About 14 years ago, I found myself in car with my friend Mark Loughney. I picked him up randomly as he was completing a hike through Dunmore, PA, and we decided to hit a meeting. He had a backpack & supplies, but the pack wasn't filled with granola. It was unexpectedly filled with many insects, and foraged beatles collected with great care, and affection. We discuss this today, beatles being a species he puts intense focus on expressing in his art.
Our connection with each other was immediate, and also facilitated by a friend we both loved and lossed this year. Our friend Chris passed before Mark was released from prison, and their planned reunion never happened. In the atmosphere of grief Mark was released from prison with another distinct problem most newly free men don't encounter. He was famous. This fame rose from his unique, skilled and empathetic portrait art he expressed inside. This seemly started as a way in which he can combat a growing desire to take his own life in prison.
We also discuss the unlikely voice on NPR that saved him one afternoon in his cell, and propelled him into a direction of portraiture Art. In this practice of immersing himself in the details of other inmates faces he had an awakening. What can one wake up to by intensely studying other peoples faces and drawing that image?
It's funny to think our faces are essentially objects for others to experience. We never get to experience reality from the context, and optics of our own faces. What was it about getting lost in the details of others' inmates faces that brought a tidal wave of empathy and purpose for Mark.....
I think he tells us clearly today that the idea of "subject & object" disappears in this deep focus, and one only can experience the moment when creating this type of portraiture. Time is intangible when existing in this flowstate, even in prison. It was here that Mark found connection and a new purpose.
Mark’s Show at currently at Brown University
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Joe Van Wie 0:02
Hello and thanks again for listening to another episode of all better. I'm your host, Joe van wie if time is the measurement of punishment in prison, you can see it most clearly enumerated, and Mark lobbies. IRIC. Lonnie is a portrait artists currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania. The pieces collects more than 600 Pencil drawn portraits he's done throughout his years were present at MoMA, ps1. They occupy all four walls in one room. Turning around in the room, you can see like me get better or adventurous with his detailing law. And he says the hardest part of doing these portraits simply finding the time and space to do it. Prison is loud and chaotic. And it's hard for him and his sitters to stay focused. So he tries to get them done as quickly as possible. He said a small advantage on the front recently, the masks actually make it a lot easier because I don't have to focus so much detail on a nose or mouth. He says his subjects are in a three by four view, looking just as skewed. At first, it did this because it was uncomfortable with him in another man's eyes for an extended period of time. Everybody's trying to puff up their chest in their says and it's hard to really let the guard down. But it has an added effect of making his subjects look like they're in a renaissance era. Lonnie says it gives his subjects a sense of dignity and hope. portraiture is a type of prison currency rights Fleetwood and the book that accompanies the exhibit. Many of the portrait artists she's spoken to told her that the skill was a key to their survival. In prison. Artists are commissioned to draw portraits or lovers or children or music sports stars in exchange for commentary items, and other necessities for lot in any part of the pitch he makes to get his subjects to pose for him is that they can keep the originals and send copies home to their families. Today's guest is Mark, Lonnie, and we're going to talk about his life that led up to this incarceration that was an article in NPR from 2020. Mark is home right now. We're in Philadelphia, the day and we get to take a tour of Philly, his current life and how his art has just exploded on a national and international scene. And it's attached to a deep meaningful advocacy. Let's meet Mark. We just got back from the Eastern State Penitentiary. Did a nice walk. We're here with my friend Mark. Lonnie. Hi, Joe. Hi. We have a lot to catch up on. It's been
Mark Loughney 3:16
12 years. 12 years since I saw your buddy.
Joe Van Wie 3:19
Let me see my mark pulled out right up there. Do some technical adjustments
Mark Loughney 3:23
Joe Van Wie 3:25
So there's a lot to catch up on. And
Mark Loughney 3:31
technically adjusting the microphone.
Joe Van Wie 3:34
You just got out of prison after 12 years and 10. I did 10. And the uniqueness of that is you're now a world renowned artist.
Mark Loughney 3:46
I wouldn't go that far. I haven't gotten the consensus of the rest of the world but I don't know.
Joe Van Wie 3:51
I did. I did. It's on Instagram. But let's not start there. Right, right, right.
Mark Loughney 3:58
Because the story does. Where does it start? Back in Dunmore?
Joe Van Wie 4:04
Tell me about growing up get China. What? How would you summarize the first eight years of your life? Because it seems if you read any book if those eight years are what repeats for most people, psychologically? So what are the first eight years of your life look? Yeah,
Mark Loughney 4:19
I mean, I grew up in a loving home with mom and dad who loved me and cared a lot about me and my well being. But still I was able to latch on to the things that I found in my life that made me sad because I loved the pit in my stomach that would drive me to curl up in a corner. And I loved the comfort of that pain. I don't know why, but I guess it was a way for me to kind of isolate you know,
Joe Van Wie 4:50
and even that early on, did you feel more comfortable when you were by yourself or yourself?
