If you can picture yourself in Soho London’s red light district back in the 70’s with the neon lights, the Punk rock era of the Kings Road, the Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood together with Malcolm McLaren, down at the Worlds End. The whole nostalgia of those rebellious times in the UK, where everything was put to question and a revolution was taking place against the establishment. It still remains however, it lingers like hangers on at the end of a party, you see dribbles of it trying to make some form of rhetoric, in fashion, in film and in art. Mark Sloper’s work is a slap in the face. It’s nothing short of a journey in history taking us way back to where most recent revolutions began. I am standing in front of one of his artworks, it’s the American flag with only 48 stars, the original flag going back to 1908, the words in neon represent what the flag stands for “ Hardiness and valour, Purity and innocence, Vigilance and Justice”. It is a welcome to all the immigrants coming to the USA. Mark’s work embodies everything he loves combined with everything he stands for. His recent commission a series of work, titled ‘Heaven Sent.’
These artworks narrate the topics of Anarchy, the Illuminati, with images of Queen Elizabeth II, William and Kate, to Marylyn Monroe, and his recent artwork of Donald Trump embodying a Nazi officer in front of the American flag, illuminated by the bright pastels of the neon lights reminiscent of an amusement park, but nothing amusing within his narrative. His artworks are beautiful to the eye, the bright pastels and primary colours. However as with all good art, the messages runs deep and evoke the emotion within us. As I try to explore a bit deeper with Mark, it proves difficult at first, it’s hard to get a word in, as he is so busy explaining everything and is super confident, however I want to know a bit more, and for him to reveal himself. Art is about what the artist is trying to represent, but often it’s not what he is trying to get us to see, but what is actually being said.
Mark was raised by his Aunty Janey who was a religious lady and head of the Salvation Army, his father had left the family and his mother often tackling with depression struggled raising her son. The community in Cornwall, surrounded by sea is a breathtaking part of the United Kingdom, famous for its Pirates of Penzance and the Minack theatre built into the cliffs by the Atlantic ocean as well as very famous artists. Mark is a proud Cornish man whose heritage goes back to the 12 century, the Cornish being more English than the English, with Celtic origin he clarifies. As a South African myself, I was unaware the Cornish actually having their own language like the Welsh. Mark explains growing up in St Ives, with a family of artists including his adopted uncle the painter Eric Ward, whose work is still displayed at The Tate. Mark’s early education was amongst these artists such as Terry Frost, Alfred Wallace and John Christopher, as well as the Head of St. Ives Art School. However revealing that as a boy, he used to think, ‘How boring is Art’ as he was completely surrounded by it.
The bright child eventually won a scholarship to a prestigious private school. However was obsessed with Punk Rock, watching the Sex Pistols at the age of 12 already, eventually becoming friends with drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones. He attended an Art Foundation in Bath and then followed on to the Psalter Lane Art College with is now Sheffield University. Although he initially wanted to be a pop star, Mark had a career in Film and Television and set up a successful business, 400 Television ltd. After graduating from University, studying art and photography but actually finding photography dull, so he became a film maker instead. Working with the BBC as well as producing and directing his own films, making films for the Sex pistols, as well as The Final Cut with Jude Law, Ray Winstone and Sadie Frost in 1998, which was really successful. Other legendary productions followed such as, Small Time Obsession in 2000; Sid! By those who really knew him in 2009. Along with Superbiker: Day of Reckoning, 2013 then there is Superbiker II, III and IV as well as Billy Fury – The Sound of Fury, and this year he released, Speed is my need, which Mark sold to Netflix.
Mark’s work as an artist is more of a recent acquisition, it’s what has taken most of his passion recently, he started taking it seriously six to seven years ago. His work appearing in the Saatchi Gallery this September, with best emerging artists in the world. It has the dynamics of his films, energetic and temperamental. He is already creating a following as he is the only one doing what he doing with neon. His influences like Chris Bracey, who said,“There is a light that never goes out ” he was the king of neon Mark informs me. “He was the man who lit up Soho.” Marks artworks may light up a room or a gallery, however there is the ultimate double entendre, and it’s there for a reason, you are supposed to see the supposition and that is what English contemporary art is, the references to something else.
Interview: Antoinette Haselhorst