Nov 29, 2023

An Interview with Reimagining Reentry Fellow Mark Loughney

by: Jenny Donnelly Johnson with Mark Loughney

Mural Arts has relaunched the Reimagining Reentry Fellowship! Mark Loughney, our 2023-2024 Fellow, is a formerly-incarcerated painter, draftsman, and portraitist whose art acts as a national courier for criminal justice reform efforts. While in the fellowship, he continues to expand his project, Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration, to include portraits of supporters of criminal justice reform and the abolition of prison slavery.

Mark has also shown at MoMA PS1, Zimmerli Museum of Art, Brown University, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and other institutions in both solo and group exhibitions. His work has been featured in and on the cover of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration by Nicole R. Fleetwood and in the New York Times as part of Holland Cotter’s “Critic’s Pick,” in addition to other publications such as The New Yorker, Artforum, Hyperallergic, The Cut, and the Paris Review.

We sat down with Mark to find out more about him and his artistic practice:

This Fellowship has been a major validation of my practice and my redemptive process.

- Mark Loughney

How and why did you get started with visual art?

I started drawing as a toddler but didn’t really get serious until about 2014, when I was 37. I had been in prison for two years and it was a crossroads situation. One path was doom, the other was working toward building a purpose for my life and to contribute to the world in some positive way. Art was the means through which I felt I had a shot at that.

Did you start with portraiture first or other forms and media?

My earliest memory is getting in trouble for painting the walls with my aunt’s nail polish. So I  apparently started off on a rebellious note as a toddler. But portraiture was one of the earlier  subjects that I got interested in, and that I feel definitely informed the rest of my art making.

What led you to portraiture specifically? What other concepts and media are you drawn toward in your work?

I began drawing portraits as a way to commemorate loved ones and as commission work for family and friends. Then I got into drawing portraits of the musicians that I listen to. But portraiture took on a new importance for me when I began the Pyrrhic Defeat portrait project,  which highlights the issue of mass incarceration. Aside from portraits, I like to draw as weird of subject matter as I can think up, particularly insects.

How did your portrait project, Pyrrhic Defeat begin?

I started drawing portraits in prison for my subjects to send home to loved ones. After a while, I  began to see the possibilities of keeping the portraits to convey a message. It was around mid-2015 that I started collecting the portraits. The project took shape without having a definitive direction for it when I started.

What did you learn about your process as an artist throughout your time inside, and then how did it change on the outside?

I learned that I have an obligation to work as diligently as possible under whatever circumstances I’m facing. There is no excuse for being stagnant.

How do you start a portrait? What features do you begin with and why? What thoughts go through your head when preparing for a portrait and while in the process?

I always begin my portraits with the eyebrow that’s farthest away. It’s a weird place to start, but it’s what I’ve found works for me. I work through steps of connecting shapes and landmarks. It’s not a holistic approach, like the “blocking in” method, but rather a logical way of working from this point to that point, then shading and giving form as I go. I also begin every portrait terrified that I’m going to totally blow it.

What is it like for you to work in other mediums? Do you have a preference for the subject matter when working with other mediums? And do you approach the process of painting differently than working in charcoal?

I love painting. Color theory is something that I aspire to get a better grasp on, but I’ve had some successes just winging it by choosing colors as I work. I use acrylics and colored pencils, watercolors, and ink…whatever a piece requires to get the job done. I’m not a purist of any type of media or style. I’ll use whatever media is necessary to get a message across to the viewer.

How do you see yourself growing over the course of the Fellowship and beyond?

This Fellowship has been a major validation of my practice and my redemptive process. I see the accomplishments that previous fellows have made through the help of Mural Arts, and I know that there is no limit to what I might accomplish with the support of such an incredible organization. I foresee growing into a more polished and knowledgeable advocate for social justice during my time as a Reimagining Reentry Fellow. I am so grateful for the help and support of Mural Arts and am eager to do my part to continue their mission of making this a  better world through the healing power of art.

Look out for Mark’s new mural design this winter! In the meantime, follow his journey on Instagram @loughneyart.

Schedule a portrait sitting and be part of Mark’s ongoing series, Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration.

Sign up for a Portrait

Last updated: Nov 29, 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share Your Thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *