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Mark Messersmith: Natural Defenses

Mark Messersmith: Natural Defenses,  2008.

Mark Messersmith: Natural Defenses, 2008.

Mark Messersmith is a Florida artist known for his dark, almost disturbing paintings of the current state of the environment of the Sunshine State. His paintings are so full, so complex, so colorful, that only someone with immense talent could pull it all together to make each painting work. Beyond the paintings, though, is the fact that he also does his own wood carvings which frame the paintings at the top, and he creates detailed vignettes in little boxes that line the bottoms of the paintings. The boxes serve as a form of storyboard for the painting.

At first glance, his depictions of the Florida environment seem romantic, almost a kind of Eden: so much life, so much diversity, so much color. But Messersmith’s work is not the type of romanticism that exists in much of the landscape art that is still so popular throughout the state and in Polk County. Messersmith steps back just a little to that boundary that divides these protected areas from more developed areas. It is this area where the struggle is: the battle for habitat and survival both between humans and animals and between animals themselves. The more space that is allocated for human needs in the state, the less room and resources remain for those species that were here before us. Messersmith’s artworks address this issue in subtle ways.

Messersmith is one of the most acclaimed artists in the state. He is professor of art at Florida State University, where he has taught since 1985. He has received an Individual Artist Fellowship from the State of Florida four times. He has also received two Ford Foundation Fellowships, two fellowships through the National Endowment for the Arts/Southern Arts Federation, and a Joan Mitchell Foundation award.