‘Trophic Eggs’

Arthaus Projects presents solo show by Mark Loughney

PHOTOS PROVIDED Shown are striped pupa-looking creatures Loughney refers to as “botflies,” which have an emotional resonance, capturing both his vulnerability as a prisoner, and levity towards embracing life.

Arthaus Projects presents a solo exhibition by Mark Loughney, a talented portrait artist from Northeastern Pennsylvania. The exhibition, titled “Trophic Eggs,” opens with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and runs through June 30, at 140 W. Fourth St.

For “Trophic Eggs,” Loughney set out to put down on paper some of those once rejected, inviable ideas to find out if any nutritional value could be squeezed from them. Insects have again made their ubiquity apparent in these works, as they had in Loughney’s previous collection, “Letters from Desolation Row.”

The collection of drawings that comprised “Letters From Desolation Row” were all created in what might be considered a strange place for a studio: Loughney’s prison cell in Dallas, Pa., The same cell that serves as his studio was also the setting for a mere miraculous intervention in the form of a radio interview given by artist, Johnny Romeo.

In September 2015, Loughney, facing a lengthy prison sentence, heard on WVIA radio a message that spoke directly to him.

“It was so moving that I couldn’t lie there for another minute,” he said. “I had to get up and draw. Johnny’s message saved me from a darkness I couldn’t shake, and it also jolted me from the paralysis of non-productivity. All the pieces in ‘Letters From Desolation Row’ were arrived at in roughly the same way.”

Loughney was so moved by how Romeo spoke about his process and passion for his artwork that he wrote a letter to Converge Gallery (now Arthaus Projects), who looked at his work and were impressed by the detail and talent.

“My process begins with being terrified of a blank paper until I conjure enough mettle to make an initial intuitive stroke with my pen, then another stroke, and another,” he said. “It is not until after initially getting the drawing off ground that I take a step back and make conscious design decisions. The first step is almost always to figure out what the drawing wants to become, then kind of helping it along. Small strange animals and insects are all over the place in my drawings.”

Loughney describes his works as a stream-of-consciousness fusion of “non-objective conceptual elements, with recognizable objects.” Biomorphic shapes and abstractions mold seamlessly with giant insects and the simulacra of strange little animals in Loughney’s drawings, creating an engrossing and surreal visual landscape of the artist’s subconscious. The recurring motif of striped pupa-looking creatures that Loughney refers to as “botflies,” has a particular emotional resonance, capturing both his vulnerability as a prisoner, and levity towards embracing life.

“This element kept showing up in my drawings and one day I stood back to try and understand why I liked it so much,” he said. “My analysis revealed some parallels to my own life: The black and white stripes that commonly indicate a prisoner, the transitional life stage, the vulnerability, and the way they look like they want to just go bouncing down the hallway.”

This series of drawings was only possible because of Romeo’s persistence in his own development, which has served Loughney about as much as it has served him.

“If I had not heard him give that interview in 2015 there would be no drawings, no botflies, no redemption through art, no light in the tunnel,” he said. “But I did hear it. And because of it I have been reborn into a newly focused obsessive. This is how I have found a way to be free.”

The Trophic Eggs collection of drawings was inspired by resurrected thoughts and ideas that Loughney had previously rejected as nonsense.

“It is easy for me to dismiss my good ideas because they are mine,” he said. “Then, when a stranger expresses what I had felt, I recognize my own rejected thoughts in their work and it all comes back to me with an alienated twist, and I am forced to take, with regret, my own opinions and ideas from another.”

A trophic egg is defined as a rejected egg, usually degenerate in form and inviable, that is fed to other members of an ant colony.

“Bugs fascinate me,” Loughney said. “Among other subject matter, these drawings include some of my interpretations of my experiences living with insects and other small creatures — how they look, how they feel, how they make me feel, how they taste, how they feel crawling through your hair.”

Loughney’s intricate drawings feature various imaginative bugs and creatures with a sort of whimsical feel to them. Very little color is used in the drawings, which all begin in pencil, graphite and colored pencil. Loughney then refines them by cross-hatching with a ballpoint pen. If the composition calls for a large area of value, he uses acrylic paint.

“Every piece begins as an egg of an idea to be hatched and grown out on the paper,” he said. “As I work, a blob and a couple of squiggly lines help to get the overall composition to emerge, then they slowly begin to turn into a gallbladder, a foreleg, a chine, a river, etc. The more absurd the final result appears, the more I love looking at it. I take absurdity very seriously.”

Loughney feels he is truly himself when creating his art. It is his meditation practice and his communion with all that is life.

“I never really had any faith in ever being anything more than an amateur artist until I heard Johnny’s interview last year,” he said. “Since then I have kind of been reborn into an obsessive nut that rarely thinks about anything other than drawing and painting.”