Muralist Mark Cline on working for himself and how art keeps him alive

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What started simply as a passion led to a career and a way out of a halfway house for Mark Cline, who has become a successful street artist, muralist and chalk artist. It's a profession, he says, that allows him to do exactly what he was born to do.

"I am an artist," says Cline. "I am also a musician but I like art more because I can depend on myself and not have to depend on others. It's keeping me alive."

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Life has a funny way of working itself out, and that was exactly the case for Cline. While riding the bus a couple years ago to his job as a house painter, he struck up a conversation with Bob Blair, owner of Fuel Cafe.

"He said they needed a little mural at the Taxi Building," Cline says. "I told him I was an artist and wanted to get back into it and he said, 'Yeah, we got one that you could do.' And that was probably my first one ever."

Granted, the artwork wasn't an original piece: it was a design from another local artist named Susan Wick, but shortly after Cline finished it, he was approached by the principals of Stanley Lake and Arvada West high schools, who had seen the mural and wanted Cline to do something for them.

"I became so busy that I felt like I needed to quit my job," says Cline. "My boss told me, 'Mark you need to follow your bliss," so I went for it."

He was in a halfway house work program at the time, where his jobs had to be approved by a case manager. But Cline was able to convince the case manager he was busy enough with his artwork to leave a steady job and work for himself.

His favorite style of painting is surrealism but he usually saves that for his canvas rather than the murals. But a current project -- a massive mural of an observatory and the stars on a remodeled apartment building at 2350 South University Boulevard -- will allow him to indulge in his surrealist side.

"This one is going to be surreal. It is going to be a mural of the stars on a time lapse," Cline says. The mural, which pays homage to nearby Observatory Park, stretches around half the building and will continue inside, where there will be a smaller version on each floor.

Cline got the commission by submitting a sketch and a bid to building owner Rufus Nagel, who'd contacted him and asked him to give it a shot. What may have attracted Nagel to Cline's work is his use of color and how Cline likes to "push the color boundaries."

"I like to freak people out with my painting so you'll either think it's funny or it will blow your mind," he says.

Cline's has no formal art training, but art was a major influence in his life while growing up: His father was an art professor at the University of Colorado who often invited artits from around the world to give presentations to his class.

"I was always around art, so it was kind of like second nature," Cline says. "They taught me a few fundamental things but other than that I was self taught."

Seeking influence from even the most famous of artists, like Salvador Dali, to some of his father's graduate students, he learned from their style and developed his own.

And street art has recently developed into a more respected branch of the fine arts, which has helped, along with the large community he is part of.

"The chalk artists are a big community," Cline says. "We do anything for each other and there is a great sense of camaraderie."

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