Mark Loughney 4:56
Sometimes I did I go when I was with friends and a In a social gathering, I always felt like there was some big secret that everybody was keeping from me that I wasn't in on, you know, so. But I mean, it wasn't always like some weird situation. I had tons of fun as a kid growing up. But there was always that element of me that I didn't quite know the answer to. Yeah. And I didn't know how to deal with
Joe Van Wie 5:19
and would say in that, like, I know you. You had a large circle of friends here. So it's not like this would be easily recognizable, but you knew it. Yeah, sure. When's the first time you felt comfort? Out of that maybe going into adolescence? Did it? Did it
Mark Loughney 5:42
onside with drinking? No, it started with Hershey's bars with almonds. So whenever I'd get you know, the pit in my stomach, I'd take like right over to Ricardos market and grab a couple Hershey's with almonds and sit in the corner behind the the market and just feel bad about things and eat my chocolate. You know, but it was that kind of like medicating that eventually led to other things to medicate.
Joe Van Wie 6:08
So prior to drinking, you had a ritual like realistic discomfort, totally a bike ride to Ricardos what is the bike ride before you get the chocolate? Was it already? Did you feel alleviated from maybe loneliness? You're in a jam mentally? Does it start on the bike ride to regardless that you're getting relief?
Mark Loughney 6:29
Well, that's the thing. Like I, I didn't immediately want relief, I enjoyed reveling in that in that pain. So I would do that by just sitting in the corner and stuffing my face with chocolate. And then and then after that after I felt like satiated and couldn't eat anymore. That's when I felt a little bit of relief. Like okay, I just you know, I I scratched that that itch with with the chocolate.
Joe Van Wie 7:01
Did you invite any other people or friends at this time? And it was your say
Mark Loughney 7:07
that was the thing? Yeah, that was thing it was best done alone, you know? So I like the alone. The aloneness of that.
Joe Van Wie 7:15
So I just to color the landscape through the lens of art. So this is like pre adolescence, you have some relief? When you're already feeling some uncomfortable emotions, or separate. You're separate from your group of friends, family. You could get an almond bar. Do you invite anyone into this? You did it. But is art in your life at this age?
Mark Loughney 7:43
Oh, no. I mean, I from a young young age, I was dabbling around with things. One of my earliest memories is when I was three, I got yelled at for painting the walls with my aunt's nail polish is still or nail polish over to her drawer and I just went to the wall with it. And because of that emotional connection of being yelled at I remember that you know, so that was my, one of the first memories I have of of expressiveness.
Joe Van Wie 8:11
And it was you were immediately punished for it. You didn't see where the the lines began. And with the art was it the wall is a property
Mark Loughney 8:19
I couldn't I didn't know where the line of No, not as new or whatever, whatever I was doing was not right.
Joe Van Wie 8:26
And when would be the next time you would return to art as a way to express you yourself. What age
Mark Loughney 8:33
I stayed with one toe in that dream of being art oriented. And I always dabbled. Yeah, didn't get serious about it until I was about three years, or four years into my prison sentence in 2015. Oh, that's only three years. Yeah, three years into my prison sentence. I got bonked on the head with like this epiphany. And from that minute, it's been full steam, like from that very second like that this message was imparted to me.
Joe Van Wie 9:11
Yeah, well, to jump off the timeline for a second just to ask you something. The art that you try to express yourself with at the third year into your prison sentence. Was this a way to express what was going on the whole time in your head or some of these images and the way you visually represent Beatles or the music that has moved you or inspired you? Was this already happening and some form in your head in your private life where you would retreat?
Mark Loughney 9:43
Yeah, I mean, everything that you see on paper that I put out of me exists in me. So it was a real life raft for me and all I can't even count the days that I would just stay up at night in my prison cell looking at the A book that I had under a little LED triple A battery powered lamp, you know. And then that eventually led to just staying up all night because it was quiet. And that's when I would draw. And in those sessions of drawing, I made a bunch of black and white ink drawings, and they were really trippy. And that was like my first small collection of drawings that really, let me get a glimpse of myself.
Joe Van Wie 10:32
Let's rewind back to leaving Ricardos. When did when did almond bars not cut it? Yeah, when did they just fail down? Did I run into a wall, an almond baller wall.
Mark Loughney 10:45
A bunch of us used to ride around on our bikes and look on porches for like beer to steal off the porch. So this was like we were 1314 years old. And we were drink the beer that we stole. In the woods, we take a case of beer and put it in the woods in the winter and like, go back there out Friday night and get drunk. So I'd say it was about the you know, maybe the summer of my 13th 13th year.
Joe Van Wie 11:10
Yeah. And how do you remember the first time that you had your first bus, the first pause the bus,
Mark Loughney 11:21
and I was like I was the door to the world opened, and I could talk to people, I could sidle up to a girl, I could jump over to that log, you know, it gave me power to do the things that I was afraid to allow myself to do. So it was kind of like my permission to be myself. Alcohol gave me my permission to just
Joe Van Wie 11:44
rip, relax, not be afraid,
Mark Loughney 11:48
not be afraid. But I mean, it's It wasn't long before I just started taking it to another level because I just kept needing more to feel that acceptance.
