Briefly describe the work you do.
I do many things, each a reflection of a set of circumstances. My primary interest has been a mash-up between building site-specific installation and creating social interactions.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I am from a small Mid-Western farming town, the youngest of seven children, and grew up on public assistance. Growing up in a bucolic environment I spent a great deal of time outside, wandering through woods and fields. I was captivated by the underlying patterns in the natural world, which has influenced my site work. The Mid-West also instilled in me a certain work ethic and appreciation for labor, which also is evident in much of my work.
Being the youngest in a large family, having five older sisters doting on me, I developed a strong sense of self. I was told I can do anything, so nothing really seemed impossible. Educational attainment was not highly prized in our home or community, there was not many voices advocating for poor kids to go to college, but I did, and I chose to study art.
Growing up in poverty really taught me how to do things, to rely on my creative nature. I spent much time in the kitchen with my mother where she would spin meager supplies into loaves of bread and nightly dinners. The ethos was, how can you take what is around you and transform it into something more useful, something better. That is how I approach space, how can I make this space into something greater than it is now.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice is in my head, on my laptop, at my dining room table, and sometimes most of my house, if I have a large project in process. When I left undergrad, a ceramics major, I realized that I was no longer surrounded by the equipment I was use to using, so I shifted, and continue to shift as my making practice changes. Much of my work now is about planning. I still fall back on occasion to a more traditional studio practice, usually associated with having a studio during an artist residency.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first started on the path to being an artist my work and thought were mostly about me, my identity, my emotional state. Then one day I realized, no one gives a shit about me as a subject, which caused me to start looking around me. Now, as an artist, my role is a mix of community organizer, social entrepreneur, event planner, mentor, teacher, and maker.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I am a full-time artist, my mind is always engaged with how I can manipulate what is around me. I wake up, make coffee, pack my wife’s lunch, and then start going through my mental list of things to do – e-mail show proposal, clean bathroom, update website, lunch with friend, research new materials…
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago I was just starting what would become a series of large scale, site-specific installations made of paper. That process began with me sitting at sewing machine for three months to make the components and ended with me showing up on site with a box of paper and a matrix for community engagement. My latest projects at engaged with the virtual world that we all invest so much time in. I am interested in modes of engagement that co-opt social media platforms and explore how this virtual world is changing our lived, physical world.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
The world around my provides the fodder for my making, my ideas. I do not really look to other visual artists to inform my making practice, art about art holds no interest for me. I have a few artist friends that I have developed a long-term dialogue about art with which continues to inform me about the drive to make things. Travel has been important, to be immersed in another culture has helped me make correlations about the human experience across space, maybe even across time.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I have, for a dozen years, at least part-time, as a non-profit administrator, you know, working on budgets and grants, that sort of thing. I could have done other things, I was as much into math and science as I was art when I was younger, maybe more so. I am not sure if I would do anything else, as an artist you can play with the entire spectrum of thought and information, all of our known world, or for some artist even the unknown world. If it were 1950, I would have made an excellent factory worker.
Mark Rumsey is an artist working in social situations and spacial manipulations. His work has been exhibited in China, Austria, Canada and much of the United States. Rumsey is a Michigan native and earned a BFA in Art and Philosophy at Grand Valley State University (MI). He pursued graduate studies at Montana State University (Sculpture) and The Ohio State University (Landscape Architecture) prior to completing an MFA in Printmaking at Kendall College of Art & Design (MI).
Rumsey has engaged in travel in the mode of cultural immersion including studying in China and Egypt as well as time in Nepal, India, Turkey, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Austria, and much of the United States. He has been an Artist-in-Residence at The Swatch Art Peace Hotel (Shanghai, China), Rondo Atelier (Graz, Austria), The Studios of Key West (Key West, FL), Frans Masereel Centrum (Kasterlee, Belgium), Carvansarai (Istanbul, Turkey), and Global Arts Village (New Delhi, India).
Over the past decade Rumsey has been actively engaged with the non-profit sector in Grand Rapids and has worked to develop projects such as the Free Radical Gallery, Art Downtown, East Hills Tree project, Uptown collaboration, and Wealthy Heights initiative. Currently he serves as an Adjunct Professor At Kendall College of Art & Design and as a consultant to local mission driven organizations.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.