The big man in the green dragon

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Mark Griffin with his bronze sculpture “Mr. Fantastic Head.” Themes of Eastern mythologies, characters and symbology are woven into his sculptures, which will be on display at the LA Artcore Gallery beginning Feb. 2.

The bronze sculpture work of artist Mark Griffin expresses all the intricacies of the human experience, from creation to commentaries on the richness of death.

By Alyson Dutch / Special to The Malibu Times

Each morning, a speeding green dragon in the shape of a Porsche Carrera rolls down to the throat of Latigo Canyon at Pacific Coast Highway and turns north, headed to a wild den of creativity in Oxnard. Its driver is Mark Griffin, a long pony-tailed artist, most often clad in his signature motorcycle jacket. He’s an iconoclast in Malibu; one of those characters you have seen around and wondered who he was.

Sightings of the artist are rare, but if he stays in Malibu for the day, breaking from his artistic divining for a noontime bowl of soup at Marmalade, he’s that big guy who meets his friends with crushing bear hugs, his face lighting up like a bulb.

Though he became a cult hero at Burning Man only a few years ago for his 11-story high “Ladder” installation, which was strapped onto the moonlit desert floor with only 24 guide wires, Griffin has been in Malibu since the 1980s. His work is as big as he is and the subject matter is provocative. His body of work includes countless huge canvasses of colorful paintings and manipulated photography collages. Griffin attempts to express the divine stream that animates a human being and the intersection of senses, personality and the invisible spark of life. His last show became part of a permanent exhibition at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan. Famed cult art curator Kirsha Kaechele brought Griffin into the tiny den of artists featured at the Voodoo Experience in New Orleans.

Next week, from Feb. 2 through 27, two and half years of Griffin’s expressions, hewn into three dimensions of bronze and giant digitally manipulated photographs called “Dream Red Body,” will open at the LA Artcore Gallery downtown, with an opening reception with the artist on Feb. 6.

Though he’s not fond of talking about his own work, Griffin’s verbal eloquence is riveting and his works even more so. This show, which is comprised of 14 large bronze sculptures, expresses all the intricacies of the human experience, from creation to commentaries on the richness of death. Themes of Eastern mythologies, characters and symbology are woven into the sculptures. Cast in multielemental composites of bronze, some polished, others rough, they convey beauty, death, awakening, protection and creation.

“My work is an exploration of the matrix between the physical and unseen energetic components of the human form,” Griffin said. “In other words, making the invisible visible.”

All the sculptures are based in the human form, some conveying concepts such as the “slaying of the human ego” with figures wielding modern and traditional symbology of death and destruction. One of the common themes in Griffin’s work is a serpent wrapping the figures, which, from a yogic tradition, represent “kundalini,” the life force waiting to ignite inside every human being. One of most striking pieces depicts the female form as the essence of creation as she lies prone with a strong and vibrant tree growing out of her genitalia. In a fearless and heart opening manner, Griffin uses classic analogies, some of which appear fierce, but are heart-stoppingly profound statements of being. He uses the gentle beauty of flowers sunk into the eye sockets of giant grinning skulls to express the exquisite unfolding of being through the sense of human sight.

Griffin’s work uses the vocabulary and syntax of abstract expressionism and is influenced by German artists of that genre. He lists three German expressionists as influences: Joseph Beuys, Beuys’ student, Anselm Kiefer, and Georg Baselitz.

Whether Griffin is creating in bronze or large-scale paintings, he is focused on expressing what he calls “manifestations of internal energy states” and “embodiments of specific moments of being.” His work is undoubtedly mysterious and portrays a world with four interrelated and juxtaposed dimensions: the physical, mental, emotional and causal parts of a human being. He is preoccupied with why the needs and desires of our bodies push us toward certain behaviors and conditions, and fascinated by how the emotional states can override physical conditions.

Originally from Seattle, Griffin came to Malibu after a blue ribbon education at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the San Francisco Academy of Art University and the celebrity guru scene in Berkeley. He said he found Malibu to be one of those uncommon spots in the world where the fabric between divine creativity and humanity is thinnest; simply it’s where the big guy with the “Dragon11” license plate thrives.

An opening reception with the Mark Griffin will take place Feb. 6, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Union Center for the Arts (First and Temple streets) LA Artcore Gallery, 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles. More information about his work can be obtained online at www.MarkGriffin.info