Learning about Mark C. Merchant plays out like a series of What the fuck? moments. You'd think that a Pacific Beach tattoo artist (he, himself, is a human canvas) with a Texas drawl would either be making custom car parts or making trouble at the local bar, not crafting beautifully detailed paintings that have been shown all around the South and bought by people like Kate Pierson of The B-52s. Oh, and another thing: He's a non-smoking, non-drinking, bicycle-riding vegetarian who's never had a cup of coffee in his life and is heavily into the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.Seriously, what the fuck? “Best of all, I do not judge anyone by any of these things,” Merchant says. “We all have free will. I try to support everyone unconditionally.”And just as with Merchant, it's best not to judge his art on first impressions. It would be easy to assume that he might be inspired in equal parts by Ed Roth's Rat Fink characters from the 1950s and '60s, graphic novelists like Dave McKean and the coarse intricacies of ancient cave paintings and renderings of mythological beasts. It's an assessment that Merchant understands when hearing it, especially in the context of the piece of the cover of this week's CityBeat, “Loudest One at the Silent Auction.”“I use whatever is somewhat flat and will hold the paint,” Merchant explains. “That piece just happened to be on wood. I love weathered wood. It is a creature of sorts, kinda cave-artish. Whimsical. Probably needs food and a good home, not unlike most of us drifting along.”And if Merchant is optimistic about the creature in his painting, it extends to all parts of his life. His paintings might not be cute or fun, and some might even be scary to look at, but they get a reaction, and that's what he wants the most.
“One time, a very good friend teared up as I described a painting to him at an opening,” Merchant says. “It was about a mother bird asking her two kid birds which they would like first, the good news or the bad. I was moved, as he had a similar broken-home upbringing. Moving others and being moved is something I cherish.”