Staff Spotlight: Mark Hennen

Mark Hennen is a painter and a graduate of MassArt’s 2D department. In his own practice, he has been working on a series of monthly plein air landscape paintings since 2006. Mark has been a Studio Facilitator at Gateway Arts since 2001 and, in that time has seen both the studio and his own facilitation techniques evolve quite a bit.

Mark Hennen, dressed in a blue tshirt, is seen from the waist up standing in front of a wall with 9 horizontally oriented paintings hung in a square arrangement

In February of this year, Mark began preparing for this summer’s exhibition, The Natural World, on view in the Gateway Arts Gallery June 12 – August 25, 2023. This exhibition marked the revival of a series of themed summer shows at Gateway Arts, a concept that originated from a collaboration with Barney’s department store. Mark proposed the theme The Natural World because it’s something that is inevitably a part of every individual’s experience and it’s a broad enough topic to allow for individual pictorial interests to be explored. The challenge with this type of show, as Mark explains, is that rather than choosing the most fitting pieces, from a plethora of finished works, you’re asking artists to create something specifically for an exhibition. This changes the stakes in a way. As the central organizer of this project, Mark was responsible for ordering the panels that artists worked on, tracking each artist’s chosen subject and where they were working, and seeing to it that deadlines were met.

Artists in Mark’s studio, formerly known as the paper studio, work on two-dimensional projects using a variety of drawing and painting materials. Mark encourages artists to work on themed projects throughout the year, not just in preparation for these themed exhibitions. Proposed themes include seasonal series, as well as more open-ended prompts, such as the ongoing painting series Hope Springs Eternal, in which more than thirty artists have participated since the start of 2022. Each artist brings to the series their own interests and interpretations. As an artist himself and as someone who has been working with Gateway artists for over twenty years, Mark understands how easy it can be to fall into comfortable habits in one’s artmaking process. He’s seen many times how the framework of a prompt can actually help an artist break out of habits and find new interests and ways of working, that they can then incorporate in their regular practice. Through structure, they’re able to break free.

Artists Leah Dunn, Sidney Perry, and Habib Plasencia work in Mark’s Studio

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