Hello Instagram: Mark Dicey in Calgary

@paddlecoffin on Instagram

Contributed by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech / Initially I resisted Instagram, thinking of it dismissively as a repository of selfies, sunsets, and celebrities, but, soured by Facebook and Twitter, I finally joined. Over the past four years I’ve come to appreciate IG for introducing me to a lot of terrific artists, many of whom never show their work in New York. In “Hello Instagram,” a new Two Coats column, I look forward to sharing some of my favorites. First up is Mark Dicey, a Canadian artist who lives in Calgary.

Giovanni Garcia-Fenech: To start off, tell us a little about yourself.

Mark Dicey: I graduated from The Alberta College of Art & Design (now Alberta University of the Arts) in 1983. 36 years later I am mainly in the studio painting and drawing, and I do some collaborative work with the drawing group Drunken Paw.

Currently I have exhibition of abstract paintings at Michael Gibson Gallery (MGG) in London, Ontario, Canada. Abstraction  is the main focus of my studio work and this is the first exhibition I have had in this space. I also work with a gallery here in Calgary, Jarvis Hall Gallery, where I’ll have a solo in April 2020. My handle on Instagram is @paddlecoffin.

@paddlecoffin on Instagram
@paddlecoffin on Instagram

GGF: So, here�s my big question: paddlecoffin! Where did that Instagram profile name come from?

MD: I somehow came up with it in the early �80s when I was very active in the International mail art scene � pre-internet. I liked the way it sounded and the odd combination of two words. I corresponded with hundreds of people all over the planet, as part of themed exhibitions and just individual back and forth visual communication. It was a blast, and I always looked forward to my overstuffed mailbox of wild images daily. Now, little comes to the physical mailbox. Chuck Stake (Don Mabie), the mail art guru, and I started a mail art gallery here in Calgary at an artist-run centre called Off Centre Centre. It�s not around anymore, but many fabulous exhibitions took place there. Now many people who did mail art are on social media, which is pretty cool.

GGF: Your feed is curious: you post a lot of drawings/paintings on book spreads. How long have you been working like this? Do you make more than one drawing per book, or does each book become a single piece?

MD: Sketchbooks have always been a part of my practice, I would say for at least 40 years. Nowadays I care about and exhibit them more than I used to. I think of them more as book works when they are completed, dated, and put on the shelf. In the past I would always work in them but they would get lost, cannibalized (ripped apart to become parts of collages, etc.), destroyed, or whatever. What I love most about the books is their portability and free open exploration. Having a studio painting and drawing practice is my main activity, but the books are always present. I draw/work in the books every day starting first thing in the morning until the evening in between and around the studio practice. I also take them along with me to bars and cafes or just hanging out with friends.

Besides store-bought sketchbooks, I have always loved finding old books in second-hand stores that are intriguing and that have a visual layer that I can respond to. An example would be old text books on typing or sailing books from 40 to 60 years ago. Not only the imagery, but also the paper and the way it takes media. What I make in the books are not studies for paintings, but vocabulary, thinking, responding activity. Sometimes I will have a few books open on the floor of the studio because the forms, lines, colours, etc. interest me and I want it to influence what is happening on the canvas on my wall. I usually have three to five books of various shapes sizes and forms on the go throughout my house and studio. I start at the front and work through to the back. There are times that pages will have a few sessions to complete, but many are made in a single session and I move along. Studio work is quite different � a canvas can take weeks to months to complete. I guess this contrast to books is what I like and need.

@paddlecoffin on Instagram
@paddlecoffin on Instagram

GGF: I’m impressed with how prolific you are! You post several times a week, yet the quality is consistently high. Do you draw every day? Or do you do a lot of drawings at different points and parse them out on your feed?

MD: Generally I post every day on Instagram and the majority is what I am doing in my books. There are times I will post completed paintings or promote an exhibition or a work of mine that is in situ somewhere, such as recently a painting of mine that was purchased for the Chateau Lake Louise.

GGF: At first I took you for a strictly abstract artist, but then I realized that you often include representational elements (particularly eyes). Do you think of yourself as either abstract or representational?

MD: I love that the images are produced, at times, quite spontaneously, and at other times more rigorously worked. Unprecious, good, bad, or whatever, it is ok. It must intrigue me to allow it to be used and just becomes a part of my working process and practice. I need to question all aspects of my practice and the book images surprise and excite me.

The work in the books are drawings, collages, and paintings pursuing abstract directions, but I do love allowing anything to happen � for chance and representation to surface. I guess I need and crave this. Abstraction is my main direction of exploration, study, and fascination, but all aspects of what I make feed into each other. For instance, over the years I have done plein air drawing and working from the figure (live model and gross anatomy), which has been a part of my practice and teaching. It is not what I do presently, but they are not influences one can ignore since they were a big part of my past.

Also my collaborative work with Drunken Paw has an influence on representation sneaking in because we have great fun responding to each other’s methods, styles etc. There are three of us � myself, Leslie Sweder and Janet Turner � and we make three drawings together, rotating one to the next. Been doing that for quite a few years.

We have liked taking this collaborative project seriously and see it as running parallel to each of our individual practices. We have exhibited and sold works and have been invited to locations where we have worked for weeks and months at a time.

Drawing by collaborative drawing trio, Mark Dicey, Leslie Sweder, and Janet Turner. @drunken_paw on Instagram

GGF: Your style has hints of the great modernists, yet it’s clearly contemporary. What and who inspires your work?

MD: So many great artists continue to inspire me, and it is tough to get it to a few but I could say Cy Twombly, Jay DeFeo, Joan Mitchell, Jack Bush, Brice Marden, Thomas Nozkowski, Marion Nicoll, Elizabeth Murray… The list could go on and on.

GGF: Can you share a couple of Instagram accounts that you would recommend?

MD: There are many, but to name just a few: Sean Sullivan (@parade.pimlico.pearl), @artbooksephemera, Pascal Blanchard (@skalpa), John Ford (@johnfordartist), Erin Hawkins (@hawkinserin), and Eric Leroux (@leroux1264).

@paddlecoffin on Instagram

– – –

About the author: Giovanni Garcia-Fenech is a painter based in Queens. His writing has appeared at artnet, Artforum, Art in America, Hyperallergic, and Wired. His artwork has been exhibited throughout the United States, as well as in Iceland and Puerto Rico. A few of his paintings will be featured in Chart Gallery�s exhibition MELT, opening in mid-July. You can follow him on Instagram at @giovannigfnyc.

Related posts:
Instagram: Evening at Mar-a-Lago
Link list: Artists to follow on Instagram / Part I
Link list: Artists to follow on Instagram / Part 2
Quick study: Abstract portraits, Instagram, thoughtful review of the show at SEASON, QR Codes in the London subway.


  1. I Love IG Sharon. Since I don’t hear anyone knocking on my door
    to see my work so…. “I knock on theirs via IG”. And I have had some
    remarkable responses: the best is me being in a Brilliant show in Berlin.
    The show is still up and I went out for the opening. Something I’ll remember forever.
    Feel free to look at my IG page at: #aneider52.

  2. I’m so glad you are going to be posting about IG. I have found it a rich source for art, methods, supplies and inspiration. I have started conversations with other artists about their work, have found sources for materials, workshops, and supplies and found work to which I respond and relate to and draw inspiration from. Other artists have found me on IG and asked about my work and there are even nascent ideas of collaborations in the future.

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