In this engaging masterclass in leadership and art, I talk with contemporary abstract oil painter, Mark Witzling. We talk about his unconventional journey from corporate America to leadership of a beloved, nonprofit arts organization and his work as an artist. In the process, we chat about three powerful words that drive his life and work, his intriguing perspective on finding one’s voice as an artist, and his honest take on the upsides and downsides of following an artistic passion. With candor and grace, Mark draws back the curtain on the fulfilling life and art he is creating, including the gifted artists who have influenced him most and the beautiful places from which he derives inspiration.
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If you’re an art lover like my husband and me, you cannot live in Saint Louis, MO, for long without hearing about Craft Alliance, a much-loved arts organization. And you cannot attend one of their beautifully curated art openings without meeting the talented and quietly charismatic Executive Director, Mark Witzling—who is an award-winning, abstract art painter himself. Before 2022, I had known Mark’s name for years and had said hello to him on several occasions at the Alliance. An interview with him had been at the top of my list since the inception of TSBF.
Fast forward to late 2022 and a chance encounter with Mark at Craft Alliance. That day, I was standing in for a friend who was scheduled to host a walking tour, but who had fallen ill at the last minute. As I waited in “The Commons” to greet latecomers, Mark walked up and shared a warm hello, and we struck up a lovely conversation. (“The Commons” is a long, wide corridor in the center of the CA building, adjacent to the Main Gallery).
Now, it’s amazing what can happen the moment the stars and moon align. As we chatted, I knew this was an unexpected chance to invite Mark to be my podcast guest. With my heart racing madly, I summoned the courage to extend the invitation. And like magic, he said, “Yes.” I literally danced to my car after the event and called my friend to check on her and thank her for this surprising turn of events. She had known that interviewing Mark was something I had wanted to do for more than a year. It was as if she knew this would be my opportunity.
During this delightful interview, Mark talks about so many intriguing topics: the branding and marketing leadership roles he held in some of the biggest companies in the world; the calculated risk he took moving to a small, entrepreneurial craft organization to serve as Executive Director (one of his favorite jobs); the trip to Italy where he viewed some of the most treasured art in the world, which changed the trajectory of his life and career; and the unexpected moment that his work as an artist morphed from hobby to serious creative endeavor. And these are only the contours of the interview.
From there we take a deep dive into his perspective about art as a discipline, the three powerful words that drive Mark’s approach to leadership and art, the lessons he has learned about finding his voice as an artist, and the artistic heroes that have inspired and informed his work. You’ll be touched when he speaks candidly about the upsides and downsides of following an artistic passion, and how he dials back the fear of stepping into the unknown, particularly as an artist. You’ll also enjoy getting the inside scoop on what he’s reading right now; the artists with whom he would most love to spend a working weekend; and the two special places he loves to go for fun, inspiration, and play.
- Began exploring art in the late 1990s
- His art is in collections across the U.S. and internationally from Paris to Mumbai, and his work is included in the Museum of Encaustic Art in Santa Fe, NM
- Currently transitioning from full-time Executive Director of Craft Alliance to full-time artist
- Past work experience includes branding and marketing leadership roles in companies such as Gillette, M&M Mars, and Purina, and 8+ years as Senior VP Marketing with Citibank
Married for 40 years with two adult children living on the East Coast
Quotes by Mark
“My rule is to be in my studio every day, and I’m working full time and then some. But I still go into my studio every day. I may not paint every day, but I’m physically in that space to inspire myself. I do that daily.”
“You don’t have to be outrageous. You don’t have to be braggadocious, all of that. Strength can come out of humility. I believe in leadership that there are more ways to get things done. There’s not just my way, and as a leader you need to set the parameters, and people can find ways to get it done that you may not have thought of. And it allows them to be creative. If I switch that over to painting and the artistic endeavor, it’s the same thing. I don’t walk around thinking every painting I did is a masterpiece. I think most painters, if they’re honest, will tell you that they do plenty of pieces that they don’t put out in public. But, again, you learn what and why and how, and you learn your voice and you keep pursuing that. So, strength in humility is the phrase that drives me.”
“I love color. I love making marks in my work and building up layers. So, color, marks, layers: that’s part of my voice. My painting is how I express myself using those tools and techniques. And the visual that you see—that is my voice.”
“When you’re doing what you truly are meant to be and you’re in that space, it’s fantastic. There’s nothing like being in the studio…. You’re just on your own doing what you’re meant to do.”