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J. Shane Mercer, Published February 19 2009

Common, elegant collide in layered mural

You may have missed it if you didn’t know where to look. Concordia College art instructor Mike Marth’s “Endless Still Life” is tucked away in the college’s Knutson Campus Center. Well, it’s as tucked away as a more than 43-foot piece of art can be.

Concordia art department Chairman Peter Schultz says, “It is one of the largest pieces, if not the largest piece, of contemporary art in Fargo-Moorhead.”

Marth’s creation, which hangs across from Anderson Commons, is part relief sculpture, part painting, part assemblage. The six oil-painted panels that make up the piece are adorned with everything from rope and rusted metal disks to spoons and forks to chain and hundreds (if not thousands) of screws.

He used plywood as the base for each of the panels. He says that’s about all he paints on these days.

“Canvas just doesn’t take screws well,” Marth says.

What is striking about Marth’s mural – in addition to sheer enormity and novelty of materials – is the height of elegance and coherence to which the piece rises given some of the media from which it was created.

This collision of the elegant and the common is also present in the focal areas of five of the six panels as common household items such as a lidded vessel and a pitcher are central.

Thus, the piece produces a sort of layering, as the work begins with the roughness of common objects (along with more refined materials) and develops into cohesive, graceful form, only to have that form serve to point to that which is common.

As for how one gets such a refined product from such common materials, Marth says you “do something with it and then react to it.”

Trial and error, so to speak. But Marth does say that, with experience, one gets better at anticipating the results.

It’s appropriate that many of Marth’s materials are on the blue-collar side. He’s pretty blue-collar himself. When he and I met in Knutson to look at the image and talk about it, he wore blue jeans and a flannel shirt over a gray T-shirt. He says those who know him know it’s always a flannel shirt.

Of course, a streak of blue in one’s collar is a good thing to have if you’re going to take on a 40-foot- long project that requires 11 months to complete. And the material gathering for Marth’s works of art can be a bit on the laborious side as well.

“I do cleanup week religiously every year,” he says of his springtime ritual to gather materials from items people have thrown curbside.

But while some of the means may be common, the ends are full of form and depth.

Further, despite the enormity of “Endless Still Life,” Schultz says Marth maintains his commitment to the dense layering of color and material. And, says Schultz, in terms of intensity each “square inch … is painted as if he was only painting that inch.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734