“Although my heart was always into painting, I never thought I could be a painter,” admits Mark Bettis — one of the most well-known painters in Asheville’s River Arts District. “I played around with paints when I was a kid. But I grew up thinking that you had to have a ‘real’ job and focus on earning an income. Counselors and family members discouraged me from going into fine art.”
Bettis did study for three years at the prestigious Ringling College of Art and Design. But his concentration was on computer animation, back in the era of floppy disks.
“I was there the first year that they offered the computer-animation program. You had to work on a very complicated system, just to create simple movements. It was more like programming and math, and hard to be creative. To me that was kind of a turnoff. There I was, surrounded by artists in a school known for fine art. That really inspired me. But while my friends were drawing and painting, I was always in the computer room.”
Bettis worked for an advertising agency in Chicago, got into the real-estate business for a while, then spent several years back in Florida, working for a film festival. But he frequently visited Western North Carolina on vacations, and when the economy soured in Florida in the wake of the Great Recession, he decided to move here.
“When I got to Asheville 11 years ago, I was working for an event company. But this town is so creative and the River Arts District was so cool that I just wanted to paint,” he says.
Bettis started in his garage, which he outgrew when his work began to sell. Eventually he moved into a studio in the Wedge Building, where he now also runs his own gallery, teaching workshops and showcasing the work of half a dozen local artists.
This month, he curates a salon-style show. Inspiration is based on modern art from the Guggenheim Museum and Peggy Guggenheim’s personal collection. Nineteen local artists are creating pieces especially for the show, inspired by the 20th-century masterpieces of Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Pollock, Miró, Magritte, and Chagall.
“The piece I did,” says Bettis, “was inspired by Jean Metzinger, one of the original artists of the Cubist period.” Unlike his predecessor, however, Bettis paints with cold wax, to give his oil paintings strong, vivid texture.
“Cold wax is made from beeswax, mineral spirits, and a little resin,” he explains. “I build layers of different colors, and use pottery tools to scrape back into it and reveal hidden layers of color.” And here’s another trade secret, from a guy who was always headed for sweet success: “I also use a tool made for decorating cakes.”
Mark Bettis Studio & Gallery at The Wedge (123 Roberts St., in the River Arts District). For more information, call (941) 587-9502, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or see markbettisart.com. Also: Mark Bettis Art on Facebook and on Instagram: @mbettisgallery. “Inspiration” opens Saturday, Sept. 8, and runs through Saturday, Sept. 29. Bettis also has a piece in the “Animal Attraction” show at Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Road), opening Saturday, Sept. 22 (grovewood.com). “House of Blues,” with works by Bettis and Jacqui Fehl, shows at the District Wine Bar (37 Paynes Way #009), opening Thursday, Oct. 4. For more information, call 828-505-8606 or see districtwinebar.com.