Born in 1955, painter Mark Cross has dedicated a lifetime to careful study of the human condition and its fragile relationship with the environment. He is a painter, and his work is a translation of his worldview- a vantage point from the tiny Pacific island of Niue he calls home. As a New Zealander who settled in Niue four decades ago, Mark has remained outside of the traditional gallery circuit, which makes him an outlier within the art market; a voice emerging from the distance. While his work is widely collected, his persona retains an element of recluse, adding to the curiosity that surrounds his work. Within the stereotype of artist as “recluse”- or, the slightly less alluring “hermit”, a self- imposed isolation of the creative spirit is often what gives the resulting work its mystery.
Tuna Years; Oil on Canvas, 122 x 91 cm. Copyright by the Artist
A look at Cross’ paintings brings about an intense curiosity about their intention and origin.
They present themselves as landscapes, sometimes buoyant, often barren, but always elusive. These are very specific landscapes that manage to represent every inhabited corner of the Earth.
Cross sets his scenes among recognizable flora and under familiar skies, yet the isolation of it all throws the viewer off kilter. When Mark places figures into these places, the narrative begins. The people he depicts are somehow innocent compared to the land they are inhabiting. There is a harmony between the figures and the sea, shoreline, meadow or rocky outcrop they interact with in the paintings- a supposed harmony that seems to imply an impending disruption. Mark’s paintings carry the tranquility of a calm before the storm. The human bodies, isolated and delicate against the backdrops, become vessels for the story of the land stretching out behind them. They are futile, oblivious, and natural. This becomes both an ecological and environmental narrative about balance, and it seems that no part of the imagery in Mark’s work will remain permanent. The tide will retreat, the figure will fade, and the horizon line will blend into night.
Terra Sarcoma; Oil on Canvas, 285 x 190 cm, Copyright by the Artist
The metaphysical element in these paintings strikes a stunning contradiction to the stark realities Cross’ images reference. He is no stranger to the beauty and rage of the natural world- an island like Niue is constantly subject to Earth’s extremes, whether it be wind, water or wave. It may also, at times, submit to our stereotypical vision of tropical paradise. Mark’s paintings are a nod to these automatic associations and the way they pale in comparison to reality. Briefly unsettling the viewer and forcing a moment of linger, the careful realism of his landscapes subverts expectations. There is a weight- almost a humidity- to the stillness captured by the brush, and to the uncertainty of what might follow that moment of reflection.
Gyre Vortex Jetsam Collection; Oil on Canvas, 151 x 101 cm, Copyright by the Artist
It is worth noting that outside of the studio, Mark remains active in his own community. He is a strong supporter of the creative potential of Niue, and the Hikulagi Sculpture Park that he helped establish in 1996 continues to draw visitors. As an island dweller, Mark is an observer as much as he is a part of Niue’s beating heart. He is a firsthand witness to the convergence of tourism, consumption, natural disaster and climate change that inspires his intellect. Mark’s paintings don’t exist to please, though their visual draw is hard to resist. Paradise doesn’t exist to please either, and Mark is sending a finely crafted message about the tendency to believe it might. Mark continues to work out of Niue and New Zealand, and he is a photographer, sculptor, video artist and writer as well as a painter.