Enjoy This Look Inside Artist Marko Mavrovich’s Studio
Marko Mavrovich says someone once referred to his studio as organized chaos.
“I know where everything is,” he says as he maneuvers around blank canvases and easels supporting paintings in progress. Mavrovich uncovers his palette – a tin tray filled to the edges with vibrant color, mixed and modeled from trailing grooves left by brush strokes.
His studio space is intimate and quiet on the ground level of his Southern California home. A fenced yard and pool rest at the base of a steep and treed hillside. His house and studio reflect him: bright and colorful with a contemplative sense of personal history. Both spaces are bursting with work completed and work in progress.
A self-taught artist, Mavrovich says his influences are museums, books, other artists and very specifically his father (whose work is pictured above). “I started with watercolors because my father was a fantastic watercolor artist.” His paternal influence is evident in his surroundings – a photo here and there, a painting propped on a table. A self-portrait that his father sketched rests on an easel in the heart of Mavrovich’s workspace.
“I watched him paint a fireplace where someone would bake their fish or heat themselves. Then he’d paint beautiful boats or an old stable,” Mavrovich says. “He was painting real things in the world. He didn’t have to invent things. So I began to emulate him and that is something I still carry to this day.”
With that philosophy, there’s always a story behind what Marko Mavrovich paints. He doesn’t paint people, places or things unless he’s knows them himself. An example is in the poppies that have taken center stage in many of his works. Those fields of flowers appeal to the artist for reasons beyond his love for the color red.
“The reason why I love the poppies is that in my childhood, the girls would pick a poppy, then they would pull back the petals to make a dress,” he explains with his hands demonstrating the motions. “They would then take the stem and push it through, creating hands and legs and then play with them like dolls.” Poppy seeds were also part of a Croatian delicacy made with pastry, honey and sugar. “As I paint them, everything just kind of comes to me and takes me back to my youth.”
Mavrovich’s work has often incorporated his love of water, the Croatian islands of his youth and his affection for Catalina Island – a 40-minute ferry ride from Los Angeles. Yet his subject matter continues to expand as he’s added to his body of work figurative and still life painting, cityscapes and the use of different surfaces such as metals and wood.
That’s something he attributes to his relationship with Park West Gallery because it allows him the freedom to work on many subjects. “That’s the food that the artist needs to progress and go on. And that’s very important.”
Mavrovich says he never releases a painting unless he’s completely happy with it. “So each one of my collectors gets the best,” he says. “[Meeting] collectors has been a guiding light to my progress.”
Born in California, Marko Mavrovich is the son of Croatian immigrants. In 1970, his parents took their young family back to what was then Yugoslavia. He was 10 years old. He spent the next 15 years there, which included a required stint with the communist Yugoslav military – an experience that Mavrovich says made him a better person and a stronger man. At 25, he returned to California with dreams of becoming a sea captain on a tuna boat and quickly found work in shipyards and cleaning boats under water. He was happy earning money in the water by day so he could paint at night.
Mavrovich was surprised once he started selling his paintings. “Back in the old country, that was not considered work or you couldn’t make a living. No one would take you seriously,” he says. His love to paint eventually won out over his love of the sea and he began to pursue a career as an artist.
Like many young artists, Mavrovich set out to walk in the footsteps of some of the greats. “I wanted to see where Monet painted his water lilies. I wanted to be on that land. Walk on that bridge and see what he saw,” he says of a trip to France. “I thought that maybe when I got back to the states I would actually be him,” he laughs. “But what actually happened was that I got a sense of it – and I took it and put it into my own painting.
“Someone said that a good artist copies and a great artist steals,” Mavrovich says, adding that we all pull from life, from society and from our parents. “And good for that – because then we build on that to create something greater.”
In addition to the European masters, a young Marko was moved and mesmerized by the work of great California impressionists such as William Wendt and Franz Bischoff. Their warmer color schemes were a departure from the watercolor palette he knew. He longed to create bigger and bolder pieces, which eventually led him to favor acrylic paints. The quicker drying paints allow him to see his vision come to life before his eyes. At times, he finishes a work by adding oils, which dry more slowly but may give a desired texture, he says.
Mavrovich paints in the early morning to late at night. Music follows his mood as the day progresses, and he often winds down his day with jazz, enjoying the mellow sounds as the neighborhood quiets.
“Someone asked me how I know when a piece is finished,” he says. “I know it when I sign it.”