New Zealand 1917-2003
Mark Venables was born in Napier in 1917 to parents Vernon and Miriam Athol Rachael (neé Kemp, his mother’s initials spell MARK). Mark’s father led the family of four children and their mother through a gypsy style of childhood, moving from one provincial North Island town to another on a yearly basis. He liked to start a printing business, set up a local newspaper, then sell it and move on. From 1931 when Mark returned to Napier to reside with his grandparents, he attended art classes at night school with John Oakley, art master at Napier Boys High School. Mark served his printing apprenticeship with his grandfather in the well-known Napier firm of Venables Willis.
In January 1942 Mark enlisted in the Medical Corps of the New Zealand Army. He served in the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, rising to the rank of sergeant. While serving in the Army Mark continued to sketch and paint the scenes around him. He also did sketches of his fellow soldiers for a shilling a time to earn extra pocket money. Another artist serving in the Medical corps (7th Field Ambulance) was William Reed and in May 1944 Mark also met up with Russell Clark, an official war artist, on Mono Island in the Solomons.
During the War his paintings were exhibited in American as well as New Zealand Army shows, winning second prize for watercolour of a semi-nude native girl in an American exhibition. He is represented in the NZ Army Museum in Waiouru.
After demobilisation in 1945 Mark was determined to go to Art College, much against his father’s wishes for him to attend medical school, but at age 28 he had made up his own mind. He was accepted for the Canterbury College School of Art, Christchurch and began his three-year Diploma course in 1946. The Director of the Art School at the time was Richard Wallwork, the tutors included; Colin and Rata Lovell-Smith, Cecil and Elizabeth Kelly, Russell Clark, Bill Sutton and Francis Shurrock. Mark’s fellow students included David Payne, Nan Manchester, Frank Foster, John Fuller and Lois Watkins (niece of Kennett, a founder member of the ASA).
Graduating in 1949, Mark entered the teaching profession, first as art master at Hastings High School and later at Seddon Memorial Technical College, Auckland. Also on the staff was his old classmate Nan Manchester. His last appointment was to the staff of the ATI where he taught in the National School of Printing and the Graphic Art section
Many art teachers find it difficult to keep up their own work as artists while they are daily involved in their teaching and its related activities. Mark however continued to paint steadily, making up to three painting expeditions a year, and holding regular exhibitions of his work. There have been many influences on Mark's painting over the years, and they can be clearly seen in this retrospective exhibition. His war paintings demonstrate Mark's natural drawing ability that had been nurtured by his first tutor John Oakley. In the works he completed while attending the Christchurch School of Art the influence of his various tutors there is clearly evident.
After settling in Auckland and becoming a working member of the ASA in 1954, Mark attended the great variety of exhibitions held in Auckland at all the various public and dealer galleries. In 1970, after the death of his first wife, Mark embarked on a year long trip to Europe, travelling in a VW Combi van through the Continent, painting and visiting galleries to see the works of the artists he had long admired from the illustrations in volumes on European art.
Following his return in 1972, he began his last teaching position at ATI, and in 1975 he purchased some printing equipment that he set up in an Epsom house he had previously rented out as two flats. Mark retired in 1979 and devoted much of his time to printing in addition to continuing his painting. He became the secretary-treasurer of the Handcraft Printers Association in 1981. Mark wrote, illustrated, printed, bound and published seven volumes, and produced two volumes of work by other authors. These books are works of art in their own right and demonstrate the considerable skills of this multi- talented man.
Mark Venables has left the legacy of a lifetime’s work, which stands testament to his great passion for, and commitment to, the visual arts.