A Conversation with Master Sculptor Mark Jaeger
A Marin artist uses sculpture to unmask the real human experience.
SCULPTOR MARK JAEGER lives in San Anselmo, his hometown, and teaches ceramics at Marin Catholic, his alma mater. His biggest commission — a series of heads of San Francisco founders made for former S.F. mayoral candidate Clint Reilly — is on display at the Merchants Exchange Building, 465 California Street. Did you study art in school? My first art class was a ceramics class at Marin Catholic. It was hands-on, independent and self-driven. Why sculpture? I love that transformation from nothing into something. I love working with my hands. It’s something that most everyone I know is jealous of — that I get to make something every day. What’s your workday like? When I am working on a commission. I’ll get up at 5 in the morning, be in the studio by 6:30 and work eight to 10 hours a day. And teaching? Teaching is a front-loaded activity. You try your best to give the students the technique and then you really do want to get out of the way. You make mostly heads. I’ve been making heads for as long as I can remember. I started off glued to the wheel and loved pottery. But I wanted to make faces, because they seem like the most expressive connection to the human experience. And these masked faces? Those are my superheroes. Superheroes are our modern myths. In making faces, I became really aware of identity and what a mask can imply in our society. What do you turn into when you put a mask on your face? I began thinking, what if the superhero was an old man? What if he was smoking a cigar? That’s not the way our society has painted that picture. I really like that juxtaposition. You think about art a lot? It’s all I do. I’m just getting goose bumps talking with you about it. It’s my absolute passion and I’m super fired up about it. What personal characteristics does an artist need? You have to be determined, stubborn and — deep down — confident. But that confidence gets shaken daily. If you want to find the easy route, art is not the way. You’re going to get rejected more than you’re praised. Still, I’m excited that I’m 35 and I have another 30 years to go with the material. And I’m also scared because daily it’s difficult. There is never a piece I make that is simple and easy the whole way. If it gets that way, then what’s the point of doing it?