IT’S OFTEN EASY to tell when someone is up to no good — a twinkle in the eyes, a mischievous smile, a soul vibration at an atomic level that touches anyone within reach.
Looking at Marky Pierson, one of Key West’s most eccentrically creative minds, one might assume that he is perennially misbehaving. His eyes sparkle with what I can only surmise is a reflection of the flashes of brilliance fulminating in his brain. His mouth is almost always upturned in a Cheshire Cat smile, even when his brow is furrowed in concentration. And that soul vibration? Impossible to describe, but if you’ve ever felt it you can consider yourself one of the lucky ones.
Marky is many things — a director, a stage manager, an event coordinator, a builder, a designer, and most of all an artist. Marky’s newest exhibit, “Historic Island City Architecture,” is a perhaps unlikely but seamlessly congruous combination of his puckish nature, his background in architectural illustration and his intense love of all things Key West. Opening on Friday, Feb. 2, at the newly minted Vessel Fine Art Gallery at 1203 Duval St. and on display all season, “Historic Island City Architecture” is a nouveau retro, art deco (say that five times fast) homage to some of Key West’s most historic properties.
Listening to Marky talk about his Key-West-centric-art is like reading an ode to Bone Island.
“I love the detail of the homes in Key West — the porches and the gingerbread, the pastel colors and attention to the smallest details,” he begins. “The homes are small and many of them are like a set piece to a quaint tropical town. The play of light and shadows and the tropical foliage adds to the magic day and night. Many of the wooden homes have colorful histories of their own — built by ship makers and fine craftsmen, with families showing off their style and status in the details. The old theater, brick courthouse, and Custom House, with the ornate Spanish design of the San Carlos Institute, add to the diversity of the buildings downtown and give us much of our visible history.”
In his decade-plus in Key West, Marky has fashioned himself as a kind of creative wunderkind around town, with his name — or the name of his company, Wonderdog Productions and Design — attached to a seemingly endless list of creative projects. With a background in architectural illustration, Marky was already in possession of a creative eye when he arrived in Key West. Over the following 10 years, he taught himself Photoshop, photography, film editing, theater production, painting, stage set creation and even acting. A longtime studio artist at local art hub The Studios of Key West, his roster of creative projects is dizzyingly long and includes many of the city’s most cherished (and well-attended) businesses and events. At first glance, it appears that everything Marky and his company of creative brainiacs touch is destined to succeed.
Because Marky embraces freedom of expression in all of its incarnations, it’s impossible to pin him down stylistically — a quality that he values and, to a certain extent, cultivates intentionally.
“I am a combination of illustrative, pop, naïve and expressionistic,” he contends. “I find that labels of all kinds are limiting and I like to say that I am just experimenting with everything. Each piece is a sketch, an idea. Some I like from the outset, some are terrible and some I grow to love over time. I love bright color and have had a hard time getting away from high contrast and black line work. I typically paint, draw and build sets and other 3D art pieces for temporary events or productions, but paintings can live on longer and I enjoy seeing something from years ago hanging on someone’s wall. I am most satisfied if a painting continues to make collectors and their guests happy or becomes a conversation piece. I draw from playfulness, expression and for the pure enjoyment of it. A tortured artist I am not,” he laughs playfully. “Happiness and images being stuck and looping in my mind are the main drivers of the subject matter I paint. I prefer not to compare myself to others much like I wouldn’t compare trees in a forest. They are all unique and beautiful in their individual ways.”
For “Historic Island City Architecture,” Marky is bringing his recognizable style and color palette to subject matter he hopes will have a universal appeal.
“I have been playing with pattern and textures in these new pieces,” he explains. “I chose elevations over perspectives for the building illustrations so that it was more graphic — a pure combination of pattern, shape and color. I have used an art nouveau color palette and repetitive patterns for continuity throughout the series and I feel this enhances the idea of old and new combined. When artwork can be relevant now and yet somehow timeless, that’s the effect I’m looking for. There are older, styled elements inherent in the color palette, but the black line and pattern work are modern, graphic and pop. The illustrations themselves are fine art prints; each one is numbered and signed. I have three sizes of each of the buildings and will also have some of my animals and nudes available as well. I am also taking commissions for animals and homes/buildings.” (I hope you’re paying attention, present procrastinators. What could be a more meaningful gift than a portrait of a beloved pet or iconic Key West building?)
While Key West has always been known as a haven for the wild, the wandering and the exceedingly weird, many of the island’s long-time residents and visitors bemoan the inevitable normalization that has befallen the island over the past decade. No paradise can remain a secret for long, and as the number of annual visitors increases, so must the dilution of island-wide wackiness. Perhaps it is because he seems so authentically dedicated to keeping alive what many feel is the true spirit of Key West — that is, a safe haven for those zany dreamers and artists who chafe at the norm — that Marky’s work has become so in demand and highly regarded. Devoid of pretension, he possesses a childlike wonder that propels him to engage in a limitless spectrum of creative mediums.
“I love the wild creatures and the misfits and the hidden genius active in so many people living on this island, This community is very supportive of artistic and expressive attempts in most arenas,” Marky says. “All of my attempts and projects are a grand experiment. A fun trial and error of ideas and small dreams. Sometimes with ok results, and others with amazing outcomes. My life is set up so that nearly everything is fun, exciting, creative or (I am) learning something. In this way, working here has become as fun as living here. I love what I do; I get asked to build, create or help dream up some wild projects.”
It is this enviable ease of existence that just about anyone would love to emulate.
The physical expression of Marky’s latest dreams will be the first official show at Vessel, a brand-new expansion from Adam and Kelly Russell, who are the brilliant and talented minds behind Key West Pottery.
“Key West Pottery has been bringing art to the people since her inception. I enjoy the company and work ethic of Adam and Kelly, who moved here from the Midwest and built their boutique art empire from nothing,” Marky asserts. “I admire them and we were able to exchange ideas about my new series and the direction of their new gallery. As of now, I have about 15 buildings I would like to illustrate. There are six completed for the opening and throughout the season we will incorporate new pieces into the collection.”
For gallery owners and artists in their own right Adam and Kelly, Marky is synonymous with Vessel Fine Art’s artistic ethos.
“The exciting thing with Vessel Fine Art is that we are really tapping into a stream of Key West creativity that is pushing the boundaries of what people formerly found in Duval Street galleries,” Adam explains. “We deal with a complete cross-section of clientele and want to speak to that broad of an audience while maintaining a progressive artistic voice, which can be tricky in a tourism market. It’s easy to go stale with just selling what works. That’s why we are thrilled to be showing Marky in the gallery. He is certainly a major player in a cultural renewal happening in our town right now and this latest series of work aligns perfectly with what we are trying to do. Key West is a remarkable place to live and certainly deserving of artistic remark, but I love to see the mark making done in an equally remarkable fashion. Marky nailed it with this series. We are proud to have them. Let’s have a party!”
And, as it always is with any project he’s involved with, Marky’s enthusiasm for his newest works is impossible to tame (though why would anyone want to reign in such contagious energy?).
“I am really excited for this new series,” he says. “I’ve had the vision for it since I moved here and I’m happy to finally have them framed and available. I’m also excited for the partnership with Vessel Fine Art and I hope people swing by this season to enjoy the new pieces.” ¦