Artist Mark Zeender says that his time spent in Washington, D.C., had the greatest influence on his career.
“I never would have painted anything if I hadn’t grown up in Washington and discovered the Phillips Collection,” he says, referring to the venue that is known for being the first modern art museum in America. The collection includes works by many of the most renowned Impressionist painters, as well as some of the biggest names in 20th century contemporary art.
It’s easy to see the influence that the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists had on Zeender’s work, examples of which are currently hanging in the Vineyard Haven library. The dozen paintings that can be found within the library’s stacks include three large (48 by 48 in.) seascapes, three landscapes, and six still lifes. Each subject demonstrates a different style. The seascapes feature gentle, deep-blue oceans and serene skylines done in soft, soothing colors built up from multiple layers to represent the complexity of nature’s palette. The landscapes focus on quiet, chromatic Vineyard scenes done in soft focus, very much in an Impressionist style.
The still life images are a departure from Zeender’s nature scenes. Rich in color and full of life, these interior scenes relate more to the work of Post-Impressionists Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard — two of Zeender’s favorite artists. More design-oriented than Zeender’s other works, in these the artist has blended colors and patterns to create lively, stylized studies in contrast, with many disparate elements creating a rich and varied scene with lots of movement and color. There’s really nothing still about these still lifes.
Another favorite artist whom Zeender mentions is legendary color-field painter Mark Rothko. Although Rothko’s work was purely abstract, one can see that artist’s influence in the attention Zeender gives to composition and the depth of colors found in his seascapes, with their clearly defined boundaries between sea and sky.
Zeender was raised in the Washington area, where he continued his education at the Catholic University of America, the University of Maryland, the Corcoran School of Art, and the Studio School. He has lived variously in New York City, Western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, and South Carolina. He and his wife Setzu moved to the Vineyard in 2000 when Setzu was offered a job as a chef at Atria, an Edgartown restaurant that was just opening at that time.
Zeender has shown his work at the Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs, at Atria, and at the Sweet Life Cafe. For the past 18 years, he has participated in the Vineyard Artisans Festival in the summer. He clearly enjoys meeting the public, whether potential buyers or just curious visitors. He is always up to talking about art, as well as literature, culture, and any of the other numerous topics that he is very well versed in. Zeender has a very likable, humble way about him, and a sly, irreverent sense of humor. Don’t expect to get a straight answer from the artist about his work. When asked if one of his seascapes depicted a sunrise or sunset, he answered, “Oh, I don’t know. I buy them all from China.”
In the makeshift studio in the couple’s cozy Oak Bluffs cottage, Zeender paints as often as possible, although he notes that he often takes long breaks to give himself time to reflect. One of his favorite quotes regarding art is one from Bonnard, who said, “The best things in museums are the windows.” Zeender notes that, for him, that quote has a double meaning. “One thing that painting helps you do is look around and appreciate everything visually,” he says, adding, “I do a lot with windows as eyes. It frames what you’re looking at.”
Before taking up painting, Zeender experimented with writing poetry, and found that both allow for a certain type of expression. He says, “Painting allows you to be poetic without having to come up with words and rhythms.”
As with most things in his life, Zeender admonishes would-be artists and others to just enjoy the process, and not focus overly much on results. “Don’t take painting too seriously,” he says. “There are only about 10 million others doing it. Just have fun.”
Paintings by Mark Zeender will hang in the stacks at the Vineyard Haven library at least through the end of February, possibly longer.