In Lockdown Libraries, Art Guide asks artists what they’ve been reading while working through the pandemic. In the third part of this series, Tracey Clement found out what Mark Schaller has on his bookshelves.
Painter Mark Schaller is known as one of the founding members of Roar Studios. One of Melbourne’s first ARIs, the studios and gallery were part of the vibrant urban ecology of Fitzroy in the early 1980s, long before gentrification set in. In his current solo show, Botanicus Fantasticus, Schaller has focussed on the urban landscape of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, but he has spent his time in lockdown in far more rural surroundings, on Phillip Island south of the city.
Sequestered in his studio Schaller has continued to paint, draw and make sculptures. He also keeps busy “doing things around the house that I have neglected over the years.” And like many others dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, he seeks both information and solace from reading. “I’ve been reading about the virus and the many speculations surrounding it,” he explains.
The artist also has been turning to books on his own shelves. “I’m re-reading Nikolai Gogol. I remember bits, but never the end. It’s as strange and beautiful as I remember with fabulous character descriptions,” Schaller says. “Also Chromatopia by David Coles, a history of colour. I got it at St Luke’s art shop. I went to buy paint and ended up with a book.”
Schaller describes himself as an avid reader with eclectic tastes. “I love books and have many; some I will revisit and others wait patiently,” he says. “I read all sorts of things. The weekend papers, I read most sections. Not much art theory. I like crime fiction, especially the Aussie stuff: Garry Disher is great. Also crime fact: John Silvester. History and myths too.” Schaller has a friend who is an editor and he enjoys her insider recommendations. “From Here On, Monsters is one by Elizabeth Bryer. Just the title alone!!”
While Schaller says that the pandemic hasn’t really changed his reading habits, aside from looking up Covid-19 facts and theories, he does hope that it will change the habits of our society. “I think the virus must somehow be turned into a positive. We might investigate more productive sustainability, waste management, different trade relations, more independence, what’s important and what’s superficial.”
The artist expresses his capacity to hope for a better future with a very sharp, dry wit. He recalls that an architect friend lent him a book on the thylacine by Col Bailey, the octogenarian Australian naturalist who claims to have sited a Tassie Tiger in 1995. “My friend proposed a pavilion for Australia in Venice based on the thylacine, the model is great! Who knows maybe there is a series of paintings based on the marsupial wolf,” Schaller speculates. “Maybe the wolf is still around and the dogma has become extinct.”