Joe Van Wie 11:57
You know, so your tolerance, just from day one started to accelerate that you would need more to get to a place where you felt. So looking back in hindsight now, from there, like what a different lens and adult lens on your adolescence to was there there's conditions that existed prior to drinking and drinking seem to be a solution to a solution. Yeah. And that you bond it with with alcohol. And then what what came now you kind of just do the same dance all of us to trans smokes.
Mark Loughney 12:31
Yeah, fortunately, I avoided a lot of the pitfalls that some of our friends can't come back from now. Yeah. But yeah, it was the usual high school, early college years that most people would think of when they think of those things. Yeah.
Joe Van Wie 12:49
And to put it in its own box, your your experiments with psychedelics. What do you think that did in the form of relief, because it's not the same as just comparing it to an addiction to alcohol. But did that open something up for you that you felt maybe you could or couldn't come back from?
Mark Loughney 13:13
wasn't ever a bad thing, yet I couldn't come back from it was more like I would relate it to. Maybe the fear of death, you know, like, up until the point, when I first tripped, I would think that I was totally afraid of death, you know. So that was always some background app that was running that I wasn't even aware of, you know, but to travel into the underworld unprepared, and just once for one final. Eternity is, is a scary thing. So I think going down there prepared and knowingly. That was, that was the key that psychedelics gave to me was that I, I now know that I can travel to that other realm prepared to knowingly
Joe Van Wie 14:06
would you if I characterize it, from my experience, in the sense that maybe it wasn't talked about that way by that when we were in high school, a trip in? It was more of an adventure. But looking at it, would you say it was it was something that gives you direct access to maybe what was foreign to me spirituality wise, that this is an experience of spirituality in the sense that you, you lose your sense of self. It can be frightening, at first, like a death experience. And it depends on what we're talking about LSD, psilocybin. I found it more with mushrooms, but LSD was a little edgier. And would the first quarter of my trip would be fighting back anxiety. Like am I dying? What does it mean when I die? What is a Joe that falls apart and you have to find peace within that trip. So you got eight hours. They have a whole cycle of life.
Mark Loughney 15:01
Right? Right. Those are things that exist in US prior to the trip. It's not the drug that's doing you doing that. So, I mean, the drugs actually showed me to myself. Yeah, you know, and they pointed out where the problems lie. And sometimes that was just a seed that was planted that I had to come back two years later, and start working on those things, you know,
Joe Van Wie 15:25
and you were able to come back to it and access it from a sober mind knowing Yes, yes. See, that's, that's clear to hear. Sometimes, you know, we grew up in a fundamental way to approach sobriety be it if it was AAA, or an interpretation of it, that I would see great guys talk very strangely about their trips, they just had a pain at all, what a black roller like this, it's all this horrible experience to kannaway. And some people didn't, but to hear you say, you can now access what you experienced in that trip that was helpful and connect it you with a sense of well being and your real self, your authentic self? You got to return through that through what a practice of meditation meditation, the long form of tripping?
Mark Loughney 16:12
Mm hmm. Yeah, the one you got to work for, too. I mean, it doesn't immediately show returns in the way that you would want when you're setting out. But it works. So
Joe Van Wie 16:25
how would you describe not being able to take the experience, you know, you know, we're all going through the weird phases you grew up in? Dunmore, Scranton you're drinking is already seems to be a problem by the end of say, you know, adolescence, but you're having these experiences with tripping. And I didn't know we would directly talk about this. But why is it you can't maintain what you get to experience a sense of yourself, or relief of where you could fit into the world that's feels meaningful? Why can it not be maintained? It definitely can't be maintained by continually tripping, you just can't stay there and things fall apart? How would you describe what fails? When you come back from that, like, in the sense of community support? What do you think failed for you that you couldn't maintain what you experienced?
Mark Loughney 17:16
Well, I just punished everybody around me until they couldn't do anything for me anymore. And so because I just wouldn't stop drinking. Even when I stopped drinking, I always had that in my mind, like, okay, I can, maybe one day drink, and it'll be all okay, you know, and that would eventually lead that thought would eventually lead to me drinking a lot quicker than I planned on. And I just lost control of pretty much every relationship in my life. And I don't blame the people who, you know, couldn't couldn't handle it, or that, you know, I have now a pretty rocky relationship with you know, I can't blame them at all.
Joe Van Wie 18:03
When did you first get asked or coerced into exploring help a treatment center? Or is there a treatment center before any legal issues?
Mark Loughney 18:15
Yeah, well, I mean, back when we were 18 years old. I mean, there was a, there was a selection of our crew who had already been introduced into recovery. I think I met grateful owl and I was 18, or 17 years old,
Joe Van Wie 18:31
I do it, I was already an old timer. First time I was an old timer.
