“It’s not a cliché! He literally gave strangers the sweater off his back – all the time!” Woody was animated. Uplifted. At the end of a standing-room-only funeral for one of his best friends. His wet, red eyes shining. It was hard not to smile.
Confirmed by eyewitness accounts or perpetuated by legend, Mark was known to have given all kinds of things away: wool sweaters, socks, mp3 players, tins of beans. “What happened to yourlaptop?” we once asked him. “Gave it to For the Love of Learning,” came the casual reply. We scratched our heads and shrugged. “That’s Mark,” we’d always say. He was full of gifts. Charity was just one of many.
Mostly, Mark was known for giving away his art, to friends and strangers alike. Sometimes it was an on-the-spot sketch he’d proudly hand off, the product of a 2 AM sidewalk sitting that had gotten someone’s attention. Other times, it was a piece he’d been working on for weeks. He’d accept whatever someone felt like giving him in return, alms or ale, with no expectations and no demands. Someone asked me once “Didn’t Mark tear up one of his best works into a zillion little pieces, and then give it away, bit by bit by bit?” Yeah, I remember that too.
Two days after Mark passed away, someone I’d never met started up a Mark Fancey Memorial Arts Showcase (https://www.facebook.com/events/111600432299507/) on Facebook. A Banksy-inspired poster clearly displayed Mark`s name. “A bold and beautiful soul has passed,” the description read. “If you have art that was made by Mark, show it off, share a story.”
It was the posthumous coming together of his artwork that Mark and I both, I think, secretly envisioned. But in my mind, it would happen inconceivably far into the future – after his work had spread to quiet, exotic corners of the earth, and he’d had a chance to get uncomfortable with and dismissive of his “Sharpie phase”, having since conquered countless new methods and mediums.
But here it was, happening now over coffee and pulled pork sandwiches as RN Wagner and I planned the showcase and got to know each other and the brother we didn’t know we shared.
“Mark was like this street artist superhero to us all,” RN told me. “He always challenged me to see things differently through art and long conversations about anything you can think of.” To fellow street artist and friend, Joey Pynn, Mark was “a loving guy” with “a heart of gold.” These were themes I knew well, and the circle of Mark’s influence kept growing wider and wider, the more people I talked to.
On Thursday, March 15th, exactly one month after Mark’s funeral, and two weeks before his 30th birthday, the doors to Mark’s Memorial Arts Showcase opened at Distortion. His artwork hung from pillar to post, in tribute to that other wonderful thing Mark was well-known for: hammock rides. People brought art Mark had given them, and “left their Mark” on the tribute wall. Heartfelt stories were shared even by those who confessed to have only met him once or twice. People purged their emotions in song, then gave generously, as $500 found its way into Mark’s hat, all in support of FTLOL.
It was the natural choice to turn the event into a fundraiser for FTLOL – it was just too perfect a theme to sum up Mark’s life. He simply loved learning. He always had an answer, or a question, and held onto his truths with a death grip.
One day a few years back I said to him, “You can’t wait until the day you can stand on top of Signal Hill and yell ‘I told you so!’ down at us all at the top of your lungs.” I was acknowledging, in the teasing sisterly way expected of me, how hard he worked every day to resist the path the rest of us were on, to convince us all to try an alternative one. One to be ridden by bike, because cars are isolating units of technology-for-evil. One where a person is judged only by his generosity and creativity. What a dream come true it would be when we all woke up, blinked and shuddered as if from one big collective shock and said “Oh ya. It should work like that!”
A grin came across Mark’s face. It was totally what he wanted.
Mark was an engineer by trade, abandoning work terms and keggers for a more Da Vinci like approach. Building a better world was always his motivation. His desk was scattered with sketches of recumbent bicycle hammocks and self-propelled uni-copters, each displaying his incredible vision and trademark wit. He built websites dedicated to spreading truthful news – what was really going on in the world, propaganda-free.
But the world is often a hostile place for those with clear vision and stubborn idealism. What I haven’t mentioned about Mark yet is that he took his own life.
I like to think he got fed up with the narrow-mindedness of mankind, deciding one day, “Ok screw this, what else is out there?” Although we all know better than to ask ourselves ‘why’ in times like these.
Here’s the only thing I can be certain of about the path Mark was on: it took bravery to be there, and inspired bravery in others. Bravery to nurture that unique thing inside you, then give birth to it and show it to the world, naked and bloody and screaming. Call it art, call it living. Mark called it happiness. It took bravery to take that thing he owned and loved completely, and then give it away, time and time again.
Here’s my two cents, for whatever value it may be worth now. Perhaps the bravest thing any one of us can do is admit when the path you’re on is leading you somewhere you didn’t intend to go. When your days breed despair, not enlightenment. When your intelligence is betrayed by anxiety and the future starts looking like a dark and lonely woods, through no fault of your own. The bravery that may count the most then is the bravery to question one’s own self and to trust someone else – trust them to help you let it go, to get it back. There’s a glory and a triumph there that can shine a little brighter, a little longer, and anyone who ever met Mark knew he was a star.