Elemental

Elemental

By Steven Boyd Saum

Atelier: Mark Alsterlind '76 at work. Romain Calvetti.
Fate and design, weather and the story of beauty: painting as a way of life for Mark Alsterlind '76
Nesque (2010).

The paintings Mark Alsterlind '76 creates nowadays are becoming more and more like objects, even turning into sculpture. And they have something to do with the geography of memory, nourished by sketchbooks: tales of rivers, rocks, and trees. The physical works themselves are even shaped for months or years by the elements, at least when Alsterlind works outside—something he began doing decades ago out of necessity. The young artist was offered a place to live and paint in Provence—an empty house with no electricity and no windows—so he began working in the outside light. That has meant, as his works take shape and stories unfold, twigs and pine needles might find their way in; animals might walk across. But theirs won’t be the only footfalls; in animating and enlivening his work, Alsterlind has said, “Often, I find myself dancing with my canvases.”

France has been Alsterlind’s home for three decades; he still has a studio in Provence, another in Paris, and normally he’s working on 150 or so paintings at any given time. There’s the quality of endless pursuit in what he does. But also, he says, “There’s always the element of serendipity to wing me along.” His work has been shown scores of times—from Paris to San Francisco, Basel to New York. A 2007 book, Perspectives (Lucie Éditions), offers a 20-year retrospective.

St. Romain (2010).

At Santa Clara he studied European history and interned at the de Saisset Museum—which, indirectly, led him to discover that, for him, painting is a way of life. As an apprentice artist, he was enlisted in a project to create a replica of the famed Lascaux cave paintings.

Along with his daily work, there’s a newer, delicious endeavor that asks participants to violate a fundamental rule: Don’t eat paint. With chocolate and colored cocoa butter, Alsterlind creates edible art. This scrumptious idea was inspired by an exhibit of Alsterlind’s paintings at a three-star restaurant where he decided, “I’d rather work in a plate than on the wall.” That’s also led to collaboration with San Francisco chocolatier Michael Rechiutti.

This enticing evolution stems from a fire that has kindled Alsterlind’s work as a whole for years: “I like playing with light, color, and paint. It keeps me alive.”


Paint and serendipity:
Savor more of Alsterlind's work in the gallery below. You can also read a profile of the artist from the Summer 1988 issue of SCM.

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