The work of artist Mark Gagne strongly resonated with me on first impression, particularly the placing of shadow figures into a decayed landscape through photography. ‘Shadow people’, have become a staple of horror film, literature, and art, through instilling a sense of dread in many. However, there is a more personal view and analogy of these mysterious ‘figures’ for many across the world, myself being included among those. Combine this with a fascination for urban exploration of abandoned spaces, Mark’s work spoke to me through both aesthetic enjoyment and self-reflection.
I decided to reach out to Mark to get a better idea of his inspirations, his craft and all things horror.
Mark Gagne was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada in 1976. Always artistically inclined, he studied Fine Arts at Cambrian College. He trained in several different artistic mediums but found photography to be his greatest passion. After completing his diploma, Mark delved even more into his photographic practice, focusing on the effects of time, the abandoned, the derelict, and those things we leave behind. In the early 2010’s, he revisited illustration and found a renewed vigor for his artistic endeavors.
Throughout his life, Mark has struggled with mental illness and his illustrations can often act as a barometer of his mental health. A withdrawn period while fighting depression where little is kept and much ends up in the garbage. After the depths of depression, his work will often carry the theme of finding the light in the darkness. While struggling with anxiety he can hyperfocus on the details and create at a feverish pace.
Mark’s current body of work, a melding of his photography and his illustrations, explores depression, isolation, and anxiety as well as finding beauty in the unwanted and discarded. He has created a fantastical world that is at the same time familiar, hauntingly beautiful, whimsical, and melancholic. His hope is that people will find some comfort in examining the darkness and that his work will help people to speak openly and honestly about their own mental health.
For several years art was merely an outlet of creation. I would get an idea and put it on canvas or paper. As I’ve matured as an artist, I’ve come to realize that my work is a reflection of my own mental health. Like many, I battle with depression and anxiety daily, and it filters into my imagery. Weird, surreal monsters become relatable by way of facial mannerisms and body language. These beings are strange but also familiar in a personal way.
My newest body of work is a marriage of my favourite mediums: Photography and Pen & Ink illustration. The dark creatures in these images once roamed the Earth before man, as protectors and nurturers of the natural world. They have awakened from their long slumber, confused and angry about the state of the world and how we treat it on a daily basis. They want to reclaim the land that was once theirs. There’s a melancholy power yet playfulness to them, and I can relate to them through my own anxiety and sadness about how humans are destroying the planet.
What is the first piece of art you recall as having a major impact on your venture into horror art?
My work has always sort of dabbled in the horror art genre in certain ways, with my earlier illustration work usually balancing the cute and creepy. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific piece that had a major impact, but I will say my current inked photography series has definitely elevated my profile in the art world.
Can you please discuss your process, from initial concept to finished product?
With my current series, the concept came to me where I thought my urban exploration photography would blend well with the otherworldly creatures I’ve illustrated. I’ll roughly sketch ideas of what the entities should look like, and how they will fit within the photographs that I’ve taken. I choose and plot carefully how they will interact with the environments. Once I’ve decided the basic layout, and begin inking the creatures onto a printed photograph. I use various inks such as Staedtler pigment liners, Copic markers and Gelly Roll white pens. I have to build up the additions in steps and layers…it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and make mistakes. Since the pieces are not digital, once the ink is down, it’s down. I like creating pieces that speak and connect with people.
Some of your work explores the world of ‘shadow people’, where does your inspiration from these figures come from?
I’ve always been drawn to dark imagery and the paranormal. The “shadow people” symbolize a couple things for me; firstly my lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety. I kinda feel like these entities have followed me since I was a young child, their black ink clinging to me. I’ve learned to live with them being around. Secondly, the larger shadow people, which I call “Guardians”, symbolize my sadness and frustration with how mankind has treated the natural world. I imagine the Guardians as ancient protectors who have awakened after thousands of years of slumber, and are disappointed with the state of the planet.
Who are some of your favourite creators working in horror, whether it be art, literature of film?
Guillermo Del Toro‘s filmmaking and sheer imagination is inspiring. His ability to balance deeply affecting subjects within dark fantasy is incredible. And his creature designs are so macabre and beautiful. I also enjoy the work of Ari Aster and Robert Eggers. I love psychological horror. Stories that dig into the human condition and existential dread. Hereditary messed me up for a while. The VVitch is a wonderful period horror with amazing atmosphere. The Lighthouse…Eggers does great work.
In terms of artists, it would be quite a long list as I’ve been inspired by so many, including personal friends who are in the arts community. Names in the art world would be Alex Pardee, Skinner, Trevor Henderson, Chet Zar, Craig Gleeson, and many others. Shout out to my art friends Lakota Meyer, Nicolas Caesar, Keith Busher, Katie Kight Lasseigne and so many others doing the art hustle. You guys inspire me everyday.
How did Mindmelt Studio come about, and what inspired the name?
I initially started my art career using my own name, and as I explored more personal and darker themes in my work, as well as working alongside my fiancée on a few projects, I decided to come up with a studio name to encompass the range of the work. I wanted the name to stand out, and I like to think my work melts minds, or at least connects to the viewer on a deeper, psychological level. Plus I think the name just sounds cool. 🙂
How do you find locations for your photography? Is urban exploration an interest of yours or a means to create art?
Some of the locations are discovered through online research on urban exploration websites. I’ve been a member of one such site for a several years now. A lot of the time, I happen upon locations by chance. Part of the hobby is simply driving back roads and seeing what might be out there. I’ve had an interest in urban exploration for about 15 years now, although I haven’t explored too much in the last couple years. Would like to get back into it. I approached the hobby as both a genuine interest but also as an artist. I apply my skills as an artist and photographer on how I compose shots in the decayed environments. I find decay the reclamation of manmade objects by nature to be beautiful.
As an artist, what is your most cherished accomplishment?
My most cherished accomplishment is the wonderful feedback from fans of my work. The messages I’ve received from people saying how much my work connects with them on a deep level, and how it comforts them to know that they’re not alone in their mental health struggles. I’m honest with my work, and people have responded to that in an amazing way.
As a horror fan, what scares you the most?
The darkness within us. Probably cliché to say, but the monster within us all is far scarier to me than Jason or Freddy. Man is capable of some pretty terrible things. Psychological terror gets into my head.
Is there any particular project or work you would like to hype?
I’m quite proud of my current project of inked photography. The melding of my illustration and photography work has been incredibly rewarding, and seems to have really connected with people. I feel like my work has reached a new level, and I’m excited for where it will take me.
What is the best way for people to reach out to you to purchase or commission work?
The best way to reach me is through my Facebook art page, or contact me through my website.
Where to Find Mark/Mindmelt Studios
Greetings, My name is Adam and I am from Canada.
My love for all things bizarre came at a young age, as boredom in a small town lead me down a rabbit hole of obscure film, music, tv and literature. I have carried these fascinations with and turned it into a passion for writing, sharing and discussing the various arts.
My area of expertise, if there was one, would be geared towards Asian horror with a particular interest in film and manga. However, if it is odd, disturbing or trashy I probably heard of it or can at least pretend I have in conversation.
Thank you for taking the time to read my work, I always look to grow both as a writer and fan. I truly appreciate anyone willing to come along for the journey and share their passions in turn.