Mark Loughney 18:36
Yeah. That's great, though. But I mean, those, it's all again, back to like planting seeds and seeds that are become planted. And the people in that room and my first day meeting, I remember their faces. And I remember the things they said and those things that were here, go somewhere in our head. And it might not be a conscious decision that we're acting on those things. But, you know, eventually when we're in a situation where we have to rely on our reservoir of emotional knowledge, those that's where that's when you benefit from all those seeds that were planted back when you were 18. So
Joe Van Wie 19:23
that's, it's the first and foremost it's the last stop, you get to a 12 step program. So you're hearing things as like these are considerations on an approach to life that is a little more existential, a little more lighthearted. You're hearing and they're staying with you. But how would you describe if you had a split aid and the two kinds of pillars here you got that program? conceptual stuff, theory steps? What's the vibe of the room? Like did it feel like a warm place at least that you were we accept it in this group that you can return here at?
Mark Loughney 19:59
Yeah, Yeah, I mean, the the people that I ran into were people that I knew about doing some reason now, even at 18. Like all the old heads kind of knew who I was because I was acting like, one of them too early.
Joe Van Wie 20:20
You were street legend already.
Mark Loughney 20:22
I wouldn't go that far. I had some cred. You know, the back alley?
Joe Van Wie 20:27
Yeah, of course. What would you say the first milestone? If you if you're comfortable talking about it, the first consequence that really derails that that you can have a normal entry into recovery that isn't extreme consequences. What's the first thing that happens that puts your addiction to another level that consequences are being are beyond average?
Mark Loughney 20:54
So when did I start really getting in trouble? Because if Is that what you're asking? Yeah, so I've had, by the time I was in my early 20s, I think I burned every bridge that was laid in front of me, and there were plenty of bridges. At that time to burn. My dad was the mayor of our town of Dunmore, and the political connections were helpful. And I was getting in trouble. Like, often, like every weekend, and a lot of calls had to be made to help me out. And eventually, I was doing things that nobody could help me get out of. Started going to prison when I was about 21 years old, became enmeshed in the criminal justice system. And it's been a long time since having ever been out of that situation.
Joe Van Wie 21:50
Did the consequence of going to prison at 21? Did you feel alienated from any return to how your other friends were getting maybe sober at the time does that add another layer of alienation for you even in the rooms, it
Mark Loughney 22:05
definitely complicates things because now I'm forced to go to an AAA meeting. And I'm just anti authoritarian to the bone. I mean, it's in me, I don't know why. But when somebody is forcing me to do something, it really loses its appeal for me. So it wasn't until I kind of had the freedom to get to know AAA on my own. Through my own volition that I really became to love it. Yeah, instead of an arranged marriage where you know, I feel forced into it.
Joe Van Wie 22:38
So you have a father a loving family, but your father is of note and then the town he grew up with, He's the mayor. What does this do to a sense of shame that shame and identity we carry like that, that you almost weave into your personality? A shame in the times that maybe you consider I want to be sober? I don't want these consequences. The everyone has those moments. Does guilt? Is there too much guilt overwhelming you do? Well, how would you describe that? Like, how does it happen? It's
Mark Loughney 23:09
mortifying, when I would sobered up the next day and read the headline, like Mayor's son jumps on popcorn, right, piggy all over it, you know, like ridiculous shit, that my dad and my family, all of them really should never have dealt with. So of course, yeah, there was a lot of guilt and shame. And I put that where I put the rest of my feelings, you know, in the closet where they would help me to go do more of the shit that I was doing.
Joe Van Wie 23:37
There was no way to resolve.
Mark Loughney 23:38
I had no answers. No at all. When I was young, no art. No art. No art. I had no art. Right. But you were
Joe Van Wie 23:49
you were entrenched, like when you were entrenched in a crowd that expressed are you You loved art. You love creative music? Deep down. I know you're wild, man. But you're hippy at heart. Yeah. And what? How do you make sense? Just to beat a dead horse? How are you making sense of what I know, you're attracted to our justice, you know, a sense of equality. And then madness just pours out of you? Like, how do you how do you try to tell yourself a story? How is this happening to me? Right. So
Mark Loughney 24:24
looking back, how do I put a narrative around that? Yeah, I think what the problem was, was that I was missing a gigantic thing. I was missing it. And until I got it, I didn't know what I was missing.
