Give Mark Yanowsky a door, cabinet or fence board, and he’ll turn it into something beautiful. Mark uses found wood products as canvases for his oil and woodburn art, getting his inspiration from the patterns of the wood’s grain rather than having preconceived notions of what his paintings will look like. “You let the materials lead the way,” he says.
Yanowsky, who also makes furniture out of reclaimed wood, finds many of his materials at a local landfill that he jokingly calls “the Dimeo Lane art store.” Other pieces of found wood come to him via neighbors, friends and contractors. “It’s so abundant,” he states. “Everybody’s got a little stockpile of wood that they think is kind of neat, but they don’t know what to do with it.”
Mark also uses wood from barns that he passes on the way to Castroville, where he teaches art at North Monterey County High School. This is one of several ways that his teaching gig fuels his artistry, another one being the fact that he has to have a clear understanding of his own reasons for and methods of creating art in order to explain various artistic principles to his students. “I think that’s a really healthy process for any artist,” he offers. “When you’re able to teach about something, you have to know it better.”
He adds that teaching is extremely time-consuming, requiring him to work far beyond the seven-hour school day. “It forces me to be really focused in the time that I have to make art,” he explains. “I’ve got kids, too, so I have to be really decisive and intentional. I think that helps me clarify what I’m trying to do, because I’ve got limited time to do it.”
Yanowsky’s teaching gig also gives him access to all kinds of materials. One of his best classroom finds was a wood burning pen that now plays a prominent role in the art he creates. “I was just using that for the hell of it, just to keep a kid busy one day, and I took it away from him!” he recalls with a laugh. “I wanted to do it myself.”
The painter, who first discovered his love for art while drawing Star Wars characters as a kid, cut his teeth by mimicking other artists. “I think every artist does that,” he ventures. “You do your impressionist paintings; you do your more abstract expressionist paintings or whatever. You’re practicing, testing, learning, finding what you want to do as an artist. And then eventually, with the right nexus of ideas, materials and life experiences, if we’re lucky, we find something relatively new. That special thing that’s your own is something that’s developed, and it’s there to be discovered through all your challenges and all your disappointments. Work your butt off and be patient with yourself, and something’s going to come of it. It’ll work.”
One of the defining features of Yanowsky’s art is his use of circles to accentuate key parts of the scenes that he paints. He describes these circles as “a metaphor for a lens on a moment, and how everything in our environment is always changing. This art is about celebrating those moments, focusing on them, meditating on them.”
More specifically, much of Yanowsky’s work focuses on moments that take place on the beaches of Santa Cruz. “We live in a beautiful ocean [area],” he notes. “Why do we love it so much? Why are we there? It’s for those moments, those little morsels.”
Mark’s love of this town blossomed while he was surfing all over Santa Cruz during his formative years. “All that time spent, you get really attached to the area,” he says. “When I first started to really get serious about art 15 years ago, that’s what was in my mind. That’s what I was passionate about, so it came out in the art.”
Yanowsky finds plenty of common ground between surfing and painting. “That constant pursuit that you have in surfing: trying to find that great ride, that one really good wave, when you’re completely in tune with that environment, and it feels easy—that’s the best feeling for everything [that you do],” he offers. “Whether you’re surfing or painting, you’re always trying to find that peak experience, that flow.”
The artist notes that the effortless quality that comes with being “in the flow” is often the culmination of a great deal of effort. “You’ve got to work a lot to make things easy—to make it feel easy and look easy,” he states, adding that this applies many different disciplines. “When skateboarders fall constantly, they keep trying until they pull it, right? In surfing it’s the same, and I think art’s the same: we fail a lot. There’s a lot of disappointment along the way, and it’s how you deal with that that makes you an artist or a surfer or [someone who is] living artfully.”
See more of Mark’s work at markyanowsky.com.