Mark Acetelli is one of my new art friends.  I feel like I need to treasure this guy not only because he's clearly so talented but also because he's such a cool, down-to-earth guy. He's not jaded or affected like some artists. In fact, I think he's one of the best examples of what a contemporary artist should be today.  We had a great chat.  I'm sure you'll enjoy it too.

MICHAEL: Hey Mark. I really love your work. It's very hip and contemporary. I can see that you like to dabble in abstraction and figuration at the same time. Does either feel more dominant for you?

MARK: Thank you, at the moment, abstract expressionism is what I'm focusing on. Throughout my figurative series, I've taken the figure and continued to make it smaller and smaller, till the figure disappeared. Thus creating this current series which I feel will dominate for a while.

MICHAEL: What is it about abstract paintings that make some people think they, with no training to speak of, can paint them too?

MARK: That's a good question. To the untrained eye, it may look simple, but, a lot of successful artists who paint abstracts have many years of training and painting behind them and have evolved into that style of expression. Of course, some are stronger than others, the trick is to make it look easy. Picasso once said, "It took me four years to paint like Rubens and a lifetime to paint like a child." Not to say that abstracts are childlike, some are, but to me it says, we must strip away theories and preconceived ideology and have a clear mind like a child does, to paint in a pure sense of expression and wonder.

MICHAEL: Your work is quite rustic. In fact, you have a series called "The Elegance of Decay." I totally get it, but what does that mean to you? It still seems to characterize the works you've done even after that time.

MARK: Yes, that series was a catalyst for my abstracts. The series was inspired by a recent trip to Italy and I found the amazing graffiti on all the old buildings which I thought was a shame, but, it was a bit inspiring too. The layers upon layers of writing, spray paint, old posters and decay, with a healthy dose of many years of neglect, interested me to create that feeling on canvas. I used a lot of cold wax medium and applied the paint with a knife rather than a brush. Build it up and tear it down with a lot of paint! Thus the phrase, "Elegance of Decay."

MICHAEL: Isn't it amazing how small little Italy has contributed so much to the world? I'm dying to visit. It's like the birthplace of art. What else is it about Italy that makes it so inspiring for you?

MARK: Well, my grandparents are from Abruzzo, just outside of Rome, so it holds a lot of significance for me. Italy just exudes passion, art and culture and it's most infectious. For me, I don't have to go into a museum there to be inspired, it's in the streets, culture, people and of course the food!

MICHAEL: Were you born an artist or did you become one? When did you first become aware and call yourself an artist?

MARK: I was "born an artist" in its many forms: painting, music, photography, etc. My mom was an incredible artist. She was a painter and poet and she passed it on to me. I think we are all born artists, but as we get older we lose that spirit to create and to express ourselves in a way that we did when we were children. Life sometimes gets in the way of channeling that energy we all have, to the demands of life and making a living. But, for some of us, we have no choice, you can't do anything else but make art and create, whether it be painting, music, poetry or any number of endeavors. It's a calling, one that you can't deny.  As I got older, I realized art chose me. I really had no choice, everything else, so called "jobs" that I tried to do, I failed miserably at because I wasn't passionate. I just had to except it and feed it, like a hungry beast.

MICHAEL: American society seems to have this love-hate-fearful relationship with art and the notion of creativity. I have my own thoughts about this, but what do you think?

MARK: I haven't really seen that too much in my personal involvement in the arts.  However, I do think some people may have many preconceptions about art and THE artist. Most of us tend to be a bit "outside of the ordinary."  I think you have to be. We really don't fit into a nice little package. I think people have that love-hate-fear, because they don't understand and what you don't understand you tend to dismiss. Or on the other hand, they may be in a state of awe that we "the artists" are able to create something that moves them and in turn validates what we do and sets us free to keep creating.

MICHAEL: You live in Pasadena? That seems like such a cool place to live. How does the whole Los Angeles vibe influence your work?

MARK: It has been a tremendous catalyst for creating art. With all of the galleries and the local support for artists, L.A. really gave me a lot of validation when I was first starting out, which kept me going when I was considering becoming a full-time artist. Every day of the week, you could go somewhere or do something that was in the arts, get inspired and go back to your studio and paint. I think it's so important for creatives. But for all the energy L.A. had to offer, my family and I recently decided to moved to the country just outside of Memphis. My wife's family has a lot of land and property here and we decided it would be a good place to be to raise our baby daughter. I was a bit hesitant about the move in the beginning, but so far, it has turned out quite well. I found a HUGE studio in a building that's over 200 years old, great daylight and I have no distractions and every day I go into the studio and paint. It has really been a good lesson on being able to create without the stimulus of a big city. I had to "get over" the total exact opposite of what I'm used to, it's been a bit of culture shock to say the least. But, there is a peacefulness here that lets ideas come into focus and translate well onto canvas.  We look forward to possibly returning to L.A. in the spring.

MICHAEL: Wow, that's great. What's Memphis like? I know it's jazzy and bluesy, but is it creative and artful? Memphis strikes me as a town that's trapped by history. No offense to Memphis!

MARK: Memphis is cool, has a nice vibe, great music and southern fried food, if that's your thing. The sense of history is ever present. It's got its parts of the community that are artful. I think it leans more toward music and blues. It's a bit of a time warp here.  Let's say it's a bit old fashioned.

MICHAEL: What do you think about living today as an artist ... especially in this economy? Do you think the art world respects emerging artists?

MARK: I think it's sometimes extremely difficult to stay on the artist's path in this economy, where sales that were once many and now are few. It's very challenging, but these are the sacrifices we make as artists. The reality is, what do we do if there are no sales and we have a family to support? That question has kept me up many a night. That's where the other side of the brain kicks in; "Commerce" ... one must think outside of the box to generate sales. You must take the initiative to create your own destiny to make that sale and beg, borrow or steal to make it happen. As far as respect for emerging artists, I think they should respect emerging artists because all the great artists of history were all "emerging" at one point. And in this economy, much respect is due to those trying to make a living out of one's inner vision and emotions. Taking the intangible and making it tangible is one thing, then having the guts to get it out there and try to sell it, let alone make a living out of it, is a noble occupation in my book. 

MICHAEL: Yes, this really must be a tough time for artists. Most people consider art a frill to begin with. Yet at the same time, the super-wealthy are buying 20th century and contemporary masters like never before. It's odd.

MARK: Yes it is, but these people who are buying this bluechip art are only buying it because it's an investment, it's a safe shelter, because it's only going to go up in value, unlike the stock market which is so volatile.

MICHAEL: Finally Mark, as you continue to work and create, what are your future plans?

MARK: To keep on painting, continue to grow as an artist and as a person, and to push myself as far as I can go as an artist. I want to get my work in more prominent collections and museums. And never sit back and say it's good enough.

MICHAEL: Very cool Mark.  Well, I'll say plenty of prayers for you and congrats on the baby girl!

Check out Mark Acetelli and his work at