Joe Van Wie 24:39
Yeah, I liked the way you say thing because there's a description isn't
Mark Loughney 24:44
the there's no way to describe it, but I heard it. I read a book
Joe Van Wie 24:47
two years ago, the guy describes it as a thingy, a dopamine thing. And because they didn't name it yet, it's a mechanism that releases dopamine that forms in the third trimester of a pregnancy that But they can now kind of watch and they're doing more research on, it's the ability for a child to self soothe before it has language, just trust the primary caregiver. If this is muted, you know, it could cause all kinds of scenarios that could cascade they might not look like trauma immediately. But if someone finds a dopamine release, not I'm not talking about opioids, there's a bonding that could happen right away. And he calls it a thingy. But the thing you know, in a broader description, I would call pain. It's this this private life that you that I relate to profoundly and deeply from chocolate bars behind Ricardos. Like our rituals before them, that I can't resolve pain and discomfort, and I retreat until a life that's not happening. But it is for me, nobody else is part of this life. All
Mark Loughney 25:50
right. Great, I get it,
Joe Van Wie 25:55
they start to converge. And disaster really happens. Because I'm treating people in my personal relationships, I've considered what they're thinking about me when I'm not around them. So I ruminate and have this self kind of inward view that I lose track of what is happening versus what I thought about. Relationships. Yeah. Is that the thing?
Mark Loughney 26:21
Well, for me, the thing that I lacked most was a connection with God. Yeah, and my spirituality. And until I really started to water that seed. I didn't realize that that's the thing that yeah, that
Joe Van Wie 26:39
in that word. So God at the time, you started to get the first wave of serious consequences acting out? Yeah. What does that word? How would you impact that word, a boss, another form of authority.
Mark Loughney 26:51
Another form of authority. Yeah. 100% Catholic Church, I grew up you know, and there were rules and I associated church in the end God and the concept of God with you know, the the rules that came with it, although they were loving rules. I mean, every memory that I have of the church at my grandparents home, which was right next to our church, and my childhood, were all great memories, but still, I had to follow rules. Yeah, I had to follow rules to get to God to beat to be to have God talk to me or care about me. I had to follow rules.
Joe Van Wie 27:27
And did you ever explore anything beyond Catholicism or just in private thoughts?
Mark Loughney 27:32
Yeah, I didn't know there. Were there were other options. Yeah, I had no idea that I could write my own program. Yeah. When it comes to that, when it comes to God, I don't need that third party mediator. You know what? It wasn't until like
Joe Van Wie 27:49
Mark Loughney 27:52
People go it's things. Yeah, not
Joe Van Wie 27:55
well, we can start a new one. If I find any virgin out a child, I'm calling you and we're starting a new religion. We're bringing the hand so your addiction takes away your freedom for this. Let's
Mark Loughney 28:10
last time and yeah, decade, a solid decade and eight hours, and eight on our one year, or one decade and eight hours later, I got up.
Joe Van Wie 28:22
It's just so freaky to this first time I talked to you and 12 years now we're doing a podcast. Yeah, weird. And I didn't see a year before you ended up in prison. And now it's just a memory. Like, we're like that just have that already happened. That was 10 years. I remember the day you went away. I was with our mutual friend of ours. And that's just all
Mark Loughney 28:44
gone now. Well, no, it's not. It's really not. It's the time in is the timing is over. But I mean, I will always regret and always have remorse and pain for the pain that I caused to the people that I hurt.
Joe Van Wie 28:59
How did that show up? Upon going to prison? Like, how
Mark Loughney 29:03
does that remorse?
Joe Van Wie 29:04
Yeah, like, what does that do to you say, the first three years in prison? What are you doing to resolve, like the pain that's happening inside you from having to be responsible for these actions? Having an untreated addiction? Like what are the resources for help look like in incarceration?
Mark Loughney 29:27
I'm not, they are not many. I mean, immediately, you're thrust into a little tiny box, and everything is loud and scary. And people are mean looking. And that just gives you it gives you no relief from the turmoil that's already going on in your mind, you know, but I happened to get lucky and I knew somebody who was in the prison when I Got into the prison. And I had just committed this crime. And I was just brand new. And I had no idea what to expect with anything. And somebody was there to help me, at least to get writing paper and a pen to make sure that my mail went out. Because I was locked in myself. And I needed somebody outside of that cell to do the things that I needed to do to just feel okay for a second that I was in communicate communication with people. And then you know, I mean, dealing with the fact that I had just caused that harm that I caused was a major, major weight. And I took that with me for years. And in about 2015, it was 2015. It wasn't about it was clearly August 2015. And I was ready to kill myself, I had come to the end of my road, people were leaving me because they had lives to live. And one day, I was just looking at the wall micelle. And I was thinking of ways I could kill myself as pm paint. And I turned on the radio to kind of drown out the outside noise and all the chaos around me. I turned on WV I for some classical music, and instead of classical music, there was a dude talking about his art. So I listened to it. And the in that interview, the artists talked about all the hurdles that he went through in his early career, and how he overcame them. And by the end of the interview, his name is Johnny Romeo. He's an Australian pop artist, and he really saved my life. By the end of the interview, it was so empowering and influential on me that like, I was on my feet, and drawing something on the wall by the end of that interview, whereas like, five minutes earlier, I was ready to end my life. You know, and it really at that moment, in that interview, it was as if God was speaking through that interview for me to not do what I was just about to do, you know, and I took that as like, a sign, you know, and thank God, I recognized it for what it was. And ever since that very instance, I've had my eyes open for more signs, and they just keep coming and coming and coming. And, you know, I wrote to Johnny, to thank him for that influence, and he's become an incredible friend and mentor to me. Yeah, incredible. And I mean, that just the synchronicity of it all, and I keys from Australia. And I sent a letter blindly. And he got it. You know, it's just too much for me to really get my head around sometimes. And then a whole bunch of like a chain of events kicked off after that, and they just keep going from that very instant. Because I I heard that. It changed everything about me. Yeah,
Joe Van Wie 33:35
it's that's overwhelming, because it's like, what can you happen that couldn't have happened without hearing that radio show. So you have to hear something outside of yourself. You connect it with the guy you didn't know, it's being talked about, or if he was on it. And that's your spiritual experience. And
Mark Loughney 33:52
I had absolutely no idea who this fellow was prior to hearing him and had never seen his art. But he said the word Picasso like, right when I turned on the radio, he was talking about Picasso. So I just I, instead of changing the station, I left it on, because I love Picasso. And then he got into a story. Super great guy. And I mean, I've taken that, that pivot of that very moment, and I've applied it to every aspect of my life. And things are going well.
