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May 4, 2011

Confucius once said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Lucky for us, Mark Orr has the gift of seeing beauty in the most unusual objects. Whether it is a window frame, a bowling pin, or a deck of cards he sees its potential of morphing into a work of art. His sculptures and designs not only invoke thoughtful meditation through symbolism, but also a light-hearted touch of humor for the admirers of his creations.

The Raven~Crow is the ultimate scavenger, and is incorporated into almost all of Mark Orr’s creations. Ravens are known for collecting artifacts and decorating their nests with their findings. Similarly, Orr has a talent for finding rare “gems” and turning them into art that is fitting for any home.

For this month’s featured artist we were excited to speak with Mark about his art, his inspiration, and the meaning and origin of the different symbolism that can be found in his sculptures.

The Laughing Dog Gallery: When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?

Mark Orr: I think I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist. I actually feel very fortunate for that. I see my kids currently trying to figure out what they want to do for a career. They are kind of picking careers out of the air, and I’ve really felt gratitude at always knowing what I wanted. My problem was that I didn’t think I could make a living at it. I went to college for commercial art and had some success, but realized photography was more lucrative. I was a commercial and industrial photographer for about 15 years before I switched to being a fulltime artist.

LDG: How did you begin your journey with Scavenger Art?

MO: It happened pretty abruptly. I got a call in 1998 from a friend of mine who had gone to this art camp in Northern Saskatchewan. It is called the Emma Lake Collaboration and was comprised of about 100 artists. We would stay in cabins or camp out in the woods, and all week we would just make art together. It was a real life-changing experience for me and it was so much fun. When I got home I was just so excited and enthused about art that I couldn’t stop making art. I kept going and going, and was building pieces in my garage. A few friends saw what I was working on and encouraged me to submit my work for inclusion in local art fairs. I entered into the Ann Arbor Art fair; it was a very prestigious show at the time. I built five things and took photos for my entry into the show. After I got in I had to make things to sell and it kind of snowballed from there. Ironically, still to this day my first retail show has been my best show. I kept my photography business going for a few more years, but I stopped pursuing it. I only did work for the clients that sought me out and the ones I liked working with. After about three years the photography business just kind of died it’s own natural death, and by 2000 or 2001 I was making my living solely as an artist.

When you think about art, it seems pretty illogical that you could make a living out of it, but I was able to get so excited that I quit thinking about it and just started doing it. I really didn’t have a plan, I just did it.

LDG: What first attracted you to the Raven-crow, the signature fixture in your sculptures?

MO: I started out making furniture from salvaged architectural elements: shutters, stair balusters, and all sorts of objects that kind of had that primitive look. I built my shutter cabinets and with them I took the architectural theme a little further and put rooftops on all of my cabinets. The idea to put a bird sitting on the roof just kind of came to me. I’m not sure why I carved a crow. I guess my past exposures from carving totem poles might have influenced it. The Oceanic tribes of the Pacific Northwest ascribed their origin to the Raven as the creator. Nevertheless, I carved it and placed it on the roof. It went so well with the architectural elements that I started putting them on every one of my pieces. People that couldn’t necessarily afford my furniture or didn’t have a need for a big bookcase would ask if they could just buy the raven, and after hearing this for a few years I decided to make a few small sculptures. They ended up selling really well. Again, I didn’t plan it. Sculpture was a lot easier for me to do, and one day I had an epiphany when looking at my booth at an art show: I didn’t make furniture anymore. I had become a sculptor.

LDG: Could you describe the process you follow for creating your designs?

MO: It starts out with an idea that I think of. These ideas just kind of come to me at various times of the day, and all the sudden I will get this complete picture of what I want to make. I quickly sketch it out before I forget it and then the challenge begins when I have to figure out how to make the idea into a reality. Figuring out how to make it is the one area where I take a little more pride. If you are creating what I create, even though it has kind of a rough look to it, it still has to be done just right. If I am not exact and precise with my work, it will end up looking like a mistake. When my finished product looks really simple, I know I’ve done it right. Even though parts of it have chipped paint or nicks they still have to be assembled perfectly or else it would just look like junk. I take pride in my found objects looking like they belong together.

LDG: You are a “jack” of many trades. What part of the process do you enjoy the most; sculpture, woodcarving, painting, etc?

MO: Pieces that require all of my skills, or the more skills I need to incorporate to bring my idea to life, is what I really enjoy. Figuring out what techniques need to be applied, even learning new techniques such as welding, is what makes my artwork look the way it does.

LDG: Your art is very symbolic. What motivates you to use symbolism and how do you decide what you want your art to represent?

MO: I do it backwards. The symbolism forces its way to the surface from the finished sculpture. I don’t always know why I’m doing what I doing, I just do what feels right. I go look for objects that speak to me and keep a stockpile of my findings. When ideas come to me I figure out how to make them and afterwards is when the symbolism pushes its way through. I’ve used dice. What do dice mean to me? Chance or fate. What about an old watch? That would be time or living in the moment. My sculptures speak to me, I don’t force what I want them to mean.

LDG: What has influenced you the most throughout your career?

MO: I’ve always had a lot of different interests. I’ve always liked Surrealism and more specifically, Rene Magritte. However, I doubt many people will see much of his influence in my art. I mentioned I used to carve totem poles. I love Native American art. I used to feel a little inauthentic because I loved making totem poles so much, but have no Native American background. I think I’m Scottish or Irish, but I’ve recently decided that I can’t control what I like, and that is ok. My influences come from all over, but Native American art and Rene Magritte are probably the most influential in my work.

LDG: What is the one piece of wisdom you would like to share with aspiring artists and our readers?

MO: Do what you love doing and always ask questions. Especially aspiring artists, always ask questions. If you keep doing what you love doing, hopefully people will respond to it and help you out. The art fair artists are the nicest group of people I have ever come across. We are like a traveling circus, and I feel I have best friends all over the country who have or are willing to help each other out.

LDG: What is your favorite color?

MO: Blue. My mother made me a blue frosted birthday cake when I was ten. I’ve just always liked blue.

We want to thank Mark for taking the time to speak with us about his Scavenger Art Sculptures. His artistic talent can be seen and admired in all of his sculptures, and he has truly mastered finding the beauty in his “scavenged” objects. You can view his Raven on Heart piece, as well as other sculptures at The Laughing Dog Gallery website and in store.

Own Art, Be Happy!