Drawings of Nothing

I was asked by Drawing Box International to create a video focused on my drawing practice.

(More videos in the About section.)


Hi, my name is Mark Dunst and I'm an abstract artist from Portland, OR in the U.S.

My work is non-representational--there's no material subject and there’s no story I’m trying to tell.

I don't plan out my drawings and paintings, so I'm not primarily concerned with the end result either. What I'm looking for is contained within the process of drawing and painting.

But what’s left when the material subject is removed from the work? When you look at a drawing of nothing, of no "thing", does it mean anything? Is it just surface and no substance? Or does it mean more, does its significance describe more than any thing could?

Non-representational art creates an open-ended space that helps us explore these kinds of questions by directly connecting us to a deeper sensibility. But the answers never come easy. As makers and viewers, good art is not passive, it challenges us to work for the answers over and over, again and again.

I'm always trying to navigate the uncertainty inherent in the way I work and I end up taking a lot of wrong turns.

The American artist and teacher Robert Henri said that "A work of art is a trace of a magnificent struggle."

And I think that's what I'm trying to document in my work, this struggle to find the drawing, to find something unpredictable and beautiful within the many wrong turns.

A friend of mine was recently saying how Nietzsche talks about "Beauty as a form of knowledge."

For me, it's a knowledge that's difficult to describe and will always be incomplete, it’ll always be in flux. Beauty lives in the questions and in the gaps, in the open-endedness and the in-betweenness of our everyday lives.

My approach to painting and drawing is the same, the same process, the same gestures...

In fact, I'd characterize my painting as just drawing with paint.

But I love the immediacy of drawing--it comes at a level I just can't get with painting.

When drawing, I mostly use graphite and charcoal although sometimes I’ll work in pastel.

And I love working large because I'm able to engage in another form of thinking, thinking more from the body rather than the mind.

Working this way, this serendipitous process, I feel I'm able to tap into a metastable place that’s kind of brimming with potential.

Similar to how the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon talks about the process of individuation and the pre-individual as a space that contains who we are before we know who we are, what we know before we know it. I’m trying to mine this tiny sliver of space between inaction and action—that’s at the same time both and neither—searching to balance harmony and discord; awareness and ignorance.

So the process becomes this back and forth conversation (and argument) between the rational and non-rational; between thinking and doing. Trying to let go of the illusion of what I think is real, let go of how I think things are supposed to be.

And in the end, it's that tension, it’s the uncertainty in outcomes we inevitably affect and are affected by, it’s the inner discord we all struggle with, that can be incredibly revealing and beautiful to me.