Marks work is an exploration of the human connection to the landscape. He was born in Wiltshire, England, where humans have an ancient relationship with the land and grew up on Scotland’s West Coast. Having spent his childhood on the moors, hills and glens of the Scottish Highlands, the land, and our relationship to it continues to be the main theme of his work. Mark’s childhood in Scotland was deeply rooted in nature.
“I believe there is a subconscious interaction between all of us and the places we live. The stories of our lives and the way in which each of us connects to one another are deeply influenced by our understanding of the natural places and processes we come into contact with.
He grew up in a small town on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, not far from a nuclear submarine base where his father worked.
“I think all the kids on the estate where we lived in the 70’s and 80’s were well aware of nuclear war and its affects, there was always an understanding that during the cold war the families of those submariners would be ‘looked after’ and be taken to bunkers in the event of a strike. For any sensitive child this was harrowing. I clearly remember the ‘Protect And Survive’ films that played on British television and what we were to do in the event of an atomic explosion. Most of the time we ignored this threat but it was always there, in the background as a form of deep rooted anxiety and an eroded sense of being safe. I think this childhood experience made me quite sensitive and compassionate towards all forms of life. Our house was on the edge of the Scottish Highlands and as youngsters we would spend every free moment roaming the woods with a freedom seldom given to our children today. ”
In 1984 after leaving high school at 16 he joined the British Royal Navy, just as the Cold War was ending. This was where his introduction to artistic expression came into being, manifesting in the form of documenting overseas deployments in the North Atlantic and Arctic as a ships photographer. During a long Arctic patrol, Mark began to explore landscape painting at age 18 which continued when he worked in London a short time later, borrowing art books from the library during quiet night watches, when he was responsible for communicating with an exploration vessel in the Antarctic.
In 1985, aged 17, while on deployment in Middle East during the Gulf War, he witnessed the edge of the Ethiopian Famine, when the ship he was serving on visited Djibouti, then, extreme poverty in places like Pakistan, Kenya and Sri Lanka. In July 1988 he photographed the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in the North Sea where 167 men died, this was a time of change in Mark’s life. He left the Navy and emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1989 and found great comfort in its wild landscapes. He has painted wilderness landscapes throughout Canada over the past two decades, with a major focus on the wild places of Nova Scotia.
“My world expanded quickly when I joined the Royal Navy at 16. You are drawn out of childhood with military efficiency and given such responsibility at such a young age, but with this comes a multitude of new experiences. One moment I was in training in Hampshire the next heading to the Persian Gulf getting to experience some of the most incredible cultures in places like Egypt, Kenya and Pakistan. It was such a rich time in my life, a formidable education that no college or university could ever provide. Of course you cannot go to these places without also experiencing first hand the many problems of the human race. It has an effect on you.”
“I sometimes get this sense that through my work, I am attempting to express a deep gratitude towards Nature, as if I am able to return to the peace and freedom of parts of my childhood. When I paint, it is a yearning for something, a deep rooted subconscious feeling of wellness that sits somewhere inside me, a place I am trying to reach or touch again. My 70’s and 80’s childhood was full of freedom and grew into an innocent love for nature which I think has become a stable foundation on which to draw from. While much of my time in the Royal Navy was a great experience, some of the things I witnessed along with childhood experiences of the Cold War, unraveled this innocence.This happens to many of us but I think for me nature and the landscape has become a place where I feel whole, this is what I attempt to express in my work, a sense of completeness and perhaps even safety”.
“I would have loved to have gone to art school and planned on studying photography in London after my career in the Royal Navy. Of course I ended up emigrating to Canada at age 19 where I worked first as a gas pump attendant for two years. Back then post secondary education was out of the question, there just wasn’t the means for a young immigrant from a large middle class family. I studied painting by myself at night for many years while also exploring the landscapes of Nova Scotia – the two seemed to come together. My best teacher has been a deep level of awareness, sensitivity and wonder I developed as a child but also a form of anxiety through my 20’s that I coped with through painting and spending a great deal of time in the woods.”
Marks life and philosophy is heavily influenced by Deep Ecology which, he says, “…comes out of a love of life and of the natural world.” This love and connection to nature drew him into activism in the 1990’s where he lead efforts to protect several wilderness areas in Northern Nova Scotia. “When you come to identify deeply with the landscape, you come to see it as yourself in a way, it is this ‘self realization’ that seems to give me the underlying energy to express a sense of completeness or wholeness of ‘being’ through painting. For me my work is more a way of living, a pathway of continued learning and deep gratitude.”
