For more than four decades, Mark Flowers divided his time between creating and teaching art. Now devoting himself to his paintings (his last semester as an instructor was Spring 2018 at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg), he reflects on the dual path he pursued for so many years. “Teaching always gave back more than it took away, although it was sometimes a delayed reward. It always kept me in the game … students challenge your methods and beliefs, often for the better.”
An obvious influence in both callings was his father, Tom Flowers, who taught at Furman University for 30 years and is still painting, “plugging away at 92,” his son says.
Flowers compares his own paintings to poems in that they are often open-ended, with fluid beginnings and endings. He doesn’t go around looking for inspiration. “That comes during the process of doing,” he says.
He prefers acrylics because of their fast drying time, and he uses them to create mixed-media compositions where, he says, “the occasional oilstick-drawn line or the found piece of wood gets attached to things.” For a long time, he included both original and found photographic images in his paintings. “I saw it as visual poetry, relating to stories of my youth, along with current experiences. I am now challenging myself to use only original photographs.” He begins by creating a surface of digital collage, on which he paints and marks directly, arriving this way at a more complicated abstract image.
“The experience is spontaneous, and my instincts are challenged at every turn. While I’m still creating a narrative, it [results in] a more engaging read.” The directness of the method, he says, “has opened up new avenues to create.”
Maturity and experience have done their part, too. “Years ago, as a young artist, I may not have chosen this path due to reservation and doubt. As an artist in my 60s, I follow my instincts with much more confidence.” The discovery that he’s still evolving as an artist keeps him excited about going into his studio everyday.
Flowers’ paintings have been exhibited at dozens of galleries in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic region, often in conjunction with colleges and universities. Although no longer in the classroom, he continues to teach.
“Art, in its pure form, is communication,” he says. “Communication is an essential part of the growing process. It’s fundamental in education to promote open-ended critical thinking, problem-solving, and an elevated persistence of vision.”
Mark Flowers and his wife, multimedia book artist Kristy Higby, run Mountain TEA Studios (37 Mountain Tea Lane, Alexander). Visitors are welcome by appointment: call 717-658-0915 or contact the artists via mountainteastudios.com. Flowers’ work is on view as part of the annual curated showcase “Into the Blue: Artist Invitational 2020” (Blue Spiral 1 Gallery, 38 Biltmore Ave., downtown Asheville), running through Friday, Feb. 28. For more information, see bluespiral1.com.