S toryteller, future-gazer, social analyst and political advisor: Mark Whalen (kill pixie) is more than just an artist. Each of his paintings tells a story; some of things passed, some of those to come. Their message points towards dynamic new strategies necessary for survival in the manmade era. With a wicked sense of humour and an uninhibited imagination to foot, kill pixie imparts his sparkling pearls of wisdom through a channel of magnified psychedelic future-visions viewed through an ice-cream-coloured kaleidoscope. As SARAH JAYNE FELL discovers, that – to Mark Whalen – is exactly what his artworks are. Mark Whalen is an Australian artist living in the cultural hub of Los Angeles. Originally working on the streets of Sydney as a graffiti writer with the street name ‘kill pixie’, he moved to LA in 2008 to further his career in the nucleus of what has fast become the contemporary Western art scene. Now that kill pixie no longer spraypaints walls, he works as a full-time fine artist under the title ‘Mark Whalen (kill pixie)’. And in the short space of time since changing his trade, he’s been named Sydney’s ‘Best Visual Artist’ at the inaugural Sydney Music, Art and Culture Awards and has exhibited across the world, from his native city to London, Berlin and the States. This 26-year-old is certainly climbing high on the international hot list of young artists to keep an eye on. Since his transition from street to fine art, Mark’s newly adopted medium of choice is ink, acrylic and gouache on paper, mounted on wood and sealed with resin. His colour palette is made up of bubblegum and ice-cream. His characters are androgynous and masked, some part animal, part machine. Mark is influenced by folk art and his work is largely driven by narrative. Some paintings are tales of complex human behaviour, mirrored in a style that is equally intricate. Others predict what the future holds for mankind. Not simply alluding to our inevitable doom, however, but directing us towards innovative survival strategies, their intention is didactic as well as descriptive. And with a wit that could cut through solid brick, Mark’s work is as side-splittingly entertaining as it is sharply incisive. The themes Mark deals with range from mass consumption and economy-driven narratives to self-exploration and discovery, human identity, space and technology. In his latest series, masked humanoid characters wallow in celestial pools and spas in a futuristic bathhouse where gravity has no meaning. Narratives point to the absurdity of excess as ice-creams and bear-headed slippers are mass produced and served to the humanoids on shiny platters, while characters worship gambling and the almighty dollar. “The masks represent different people,” Mark explains. They allude to the complexities of “human identity and different personalities” as well as pointing to “people’s hidden agendas”. They also make it difficult to distinguish whether his characters are male or female; servant or master; animal, human or machine; or some strange hybrid combination. Devoid of recognisable identities, the characters lose all sense of autonomy making them puppet-like and robotic, beyond all sense of rationality or self-control. Suddenly the scenes are elevated to a disconcerting level of ambiguity as their narratives become as ungrounded as the buoyant figures suspended in water, and all moral bearings are lost. Mark’s outlook is neither negative nor positive, however, but perhaps that of a realist looking for creative solutions rather than dwelling on problems. “My works represent the universal human struggle between our antagonistic instincts for freedom and control in the contemporary era,” Mark relates. There is also a marked sense of “the indomitable spirits of creativity, resistance, and the power of adaptation” among the human race, which seems to reflect his own pragmatic outlook. In ‘Ceremonies’ a giant animal head with a deity-like semblance is the subject of bizarre sacrificial offerings (from suicide to gifts of shoes). Mark offers his impetus for the work, saying: “The animals’ heads represent a god-like structure. In this particular piece they are presenting an offering to this statue. It’s another piece that shows our antagonistic instincts and search for higher power – with a humorous twist.” The intricacy in Whalen’s work extends from its narrative element to its detailed patterning, another aspect of his painting that draws on traditional folk art. Surfaces of objects are made up of smaller objects, adding purely visual complexity as well as layer upon layer of symbolism that could leave you scrutinising one single image for ages. The overall effect is what Mark describes as “the impression of a kaleidoscope opening up into ever more intricate worlds”; worlds made up of geometric shapes and bubblegum colours, futuristic humanoids, ice-creams, dollar bills and animal heads. “What’s up with the ice-cream?” I ask him, “Some kind of fetish?” “Maybe,” he laughs, “ice-creams are awesome!” www.killpixie.net Mark Whalen (kill pixie) is currently showing his solo exhibition, Supreme Beings, at Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Berlin.