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The accidental artist

Sun, Aug 6th, 2000
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For Hong Kong native Peter Mak, the journey to Lanesboro isn't as far as it seems. You see, Mak's exhibition of art work at Cornucopia Art Center has a local connection. Mak's wife is Barbara Tammel, the daughter of Marilyn and Donne Tammel of rural Preston. And many of the artist's work has been housed on the Tammel's Fillmore County farm.

"Many of the ceramic pieces in the show have been stored in the Tammel basement for the past 10 years," Mak laughed. "They didn't have to travel very far."

In Search of Content: Ceramics, Drawings & Prints is the title of Peter Mak's exhibition of art at the Cornucopia Art Center in Lanesboro. An art professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, a teachers college near the Chinese border, Mak's art ranges from Pop Art ceramics to Daliesque drawings. In Search of Content chronicles Mak's evolution as an artist.

"My earlier work is heavily influenced by Pop Art , taking popular, everyday , mundane items, like Nike's and Coca Cola, and making interesting things out of them," Mak said.

Mak's ceramic pieces, Taco Bell Box and Cowboy Mad & Sister Rad, are good examples of this Pop Art period, where the artist often pokes fun at his subjects.

In Search of Content, chronicles Mak's evolution as an artist. "I am especially interested in the subject matter, or the content, the narrative element is priority number one. It is finding what story to tell, what to say and how to say it," Mak explained. "I have plenty of twisted ideas and I want to paint, or print or use clay to tell that story."

While Mak works in ceramics, block printing and painting, all traditional Chinese art mediums, he says that there is little or no Chinese influence in his work.

In some ways, Mak is an accidental artist, having left Hong Kong in the 1970's to study accounting at State University in Valley City in North Dakota.

"Before I left Hong Kong, I had some interest in art, but very little formal training," Mak said. It was while signing up for business classes that he was invited to look at what the art department was offering, and the rest is as they say is history.

While Mak is continually searching for new ways to express himself, the artist is fully committed to the art of teaching as well. Mak holds a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from Arizona State University and is presently a Ph.D. candidate at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Education in Melbourne, Australia.

At the Hong Kong Institute of Education, Mak's art department trains art teachers for elementary and high schools in Hong Kong. "Between teaching studio classes and supervising student teaching, I don't often have as much time as I would like for my own art," Mak said.

While some of Mak's work can appear humorous, almost satirical, he is not afraid to make social commentary. One piece in particular, Red, White and Blue In Search of Home uses a nylon bag, a property section of the classified pages, a bird's nest, and a wooden framework, that symbolizes the bamboo scaffolding often found on Hong Kong high-rise construction sites, to focus in on the housing issues that the poor in that city face.

Mak has held several exhibitions of his work throughout the United States, Hong Kong and China.

In Search of Content will run through September 10. Mak will make a gallery talk and presentation on Saturday, August 5th at 7:00 p.m.

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