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Finance company manager, commercial pilot, advertising executive, marketer — Mark Cowden has done it all.
"I’m one of those people who reinvent themselves every few years."
When he left his last job as brand manager at Dunedin’s Escea he was aiming to "have a crack" at fine art photography.
"I thought, ‘That’s a cool idea, I should have a play with that. I could put my own twist on it’. All of a sudden it took off so the photography side got parked."
That idea was creating three dimensional works by designing graphic images on heavy paper and folding it into a concertina-like pattern which is mounted to a board.
What viewers see when they look at Cowden’s works depends on what angle they look at the work from.
He drew on what he learnt from the graphic designers he worked with for more than 20 years running an advertising agency.
"I learnt from some talented people who I’m sure are rolling about laughing when they see the work I’m doing these days."
But it is his days in advertising which have influenced his art work, in particular work on New York’s Guggenheim Museum exhibition which came to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery back in the late 1990s.
On opening night he was looking at a large piece of art, thinking it was a bit modern and "in your face" to fit into his new house.
"The man beside me said, ‘It’s not bad given it was done at the end of World Ward 1’.
"It hammered home to me the relationship between artist, artwork and viewer. It hammered home the person looking at it is looking at your art from a completely different place from where you made it."
"It brings the viewer participation back in. They are involved in the art."
What really drives Cowden, who works from home, is being able to mix and match things.
"If I had a philosophy in life it would be ‘What if?’. What if I take this and that and put them together. Sometimes it works very well and sometimes it’s a case of it seemed like a good idea at time.
"Graphic design, photography, traditional art, engineering, architecture, anything in that design field, I just like mixing and matching and playing with them."
In the future, he would like to take the three dimensional nature of the work a bit further towards more sculptural forms.
"Probably doing similar to what I’m doing but more 3-D."
There are two phases to making the multiplane works — starting with coming up with ideas and playing with the ideas.
"I generally follow my nose. There’s no real underlying meaning hidden in them. The major exception to that one is "Why" — it is a post-Christchurch massacre work. It was an experiment."
There are series of works which have similarities to each other as ideas evolve and move on.
A blue notebook is always at his side to capture ideas as he comes upon them.
"If I’m reading a book or watching TV and I see something in the background, I’ll note it down."
It can take up to six months from idea to the finished product with some designs, although most take about a week to actually make. Sometimes, works are put aside for weeks allowing him to come back to them with a fresh perspective.
"Often, I’ve got literally dozens where one half of them works great but the transition or the double up doesn’t work and I’ve got something in my mind but I can’t get it out."
The second part of the process is taking the two separate images, splitting them into their component parts and rebuilding them and then folding and gluing.
"There is a lot of folding and gluing and binning before I get them right. Even when I get them right I can be within a minute or two minutes of finishing them and I destroy them.
"It can be that easy. I need to keep my wits about me when making them up.
"Once they are folded, concertinaed, it’s very easy to damage them at that point."
So he needs a steady hand to keep his mind from wandering, which he finds difficult sometimes.
The colour palette is usually based on what he likes, with, sometimes, a second opinion from his wife.
"Sometimes, it’s a very arbitrary choice."
For his production prints he uses long-life archival quality inks, paper and board.
"I’m always looking at what I can do better."
He would love a larger dedicated studio space, but enjoys not having a commute to work.
"It keeps you constrained. If I had a bigger space I’d have even more things half done than I have at the moment."
Cowden also loves to travel and is looking forward to having some time once this exhibition, and his next at an art fair, are over to do some local travel and check out other galleries.
"To get my head in a wide open space to do more creative work."
Mark Cowden, Alternate Angles
Gallery De Novo
until June 30