observed in person, but a good example of the latter comes from the popular instruction manuals he found and read as a child. They taught him there are five basic categories of painting: religious, historical, landscape, portrait, and still life. So within each painting, various objects belong to each of those themes, or quote famous artists who worked with them. To take just one example, many of the free-standing objects could be still life subjects, or an entire painting might be a modern version of an elaborate, didactic Dutch still life seen in Europe.

Another way to layer the work is from abstraction to realism … and maybe back again. For years, his images had been as convincingly realistic as England could make them, but as he thought more about the way paint works, he realized that even the most elaborate realism is built up with brushes, palette knives, or from pixels, each making a non-representational mark. He began to see the images as collections of marks that happen to look like something: the water in a lake, the plump skin of ripe fruit. The Great Lakes, seen as if from space, are but familiar shapes. The oxbow ponds of the Mississippi, signs of its maturity as a river, are like brackets around its curving stream. And waves on the surface of the Great Salt Lake might recall those in a Baroque image of the miracles of Christ.

Mark England, 2023, 20×30 in.


Mark England, “Utah,” 2024, 48×60 in.


Mark England, “White America I,” 2023, 48 x72 in.

All these hierarchical programs inevitably bring us back to the likely first question most viewers have about England’s images: why no consistent scale? Everything in one of these vistas is larger than it should be, which is not such a surprise: if they weren’t many time their logical size, we wouldn’t see them at all. But things that should be smaller in the distance and larger up close are routinely the other way around. It may be that the best explanation is that these are collections, like his own or those put together by others, including objects chosen for their inherent interest, regardless of the accidental scale chosen by whomever made them. On a collector’s shelf, or in a child’s toy box, people may be larger than the buildings they would inhabit and cars as big as airplanes.

The better England came to understand what he does, the more he pondered why he does it. Having grown up with art books, he reasoned that most people don’t have so much art in their lives during their “formative years.” Looking over the entire panorama of its history, he saw art in its universality a great tool for sharing knowledge, and in its artists he saw teachers. Of course, teaching was always a part of his lifetime in the LDS Church, and as a husband and father, and it came to him that the making of art is like art itself: layered and inclusive in its reasons for being and what it hopes to accomplish. So art can be entertaining, decorative, illustrative, but it can also instruct. The artist and the teacher could be the same person.

Mark England, “Still Life with Spiral Jetty,” 2023, 18×24 in.

Individual religion is a personal matter. One person’s spirituality will respond to Susan Makov’s trees, in which she reveals how much every tree is an entire world to the creatures that dwell upon and in it. Another’s will appreciate Mark England’s recent, large and compelling trees, which he associates with the biblical Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, which he connects in turn with their representations in the LDS temple. Keen observers will note that England has placed his trees in planter boxes, which is either evidence of their care and nurturing, or of their domestication. It’s the artist’s dilemma that audiences may not respond to their intentions, however meant. His trees might challenge his audience, but that’s even more likely with his figures.

The obvious connection between a tree and the woman reclining nearby is Eve in the Garden of Eden. Again, keen observers will have noted that the portrait is the one theme of five that didn’t make a serious appearance until now, the figures also being portraits. And while England respects the sensibilities of viewers, who generally come to the work carrying the emotion of shame Genesis describes as the consequence of Eve’s choice, he respectfully restores her original, innocent form.

As to why he chose Eve, instead of Adam, the reason is both simple and likely to prove controversial. For this artist, as for many in his audience, Eve isn’t the villain of the Creation story. Rather, she is its self-liberating hero. History is full of efforts to depict knowledge as evil, a threat. In his visions of Eve, and the women who followed her, he may show her still holding the already-bitten fruit. Close examination will reveal that she is no longer entangled in her environment. She remains close, but doesn’t belong to it. To Mark England, she has fulfilled the will of her Creator, whose Tree of Knowledge was not a temptation, but a deliberate opportunity. For another viewer, it may symbolize the alternative to a world where men control and repress women. It’s a work of art, after all, just as the scriptures are works of literature. Both present the open mind with possibilities.

Mark England, “Eve and the Tree of Knowledge,” 2023, 48×72 in.


Mark England:  Landscapes: Perception & Time, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, June 21 – Aug. 2

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