IN THE STUDIO with Mark Demsteader

Mark Demsteader has been hailed as one of the UK’s leading figurative artists, with his raw talent in draughtsmanship and unique style helping him gain notoriety and acclaim throughout the art world. 

From humble beginnings as a butcher, Mark’s art career has now skyrocketed and he has worked alongside A-Listers such as actress Emma Watson and fashion model Erin ‘O Connor. His body of work has won him a series of coveted art prizes, including The Lyceum Prize and The Sidney Andrews Scholarship. 

As our featured artist for our current exhibition Between Distance and Desire, we caught up with Mark to discuss his career so far and find out about his process and what inspires him. 

Tell us about your studio. 

My home studio originated as the garage which I had extended, and now I spend my days pacing up and down in it.  

What’s your background? 

I grew up in a place called Failsworth near Manchester where I went to the local school. The only qualification I got there was a B at O level in Art, so I knew I had to either pursue that or become a butcher, which was the family business, and I inevitably got dragged into the meat industry. But eventually, I escaped and chose to pursue the early promise I had shown in Art.  

How do you find motivation? 

I give myself routines to follow, so I will start work at 9 and have lunch at 12 etc. . I don't need to do this, but it helps me maintain a working process, as instead of waiting around for inspiration to strike, I am just continually working. By the end of the week, I usually tend to have something to show for it.

What drives your work? 

Painting is something I’ve always done, so I'm not too sure, although I’m always certain that the next painting I do will be the best so it keeps me going in that regard! 

If you could choose one song from one album to reflect your work, what would it be, and why? 

The Eternal from the album Closer by Joy Division. I used to listen a lot to them growing up in Manchester, and the underlying melancholy of the song is something that I try to capture within my own work.

You often draw inspiration from life, do you use photographs?

Yes, I use photos as a reference point, but never to copy from. I used to take life drawing evening classes for 15 years, so you can get a sense of form and basic information from a photograph, but then I always take my work further than the initial image.

Your paintings have an almost sculptural feel in the way you capture the human figure through expressive brush strokes, vibrant colour and abstract mark-making. Talk us through your painting process.

My approach to figurative painting varies quite a lot. I’ll usually throw down a lot of paint and scrape it around the canvas, and when it dries I work over the top of it. But other times, I do try other approaches. Basically, it's always a loose process when I start, and then I try to organise the mess into a recognisable image. 

Other than White, which three colours could you not do without? 

I use a limited palette of burnt umber, prussian blue, cadmium red and cadmium yellow, as well as black and white. That’s usually all.

How has your style or subject matter changed or developed? 

It hasn’t changed much over the years, but maybe it has been refined a little more. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

The harder you work the luckier you get. I was never the best artist around, but I always thought I could out-work anyone. After many years of carrying huge lumps of meat around on my back, I’m just about capable of dealing with anything! 

 Who inspires you? 

I was always inspired by the Victorian artists such as Lord Leighton and Alma Tadema. The thought of spending your life just painting beautiful pictures was something I always thought would be a wonderful way to live.

If you could own one piece of artwork what would it be? 

A late Rembrandt self portrait would be very nice. 

Alongside yourself, who would be in your ideal group exhibition (from any period of time)… and what’s the title? 

I’d say some late Victorian artists such as Waterhouse, Dicksee, and Landseer. As for a title, I think I’d go with the old quote from Oscar Wilde, “we're all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”  I think too much modern art forgets to look up. 

Tell us about working with Hollywood star Emma Watson and fashion model Erin O’Connor, how did they come about? 

I was working quite a lot with various fashion labels some years ago, so I used to show my work at various brand launches and Erin is a model who I always thought would be great to work with, so I approached her with the idea. 

Working with Emma came about as she had seen my work some years earlier and was interested in buying some for herself.  I suggested to her the idea of doing a show around her 21st birthday which she was keen to do, so we did! Things sometimes just happen when you least expect them. 

What are you currently working on, and what’s next? 

I am just about to start a new series, though I’m not too sure on the direction just yet. But it will have some dark melancholic undertone I’m sure. I tend to just start my work and see where it goes rather than decide anything first.

Discover more of Mark’s compelling and show-stopping work here