Joe Van Wie 34:23
Yeah. Yeah, they are. When did from that moment? How long did it take? Because if anyone's familiar with your art, I'll have the link here. The realism and your portrait. And that is your show the faces of incarceration without training. When did that realism just start pouring out of you, when you when did you start expressing your portraits like kind of that?
Mark Loughney 34:51
Well, I'd say immediately when I went into prison, I needed to just keep myself occupied. So I would when people weren't really Looking at me, I would watch them, and I would sketch them out real quick. And that eventually led to portrait sitting. And it. I think, when we were talking about psychedelics earlier, I think that seed that psychedelics planted allowed me to absorb that person when I was sitting across from him at a table, you know, like, I just completely put myself and that person into the, we were the same people at that moment for that 20 minutes that we were sitting across from each other. And I was drawn to, like I, it was as if we were one. And I think because of that, communion. That's why you see such life in some of those portraits.
Joe Van Wie 35:44
Yeah, you're in the moment. I mean, it almost looks like what you're describing what I was seeing, like, pretending you, it almost changes your vision to because the sense of detail is that you draw, you can't notice in a conversation, or you can't even notice it, when you have anxiety, I can't see those things, their life has a little blurriness to it, like I'm moving, I'm a half of my head half share in my filters of emotional filters over everything, you're not even experienced perception properly, because I can't give my full attention to the experience what's happened right in my life, right. So you're drawing, when you describe it to me when I'm hearing is meditation, absolutely
Mark Loughney 36:24
meditation. And I was so present in those moments with those settings that it was the deepest meditation.
Joe Van Wie 36:31
Wow. Yeah. And that's a lot of meditation. Yeah,
Mark Loughney 36:35
yeah. So I think,
Joe Van Wie 36:37
how many faces did you draw 850. and over what period of time,
Mark Loughney 36:42
so I started dabbling with it in 2014, without any clear direction that it was going to end up as a collection of them in the Museum of Modern Arts, gallery space. So like, from early on, there was no purpose to it, other than the meditative aspect of it, you know?
Joe Van Wie 37:07
Yeah. So did you have a practice of meditation that was not being expressed through art? Yeah. How did that begin that began in prison? And what were the the long term benefits? Like? You know, I think everyone why I was attracted to it early on, was I wanted, I needed short term benefits in the washer. I didn't get them, but I stick a stick with it. I had no other choice, isn't it? How do you feel? The long term benefits of that practice, besides the drawing is is manifested in your life? What is this?
Mark Loughney 37:43
Oh, those neural connections that you make when you're meditating are permanent, you know, so you're building those, those connections in your mind? But I call it like, it's the backward look, you know, it's looking backward at all that meditation you did, and then you realize where you've come now. But if, if I approached it, looking at like, Okay, today, I'm meditating right now, and I'm looking for immediate benefits. Sometimes that happens, yeah, sometimes you get the relaxing sensation, sometimes you just can't get shut out of your head. But every time that you meditate toward the long end goal, it counts, you know? So you just got to trust in the process, that in a certain nebulous future, you're going to look back and feel that, that, that, you know, the progress that you've
Joe Van Wie 38:39
made. So you're healing, you're becoming well, your mental health, your addiction is not active, but the root causes and conditions of your addiction are almost being confronted.
Mark Loughney 38:51
They're being confronted, right? Because I'm now I'm calming the waters. And now I could see down to the bottom, were you able to
Joe Van Wie 38:59
practice any 12 Step? Was there an A or a accessible where you were at?
