Mark Strong's artwork is so well-known throughout Taos that, even though this is his first time exhibiting at the Harwood Museum of Art, a few of his pieces are already in its permanent collection.
"I had traded some art with (artist) Jim Wagner. He and others contributed some of my work to the Harwood," explained Strong.
Strong's exhibit of colorful and contemporary prints is on view from today (July 5) through July 29, in Studio 238 at the Harwood Museum, 238 Ledoux Street. A meet-the-artist event is planned Friday (July 6) from 4-6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Strong's friend, art gallery owner Philip Bareiss, came up with the title of the exhibit: "Prosaic Exceptionalism."
"It's everyday objects. I do my composition from whatever's at hand, what I found in the ditch walking the dog," Strong said.
Strong has long been a fixture in Taos. For many years he worked at the former Columbine Printing, which was once a busy shop producing art opening invitations and exhibit catalogues. Strong then went on to work at Cid's Food Market for 16 years and retired from there in 2016.
Matt Thomas is the collections manager for the Harwood. Last year he was doing an inventory of the collection and came across Strong's prints.
"These need to be shown. So, I did my background research and found out: 'It's that guy from Cid's.' When you look and realize how many layers he applied, how many blocks he had to carve, there's craft in it," Thomas said.
Strong explained that for the process, one can use all kinds of materials to make a print, but he prefers carving wood. "I use poplar because it has that fine grain to it. I use one block for each different color group," he said.
When Thomas met Strong for a studio visit, he saw the actual blocks that were used. "He hand carves at the dinner table and prints in the garage," Thomas said.
At the Harwood exhibit, a few of the actual print blocks will also be on display.
Taos is not the only market for Strong's work. In June he exhibited in a national small print show in Creede, Colorado. With vibrant colors and sometimes hilarious subjects (beer cans, matchbooks, etc.), Strong captures the contemporary using what he calls "a medieval technology."
His tools are limited. The blocks of poplar wood are carved with an X-Acto knife and a magnifying glass. Each color requires its own trip through his hand-operated Challenge flatbed cylinder press to build up the finished image.
Strong's art is represented by 203 Fine Art in Taos and is in numerous private collections.
Strong has long worked with his hands. He was born in 1949 in Wellington, Texas and grew up in Artesia, working the farms and oil fields. He earned a bachelor of science degree in anthropology-sociology from Eastern New Mexico University in 1971. Upon graduation he worked as a pipe fitter on major construction projects from Alaska to Louisiana. In between, he did salvage archaeology for New Mexico State University.
His lifelong interest in printing stems from elementary school when he first used potatoes and finger paint to produce relief prints.