By Gina Malone
Mark Bettis believes that art is a journey—but not necessarily one that follows a direct route or is easy to embark upon. Of his own artistic career, he says, “It didn’t happen overnight. I persevered through the bad times and enjoyed as much of the good times as I could. As an artist, I think one of the most difficult things to do is to put yourself out there in a commercial way—to sell yourself. It is one thing to sit in a studio and create your work, and another thing to promote and talk about it.”
Bettis grew up in a family of musicians who owned a music store and taught music. At 20, he decided to go to art school, choosing Ringling College of Art & Design. “However, I did not go for fine art, but computer graphics, majoring in animation,” he says. His first jobs after school were in graphic design, working for ad agencies, magazines, theater companies and film festivals. “My biggest learning experience was working at a large promotional ad agency in Chicago,” he says. “There I started out as a designer, was promoted to studio manager, then became a creative director.”
After years in the field of marketing and design, it was a move to Asheville that sent him back to his passion for painting. “I believe Asheville was a catalyst to get me into painting—and having the confidence to sell my work,” he says.
Not into realism, Bettis developed his own distinctive style for painting landscapes and nature. “When I first started to really take painting seriously, I started with encaustic,” he says. “I did that for a few years, but because of the need for proper ventilation and the studio I rented, I had to find a new medium.” He began experimenting with cold wax and oils and fell in love with them. Today, he employs other mediums as well, including straight oils, acrylics, mixed media and collage, and finds himself inspired by many things—from the colors in the sky to a worn texture on a building.
When the pandemic hit in 2020 and many found themselves with closed galleries and an insurmountable difficulty in getting their work seen, Bettis found an alternative means of getting work viewed—and sold—using social media. “I follow some overseas artists and I saw that they were doing the Artist Support Pledge, so I messaged the guy that started it and asked if I could do it here,” he says. “That was the best decision I made. I contacted artists that I knew and told them about it and asked if they wanted to be a part—and there was an overwhelming ‘yes.’ So, instead of closing our studios and galleries, we did the Artist Support Pledge and worked with people online. It was a hit! People were fighting to buy our small paintings and I couldn’t keep up with the demand, had to bring my assistant back in on odd days to help with shipping and managing.”
During his career as a graphic artist and designer, Bettis found that creation was about pleasing clients. “Now I paint to please myself,” he says. “I paint because it makes me happy.” That said, he does enjoy times when his art makes others happy, when they understand what he is creating and want the artwork for their homes. “When I am painting, especially when I am loving the piece I am doing, I get lost,” he says. “It is when I totally let go and let the painting take me where it wants to go that I create my best work.”
Fellow artist Victoria Pinney appreciates Bettis for his sense of style and his gallery for helping to make the RAD a destination. “Mark can do anything,” she says. “He’s supertalented. Abstract, figurative, landscape—regardless of style, his use of color and texture makes all of his work instantly recognizable as a ‘Mark Bettis’.”
Find Mark Bettis’ work in the WEDGE Studios at 123 Roberts Street in Asheville’s River Arts District. Hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday by appointment. Learn more at MarkBettisGallery.com, and follow on Facebook @markbettisart and on Instagram @mbettisgallery. The Mark Bettis Gallery will host Anomalies, a solo show of glass and mixed media work by artist Deb Williams, October 13–21. (See story, next page.)