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Mark Engel

USA / Brasil

Mark Engel is a Brazilian-American artist. Born in Rio de Janeiro, he lives and works in New York City. He received his BFA from Parsons School of Design. Mark’s work has been featured in group and solo exhibitions since 1993 at such venues as MAR (Museu de Arte do Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Art in General(New York, NY), Centro Cultural Cândido Mendes (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), University of North Texas (Denton, TX), Austin Museum of Art (Austin, TX) andCentro Cultural dos Correios (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) among others. He has been critically praised in print by the New York Times, Jornal do Brasil, O Globo and other outlets. His work is included in private and institutional collections in Brazil, Europe and the United States. Mark has done extensive and pioneering creative work with digital paintings since 1995 as well as developed and organized new projects for emerging artists. His artwork deals with issues of abstraction vs. representation, seduction and repulsion, contemporary art practices, history and humor. In his computer generated artworks, Mark has developed abstract imagery based on stock photography, found images and scanned objects; the new imagery retaining just enough information to be recognizable as something real, but not enough to point to its origins.


Painting exists as more than just paint on canvas. Defined by texture, flatness, shape, and form, the discipline emerges out of many mediums beyond paint. In my work, I use found photographs and objects as a starting point for my digital paintings, which use technology to broaden the definition and language of the medium. 

Often I address social and economic politics of my native Brazil, and general societal power dynamics. I use humor, abstraction and found imagery to address these concerns. Formally, I generate tension within my artworks through the use of opposing structures and concepts; abstraction and representation, seduction and repulsion, surface and substance. I want my art to touch on these concepts while yielding new and unexpected understandings. Ultimately, my artworks function as abstract metaphors that should resonate with the viewer in an unconscious, gut-level, delivering a quasi-remembered experience. This effort uses digital abstract forms to convey poetic meaning, memory and emotion.

The artworks begin as found images from stock photography, comics, advertisements, etc. or scanned objects that have personal meaning to me, and through digital manipulation are transformed to a point of being nearly unrecognizable. Upon closer inspection, aspects and details of the original may start to show themselves as small clues to its origins. 

I play with scale and distortion to uncover new meanings. Scale, by itself, can establish a sense of wonder and ambiguity. Through the integration of computer-generated chance and manual digital manipulation I discover new, and unexpected, insights and relationships between abstraction, representation and symbolism. For example, in my Dharmapala series, I developed imagery that resembled torn raw meat to symbolize Buddhist wrathful deities. In another, the Gongshi series, scanned images of Brazilian coins from the 1700’s to the 1800’s were distorted into shapes that resemble Chinese scholar’s rocks.

I always work in series as this allows me to flesh out concepts and ideas by generating variations within a theme. The final work exists as digital C-prints, dye sublimation on aluminum, inkjet on paper and digital print on fabric. Many of the works benefit from being presented in large scale while some I render in small, jewel-like sizes. 

— Mark Engel

Gongshi series"
2022, November - Lisbon

In his most recent artworks, Gongshi, Mark Engel has developed imagery based on scanned images of Brazilian empire and monarchy coins and digitally altered them to vaguely resemble Chinese scholar’s rocks (gongshi).


“Chineses cholars’ rocks (gongshi), also known as scholar stones or viewing stones, are small naturally occurring or [man] shaped rocks which are traditionally appreciated by Chinese scholars.”Wikipedia“


[they] are seen as embodiments of the dynamic transformational processes of nature.”Metropolitan Museum of Art The World of Scholars’ Rocks Gardens,Studios, and Paintings.


Through digital manipulation—pulling, pushing, stretching and poking the scanned image—Mark has transformed the original coins to a point of being almost non-recognizable. Almost, but not quite so. Upon closer inspection of the final images, aspects of the coins start to show themselves; ridges, numbers, letters, decorative designs. Original details become ever more present in their distortion.


This group of work relates to Mark Engel’s long-standing exploration of digital media as a means to “painting” and the use of found imagery, and found objects, as starting points in developing his final works. Much like in his previous seriesHearts of Stone(1996) andMind Candy(1996-present), Mark uses the scanner as a camera and plays with scale and context to develop new meanings; finding new relationships between abstraction, representation and symbolism. Borrowing from another series,Sweets & Treats, (1996-present), Mark integrates the use of distortion and computer generated chance, injecting the Gongshi works with an added layer of pseudo-abstraction instigating a back-and-forth between what is immediately perceived and the clues left behind.


As part of the much-lauded BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China & SouthAfrica), Brazil and China have a complex and intertwined economic relationship. The Gongshi works allude to Brazil’s current economic affiliation to China, it’s benefits and disadvantages, and, at the same time, to the historical, and of ten times turbulent, role the Portuguese had in establishing east-west economic relations with China. Mark’s work brings to mind issues of empire building, how economic powerhouses shape each other and, as Neville Morley has elaborated in his article “Decadence as a Theory of History,” cultural and economic entropy.

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