He lives with his family in rural Pictou County.
August 2016, New Landscapes, Argyle Fine Art, Halifax NS
July 2016, ‘Touching The Wild Within‘, new Canadian Landscapes. Fraser Cultural Center, Tatamagouche
October 2015, ‘Seeing Myself‘ Landscapes from intimate moments in nature, Harvest Gallery, Wolfville, NS
August 2015, ‘Spring‘, Eclectic Gallery, Victoria, Vancouver Island BC
November 2014, ‘Landscapes Of Vancouver Island, Argyle Fine Art, Halifax. Download exhibition catalog (pdf)
April 2014 J. Franklin Wright Gallery, Port Hawksbury, Nova Scotia
August 2013, `Bio Region` Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, visitors center.
June 2013, ‘Bio-Region’, Solo Show, Argyle Fine Art, Landscapes
March 2012, “The Story So Far, The Acadian Forest”, Argyle Fine Art, Halifax METRO NEWS
November 2011, “Travels”, Trinity Galleries, Saint John, NB
June 2010 “Re- Earthing” solo show, Argyle Fine Art, Halifax NS
September 2009 ‘The Wild Places’, Art Gallery of NS, sales & rental gallery
July 2016, ‘A Journey Of Self Discovery‘, Colchester Weekly News.
July 2016, ‘Interpretation isn’t necessarily in line with what the artist intended’, Truro Daily News
June 2016, Pictou Advocate. ‘Touching The Wild Within.’
August 2015 “The Guardian UK” The best of readers art Mark Brennan, Kings Place, London (juried).
August 2015 Oak Bay News, Victoria. “Plein Air Painter Brings Deep Forest To Oak Bay”
November 2014 ‘Mark Brennan Journeys, Reports Back‘ Maritime Art Listing
November 25th 2014, Guest Speaker, Argyle Fine Art, Seeking The Great Silence
November 25th 2013, CBC Radio Ideas, ‘The Witness Trees‘
September 2013 New York Times ‘Cant Sleep, This Might Help‘
August 2013, Guest Speaker, ‘On Art & Nature’, Kejimkujik National Park Amphitheater.
June 2013, Pictou Advocate, ‘Bio Region Connection’.
April 2013, Visual art included in the journal Reliquiae by Corbel Stone Press
May 2012, Chronicle Herald, Re-Earthing
March 10th 2012, Guest Speaker, AGM, Friends of Red Tail Society, Scotsburn, Pictou Co.
Feb 2012, Pictou County Naturalists, guest speaker, Wild Soundscapes of Nova Scotia
Jan 2012 Pictou Advocate, Short Film, The Acadian Forest, The Story So Far
Fall 2010 Eastlink Cable Television, short film
June 18th 2010 The Chronicle Herald, Halifax, ‘Spirited landscapes scream to be touched‘ – Whats on.
June 15th 2010 New Glasgow Evening News, ‘Artist Hopes Exhibit Will Put Viewer In Natures Webb’
June 8th 2010 Pictou Advocate News Paper, “Artist asks questions in new show”
May 2010 Interview with David Leveille of the BBC World Service, Boston
October 2009 – included in the book, “From Land and Sea, Nova Scotia’s Contemporary Landscape Artists”
September 12th 2009, New Glasgow Evening News, Solo Show
Summer 2008- Documentary film by Simple Films, Marks life as a wilderness painter.
July 2008 New Glasgow Evening News, “Local Painter Takes Art To Silver Screen”
July 2008 Federation of Canadian Artists, web site, News
July 2008 Interview, The Advocate, Pictou Nova Scotia
May 2008 The Advocate, Pictou, Nova Scotia, Art Bank Purchase
May 2008 The Evening News, Nova Scotia, Art Bank Purchase
May 2008 CKEC Radio news, Northern Nova Scotia
Jan 19th 2008 New Glasgow Evening News, “Isolating Creativity”
Aug 2007 Art work used for book cover, A Stone On their Cairn, Kevin S. Macleod CVO
Nov 2007 The Chronicle Herald, Nova Scotia, Reflections Show AGNS
Sept. 1994 Pictou Advocate, Two Views Show with Daniel A. Munro