Mark Jaeger’s Unlikely Superheroes


Mark Jaeger at work

Genevieve Finn '17, Writer

Mark Jaeger, better known as the laid-back, reggae-loving Ceramics teacher, Mr. J, recently debuted a new collection that is centered around the concept of super heroes and how they can be found in the most unlikely places. The collection features a wide range of “Supers” — from the giant premiere-piece “Super Duper” to the smaller series of “Bumblebee” supers — and makes the viewer challenge his own perspective of good and evil in life. We at The Roar stopped by his classroom one day to chat about his new collection:

Your new exhibit is great and the subject of unlikely super heroes is really fascinating. Where did you get this idea from?

Superheroes are like a modern day recreation of what every culture has had, similar to angels, saints, or ancestor-protectors. It’s a way that our culture has most recently been trying to deal with that same issue — you know, “What’s bigger than we are? What’s greater than we are that we can rely on when things get really difficult? ”


Was there any moment in particular where you were inspired? Like “Oh, I should definitely do this?”

Yeah, I had a buddy that traveled to Easter Island and looked at these famous Moab statues, these large stone heads that exist there. Those were built (they think) to honor their ancestors and to have a presence for the contemporary culture as a protecting symbol. When I started thinking about that, that idea of these large stretched-out heads was really interesting to me. I’ve always been fascinated with heads. And that’s when “super hero” came into my head.


Would you ever be interested in exploring villains?

Ironically, because I don’t choose the typical superhero figure (handsome chiseled features), because I kind of select the opposite type of character, maybe an old person, they look a little bit like villains. So then the interesting contrast is, you put a mask on a good looking person, you have a super hero. You put a mask on an old gnarly bearded guy — looks like a criminal! I like that. And what’s making you think that is your judgement on a person’s features. “So only a young, good-looking person could be good? Not an old wrinkly person?” That then causes the viewer to reflect on their own perceptions, their own perspectives, on how we look at old and young, good-looking and ugly; these are all things that hopefully, after marinating on the work, then the viewer gets a little something happening.


Are the “supers” based off of real individuals you have met or people in your mind? For example, is Super Pops based off of your dad?

Oftentimes, the work is inspired by my own face because it’s the face I look at most, and also my father was a big presence. He’s a presence that I myself am growing into. My father all my life had a beard, and now I’ve got a beard.


And now you’re a dad!

Yeah, now I’m a dad, so Super Pops is maybe an icon for how I perceive a dad to be. Whether I am Super Pops or whether my dad is Super Pops, I think that’s open to discussion, but it’s inspired by how I perceive a father to be.


I think that one is the most relatable to a student, because I think my dad is a super hero, so that’s cool. Also what does super Omama mean?

Omama is my grandmother. When I was a little itty-bitty baby, my Omama lived in Switzerland, so we’d travel all the way to Switzerland. My brother and I are her only grandchildren so it was always really special to see her. She would get up so early in the morning that I had to sleep in the hallway to catch her, because otherwise she’d go down to the lake and go swimming before the sun came up, and I wanted to go with her. And so she always had these things that to me seemed so fantastic. Anyway, I made that piece sort of in memory of her. She had passed away a few weeks ago, before I started working on the piece.


So would her super power be swimming in the lake and being super strong?

Yeah, yeah, and just super sweet. She was always just so sweet and funny, the things she said. She was a very independent spirit.


What’s next for you as an artist?

Super heroes are something that I’m still working on. I’m just not so sure I need to put the mask on anymore. I’m also working on a series of small self portraits. There’s a series I began of these tribal heads that I’m considering putting more work into now. So that’s a little bit of a preview of what’s to come.


I saw that “Super-Self” was sold on the website. Do you ever get sad when you have to part with some of your work?

No, no, I think it’s exciting. When I was younger I used to, but no, for me now I really do want my work out there. I want people to enjoy it; that’s why I make it. Not to hoard it, to share it with the world. If somebody buys my work, they get to take it home. That means they get to enjoy it, the people that come to their homes get to enjoy it, and that’s really the point, so new people can see it and maybe experience something new from it.


Do you ever get “artist’s block” like writer’s block? If so, how do you get it back?

Laziness is what’ll happen. I love to work, but sometimes my schedule doesn’t lend itself to working. Sometimes I need to do organization or grading or cleaning or loading and unloading or inventory. There are so many different aspects of being an artist and being a teacher and maintaining a studio, and they all take time. I don’t always get to be making my work. When I go through those periods of time, it can be frustrating because I wanna make everyday, but not everyday is right for making. I feel best when I make every day, and when I go through a period of a couple days in a row without making, I start to get a little anxious or just not as inspired or satisfied.


What are the best and worst things about being an artist?

The best thing about being an artist is that you can do what you wanna do. Nobody can tell you how to do it. The worst thing about being an artist is that nobody can tell you how to do it. The freedom that being an artist allows is also the greatest challenge. You present yourself with problems that have no answer. There are no directions that you can follow. If there were directions, you would be imitating. And in art, the primary purpose is to invent and create something new. So the best thing about it is also the most difficult thing about it.


What advice do you have for aspiring ceramics artists?

Just don’t give up. The easiest thing to do is give up, but if you hang in there you’ll be alright.

If you are interested in learning more about Mr. J’s work and his new collection, go see it for yourself at The Mine Art Gallery in Fairfax, or on their website