Mark Loughney 39:05
Yes. So eventually, I ended up on a block where we eventually put together an AAA meeting that would meet on Saturday morning. But that didn't take that took years to get on. But I mean, once that light switch went off, in my mind, I knew that like I had some issues I had to deal with, you know, and I knew that I had friends who were also pretty adept at dealing with those things that I had never, you know, manned up to deal with that were in the prison. They're the people in the prison people outside of the prison. Tons of people around me that could help and, you know,
Joe Van Wie 39:47
living the same life living in jail,
Mark Loughney 39:49
but I didn't see them until my eyes were open. You know, they were there.
Joe Van Wie 39:53
MPR open them. Yeah. So This is there's a healing going on, there's no way to really separate it from your art. Like they're their inner weak. Yeah, the way you describe it, or how you separate. No. They're,
Mark Loughney 40:13
they're the same.
Joe Van Wie 40:14
So, before this release, would you describe, say your last year in prison? Besides, you know, the effects of prison? Paranoia is reduced anxiety, maybe self pity? How would you describe your basic personality? Here? Yeah,
Mark Loughney 40:34
yeah. So, I mean, I would say that leading up to the parole process, the anxiety was definitely not sure. I mean, that was a hell of a time. But I dealt with that by continuing to do the things that I had already laid the foundation for. And that's how I was able to to confront that feeling which would have five or 10 years ago led me to just completely lose my shit. You know, like that anxiety of going up to see the parole board would have been more than enough of a reason that I would need to go just completely off the wall
Joe Van Wie 41:18
and you want you want a chance at a life now to it's not like you know, your life yeah, and once you get out what's that day look like? Hectic is immediately
Mark Loughney 41:30
upon literally this as the car pulled in touch the curb. I was on like a zoom call with a gallery opening in Cincinnati at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Yeah, Smithsonian affiliates. From the minute I got on like till right this second like it's been nonstop. I tell you some of the stories is just insanity. Yeah, constant. Every second.
Joe Van Wie 41:54
So what you're describing, it's the day you released your you've already had write ups, your art is being recognized in showcase. And nationally. Here
Mark Loughney 42:03
the Atlantic wrote a beautiful The New Yorker, The New York Times,
Joe Van Wie 42:07
in the faces we referenced that you drew are attached now to an advocacy a cause? What is the cause? How would you describe? Sure. So
Mark Loughney 42:15
the cause is to enlighten people that there's a major major problem in America, and which it should be considered an embarrassment. I mean, we have the highest prison population of any country that ever existed on the face of the planet. And it's, it's not because we have more crime. Like there are other countries with far more crime than we have. It's because we have a system of capitalism that has co opted some of these other systems. Like the criminal justice system,
Joe Van Wie 42:50
in this advocacy, there's partnerships and people are involved. I've been attached to least expressing this in the shows and galleries and, you know, to make mentioned this month, where's your show?
Mark Loughney 43:03
Right now? It's at Brown University's Winton Bell gallery. That's pretty prestigious. Yeah. They were super kind. And I was up there this past weekend for the opening reception. And they are just amazing people. And the turnout was incredible.
Joe Van Wie 43:19
It's at Brown. That was last weekend. But this show started at the MoMA
Mark Loughney 43:23
MoMA ps1, right? So that's the there's two buildings to Museum of Modern Art. There's the one in Manhattan and there's one crossing river and Long Island City and this is this cooler, younger sister to mama like this is groundbreaking, the the modeling that they're in
Joe Van Wie 43:40
you still cool me?
Mark Loughney 43:43
Yes, relevant. But Elena is open the place in this. I think that the late 80s. And it's the entire ethos of that. Organization has been to bring new ideas to a world that may have not considered those ideas. Yeah. So it was the perfect fit. And then the pandemic hit, and we thought we had the openings scheduled and then bang COVID. And they had to shut everything down. So the marking time show just sat on ice and nobody knew what the heck to do for almost a year. And then it opened in September of 2022 and just had a killer turnout. And the response has just been mind blowing. And Dr. Nicole Fleetwood is the curator of that show. And she has been she has been nonstop advocating for these these issues.
Joe Van Wie 44:48
Outside of those issues, your your art has a lot of variations, and almost different styles. Yeah. Outside of the realism By the way, it the end result some of it is like pop art, illustrations of, you know, famous photography from Rolling Stone. What what is what is that kind of lane you have there?
Mark Loughney 45:14
So the music photography, the music portraits are based on the photography of my friend Jay Blacksburg. Okay. He's an incredible music photographer. He's been shooting for 44 years, he got to start when he was 16 shooting the Grateful Dead have been a staff photographer for Rolling Stone and every other magazine you can imagine. He's got a huge retrospective coming up in October in Morristown, New Jersey, for a new book he put out called retro Blacksburg with dudes incredible. So right before I go to prison, I send no I'm sorry, I made a call to Jay Gould. He had no idea who I wasn't. I was just flipping through a book of his and came across his contact information on the back as let me ask this guy, if you would mind if I drew this one picture out of his book. So I called him and we shot the shit. And he ended up giving me permission to draw from his photography. And we've just become
Joe Van Wie 46:18
that's basically a partnership that's been existing for a while to illustrate these
Mark Loughney 46:23
state. But here's the thing. So Jay, Jay has never given anybody permission over 44 years to do anything like this. So it's a very special. It's an honor that I have, you know, and it's a mutualism that goes both ways, I think, because he, I'm, I mean, he wouldn't let anyone else use his photography, and I wouldn't ever draw anybody else's work.
