Tyneside silhouettist inspired by family success

ARTIST Mark Conlin’s inspiration lies hundreds of feet up on the Tyneside skyline.

Silhouette artist Mark Conlin of Tynemouth who is to work at the Alnwick Garden
Silhouette artist Mark Conlin of Tynemouth who is to work at the Alnwick Garden

ARTIST Mark Conlin’s inspiration lies hundreds of feet up on the Tyneside skyline.

His grandfather’s work is seen by thousands every day, gazing to the rooftops at Newcastle’s famous Seahorses watching over the city.

Mark observed his grandfather work with a hammer and chisel as part of the sculpting team which created the huge Seahorse sculptures which top Newcastle Civic Centre.

Now an artist in his own right, the 41-year-old is making his own waves in the creative world as a ‘silhouettist’.

Mark, from Tynemouth, believes he is one of fewer than 30 people in the world crafting work in the ancient French tradition using black paper cut-outs.

And the father-of-three is due to show his work in Alnwick Gardens at Easter.

He will be available to garden visitors who wish to commission a unique family portrait crafted using only black paper and a pair of scissors.

Mark said: “My grandfather was always a great inspiration.

“He worked for Newcastle University and helped to create sculptures in historic buildings and churches all over Newcastle. I studied art at Newcastle College on Rye Hill and then went to Northumbria University to do a BA Hons in Creative Arts.

“I also work part-time as a graphic facilitator and creative media producer at Skills for People in Jesmond, a charity who work with disabled people in the North East.

“It really inspired me and the art of silhouettes is a beautiful format. It’s very rare these days and I believe I’m probably one of only about 30 people still doing it anywhere in the world.”

Mark is the only ever student to be mentored by renowned US silhouette artist Kerry J Cook.

Few artists can match Kerry’s 35 years experience. Her careful attention to detail makes her unique among the dwindling number of silhouette artists still working today, said Mark. “It is a wonderful method of art,” he said. “It creates striking images which are a little different from traditional watercolours or oil paintings.”

Mark, who is married to Nicola, 38, and has sons Ollie, 18, Niall, 14, and Isaac, two, is determined to revive the skill which once saw silhouette artists in the major North East stores, including Fenwick and Bainbridges.

Since the late 18th century, silhouette artists have also made small scenes cut from card and mounted on a contrasting background like the portraits. These pictures, known as “paper cuts”, were often, but not necessarily, silhouette images.

Among 19th century artists to work in this way was the author Hans Christian Andersen.

Mark’s work can be seen on his website www.theshadowcutter.co.uk

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