After his disabilities brought difficulties on at school, Mark initially spent 20 years working in a local plastics factory. However, that wasn’t what he wanted to do in life. Eventually he pursued his artistic dreams, and today has quality visual art available to view and buy online. He’s also exhibited his work in both the UK and Europe and has received interest from as far away as South America.
Today, Mark spends most of his time painting excellent landscapes and seascapes on environmentally friendly materials. He’s also taken a major interest in teaching, and is more than happy to help people of all abilities pursue their artistic dreams.
Many others have critically acclaimed his beautiful artwork. Therefore, I couldn’t be happier to interview Mark back at the end of April this year. Still, it was a while ago, so if you’d like to be updated on what he’s recently involved himself with, head to his website marknoble.art to find out more.
Well, thanks for getting in touch with me, Mark – it’s much appreciated.
Well, I think it’s very important to meet fellow artists, and it’s important to spread the word of artists with disabilities too.
Yeah, there’s no doubt about that.
Anyway, first question is simple, really. Would you mind telling me and others about your background as a disabled artist?
I discovered at an early age, that I had some sort of ability and talent. And, growing up, when I was about five years old, I was asked to demonstrate drawing and other bits and pieces. But it wasn’t until much later on in my life that I decided to make a career out of art.
Around the year 2001, my life changed quite dramatically. I started a ‘fresh start’ course at a local college in Somerset and discovered I had a new talent. I also happened to find out that I had autism and severe dyslexia and that’s when the artistic journey really started. I did a BTEC course, which then led me on to university, because this is when I started getting more help and support from others in education. I studied in Bath, doing a Fine Arts degree.
What did that lead to afterwards?
It obviously led to me developing my career and really pushing the boundaries as the years went on. It’s led to me contacting others, like I’m contacting you today, as well as showcasing the work I’ve done as an artist.
Have you spoken with a lot of disabled artists in the past, then?
Yes – I’m now an ambassador for Outside In, a charity I’m involved with that supports disabled artists. I’ve met quite a few artists and we do co-operate with each other. I try to meet as many artists as I can. It is a learning curve, and social media is so important today too.
Are there any particular artists that have inspired yourself as a visual artist?
I grew up in a place that was near the sea. I’m always fascinated by the weather, and I call myself a romantic-style painter, with a modern twist. My favourite artists would be Monet, William Turner, John Constable, Edwin Church; many of those were a part of the English Romantic movement. That’s the art I really love, as I’m fascinated by how Turner and these other artists captured the quality of light on canvas.
I’m always happy to see work. I love going to galleries, and Monet I’m certainly aware of – obviously he’s one of the most popular visual artists in the world, isn’t he?
Yeah, and I’ve been all over the country. I’ve been to all the great galleries in London, to the Tate Modern; I’ve seen Turner’s work too. You’ve got to see it in real life to really grasp what these artists tried to capture. And now, I think I really want to push the boundaries of the natural world. I’m lucky to live in Somerset, because we’ve got such a diverse landscape.
We’ve all obviously had a lot of barriers to overcome during lockdown. Would you say the pandemic has made it a lot more difficult for you to be creative?
That’s an interesting question. Well, I’ve obviously seen the devastation it’s caused others. For me, my mind has focused more on my own creative studying. During this period, I’ve tried to build my own art studio, and obviously the website has been updated too.
And now, my chief aim is to get my work seen by a much wider audience. I want to give people light at the end of the tunnel – especially disabled people and those with mental health problems. I’ve had these issues myself, and I’ve seen the desperation, and hopefully my art will inspire others to pull themselves out of the deep, dark pit we’ve all faced.
The pandemic has been horrible, but it focuses the mind on your own creative practices. Of course, all showings have stopped – but that’s really been the only downside for me.
Is there anything new that you’ve learnt during the pandemic period, too?
Well, I’ve missed speaking to people in person, instead of speaking to people like I am with you on Zoom. But, using new technology has led to some beneficial aspects. I’ve also seen how positive it can be for people with many disabilities, and hopefully what will come out from this will be a much stronger arts community. I feel cuts have savaged the arts for many years. I realise that art is part of a much bigger picture… get my pun?
[Laughter] Yeah, I did.
Okay, well, disability arts are often used to express disabled artist’s feelings – because disabled people often deal with discrimination. Have you used art to express these feelings, or keep it more personal?
Back in the day I went to a specialist school. And, in the 70s, dyslexia, Asperger’s syndrome, and other disabilities weren’t so known about. Is it all right if I use a bit of strong language?
Yeah, go on.
Well, we were called retards. They called us spastic; we were spat at, and people chucked stones at us. It was because we went to a specialist school. That’s the discrimination I felt. But, luckily, it’s not such an issue now.
I did a commission for the government in 2010 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of disability rights. There was an exhibition at Westminster. I painted a dark, stormy, moody picture showing my battle with dyslexia. So, I put a lot of personal stuff into it, and I’m quite happy for people to see that.
Have you worked with other disabled people to create artwork or take part in any other activities in the past?
Over the past couple of years I’ve been doing some work for the charity Children’s World and helped organise workshops on Paddington Farm for them. At the moment we’re hoping to get funding from the arts council to take these lessons to more schools in the area. I’ve had some contact with various groups, but again, for me, it’s a learning process that’s developing all the time.
I’ve done stuff in old people’s homes, and in various schools. After lockdown, when everything’s really been put on hold, we’re now having meetings to push work to a much bigger audience. But it’s going to take more time. You’ve got to find the right contacts, and you’ve got display maturity so you can work in these sorts of situations.
Great, it sounds like you’ve been up to quite a lot of work then.
I think when you are both dyslexic and autistic, you gain a unique understanding of how people and these projects work.
Okay. Moving on, are there any other types of disability arts you find appealing?
Well, visual art is the area I’m concentrating on. There are other art forms that are on the back-burner at the moment. Painting and drawing are what I’m focused on at the present time.
Well, one more simple question to round this up – we are in a lockdown. What do you look forward to when we’re all free to roam?
One of the biggest projects you’ve probably seen on my website at the moment is showcasing the natural world/the environment. I call it the ‘Driftwood Collection’. I’m using recycled materials like old tree bark, fences, table tops, etc. because I think the environment is a huge, huge issue, and so hopefully we’re going to set up workshops where children from all backgrounds can learn about the natural world and our place in it.
This is one reason I contacted you and have contacted other organisations too. I want to put the environment first, and make sure both children and adults learn more about what’s wrong right now. I’m trying to use recycled wood, and hopefully we can push this work into schools. I’m approaching them already, places such as forest schools. In the past, we’ve done activities such as putting on art shows and art trails in the woods.
If we can bring this to a much bigger audience, we can really get people thinking. We can focus peoples’ minds more on it. My two children love working with paint, and my granddaughter painted her feet orange!
So, that’s my primary focus. I believe it’s going to be important to do this sort of thing.
As an ongoing conversation casually continued after the key questions, Mark and I even spoke about my arts. After telling him more about my writing, he explained how he considered his paintings to be speaking words as well. I believe Mark’s artwork speaks wise words to others.
Despite being such a kind character, Mark’s another person whose disabilities led him towards difficulties earlier on in life. However, he picked himself up, and it seems clear now that he’s learnt how to live a happier lifestyle after moving on to do the work he loves. He now offers so much support to others, too.
Disability is obviously the subject I’m most interested in raising awareness of – but there are other problems to deal with worldwide, too. We need to make it crystal clear that environmental issues exist throughout the world. If Mark feels compelled to focus his attention towards that, then I can only compliment his actions.