Joe Van Wie 46:46
You can almost have a contest of which ones to photography. Like I've seen black and whites. I can't tell the difference. But that's one avenue. And then my favorite is because I know I don't fully understand the attraction to beetles. I'm okay with beetles. I have no issue but you last time we were actually hanging out on time you were collecting specimens of beetles. No shit. Yeah, we almost dust this guy that wanted your parole if we had cigars.
Mark Loughney 47:24
We wanted the Ferrari.
Joe Van Wie 47:27
Yeah, yeah, we squared them away. But that was a long time ago. What what,
Mark Loughney 47:33
what is why does a beetle were the beetle speaking to you were what is the attraction? Yeah. You know, they're just so beautiful to me. I, I've always been a recreational entomologist since I was a kid. Yeah, my aunt tells me it is to squirt water at the ants and to try to like stun them so I could catch them and put them in a cup. And yeah, my little thing, but bugs have always been really intriguing to me since a young age and I've just never let that go. Because I feel like the best parts of me are parts of my childhood. You know, like, the kid in me is like the best part. So curious. Curiosity. Yeah, you know, so the beetle to me record represents those things.
Joe Van Wie 48:24
That's my religion today. That's how I woke back up. Yeah, they ripped me off my couch. I guess I'm gonna have to stay alive. But my Beetle was reading again things I thought I would never consider it but it started there. Beetles are beautiful. There's something about your detail to just even the attraction to that micro world of ants. The details I see you express in people's faces with pencil and charcoal your there's something in your eye that could shrink the world down to details that you know I may not notice in the experience of life but I do notice them in your art and it kind of wakes you up for a second like holy shit. That details always kind of there I don't see that so you draw
Mark Loughney 49:13
in don't see it till somebody puts it in front of your eyes. And then that's what everything like the the bigger things that conceptual things, the things that aren't visually accessible, you know, they're only in your mind and until somebody shows you those things, you don't really see them.
Joe Van Wie 49:31
So this is a lot you leave prison. You are maintaining a show that's active nationally and prestigious places. How do you take care of yourself during this? It has been overwhelming at times. So
Mark Loughney 49:44
yeah, super overwhelming, especially yesterday on a very important thing happened and it was very emotional. And I caught myself getting a bit off balance. So I I mean, I'm a prayer guy, you know, along with meditation, I also pray as, as often as I could. Yesterday, I needed a full rosary. Yeah. And so I did that. So when whenever I feel like, I need it, or God's like tapping me on the shoulder saying, hey, don't forget about the spirituality part, you know, I make sure that I attend to it. And that's not you know, every day, I'm on my knees at some point of the day, thanking God for like, this is my life now. Like I was, I am dead. And now this is what heaven is. You know,
Joe Van Wie 50:36
that's a good thing wakes you up? Yeah. So
Mark Loughney 50:38
I mean, I have a lot to be on my knees for, you know,
Joe Van Wie 50:42
as for community, and a recovery community, or peers of support? How has that been materialized in here?
Mark Loughney 50:53
So I my support group is mostly guys from back home and don't morons grant. Yeah, I do AAA meetings online. I'm not very gregarious, although I do seem. So I tend to just like the people that I like, and I feel comfortable around the people that I have already made those relationships with. And those those bonds have have been the most amazing thing for me to come home to now and share a meaningful sobriety with the guys that I haven't seen in so long.
Joe Van Wie 51:30
Well, Mark, I'm overwhelmed with just considering your life when I get on Facebook, and I see a lot prs. I'm lost for like 10 minutes, like just going up and down and when I haven't seen but your your story and no one you it's got a dream quality. Always. Yes. But I am so happy to see you and see you free and expressing yourself and having meaning from a cause that's meaningful to you. You don't know what it's doing to people that haven't seen you in years, that love and care about you. So I'm really happy we got to spend this day to Joe. Thank you, man. Well, we'll have to come back. I'm going to update this on the show notes with all your art. The write ups from NPR. For anyone who didn't get the chance to see what's going on with you. It's exciting and meaningful. Thank you, Joe. Thanks, brother. Let's see if this record it. Does thing I'd like to thank you for listening to another episode of all better. Find us on all better.fm or listen to us on Apple podcasts. Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, I Heart Radio, and Alexa. Special thanks to our producer John Edwards, an engineering company 570. Drone. Please like or subscribe to us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And if you're not on social media, you're awesome. Looking forward to seeing you again. And remember, just because you're sober doesn't mean you're right.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai