MARK BELTCHENKO • Portrait of an Artist

Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Gallery Showcases Challenging Series of Timely Environmental & Political Themes

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, ,   From Issue 904   By: Robert E Martin

29th October, 2020     0

For Detroit-based sculptor Mark Beltchenko the creative process is “a pursuit driven by passion and paid for in sweat.”  An award-winning and nationally recognized sculptor he is also the most recent first-place winner of the Regional Biennial Juried Sculpture Exhibition and is presently front-and-center in a virtual showcase exhibition at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum at Saginaw Valley State University titled Mark Beltchenko ***- - -*** (SOS) that can be currently viewed online at

The title of this virtual exhibition ‘SOS (or ***---*** in Morse Code) is often used to denote phrases such as ‘Save Our Ship’ or ‘Save Our Souls’ and is comprised of  of six different series of works by Beltchenko: INSIDER, BIRTHWORKS, HISTORY LESSONS, NOT MY PRESIDENT, PEDESTAL, and DISTRESS, spanning from the year 2006 to the most recent works completed in May 2020.

Equally comfortable working in stone, steel, aluminum, wood and the non-ferrous metals, Mark’s  work serves as a meditation on the good and bad in our current lives: the environment, political hypocrisy, positive growth, greed, and human narcissism - not necessarily in that order, are all covered through his works.

His imagery communicates messages in ways that are both primitive and profound; equally sweeping and diminutive. The artist, through his artworks, is clear about his political views. Beltchenko states: “These works reflect extreme emotion because I’m highly affected by what is going on. In the past I’ve never been politically motivated but, we are at a point where we can’t take this anymore. I have a voice and my voice is in my art.”

Beltchenko’s journey as a gifted sculpture has been an interesting odyssey. “I started out with a focus on painting and was a two-dimensional guy when I graduated from college,” he explains. “From college I continued painting and was fortunate to obtain a job as a jeweler’s apprentice for three years and then took on another job with a gentleman that gave me free reign in terms of designing, which opened my eyes to working three-dimensionally with my artwork.”

“I started creating commercial jewelry and body adornments and had the freedom to create anything I wanted, which was a wonderful situation,” he continues. “From this I started making small objects d’art that reflected my Russian heritage and began doing derivatives of Fabergé eggs, which I used as a motif for a lot of objects ranging from baby rattles to stamps.”

“After a few years of that I got a little frustrated and wanted to make some statements,” he reflects. “At time I was not politically motivated at all but was very environmentally conscious and started making some small scale sculptures using found objects and cast objects that I would make models for.  Most of these smaller pieces were self-standing, but then I was able to secure a commission for a large scale sculpture - an 11 foot steel & limestone piece for a Jewish Synagogue, which was the first big piece that I did. 

“At that point I bought a welder and started taking off from there.  I started working with steel and then went to carving stone, which is very attuned to working with wax or jewelry models; and then I began using pneumatic chisels and rasps and things of that nature. Currently, I am working with wood.”

For the exhibition displayed at Marshall Fredericks that is comprised from selections spanning six different series of works he created, Mark explains his creative objectives evolved from three works of carved stone pieces that he started back in 2006 when he started becoming more politically aware of social issues. “Currently I’m doing a series called ‘Distress’ using found pieces of wood and dis-assembling and re-assembling them. These are primarily environmental pieces ruminating about the mess we’re making of this little planet that we’re all inhabited upon.”

Does Mark work from objects that he finds in nature, or does he search for an object that reflects the theme he is trying to convey?

“The material is very important,” he states. “I’ve gone through stone and steel stages and now I’m focused upon wood. The material informs how I’m going to illuminate a particular theme; and with this new ‘Distress’ series, I do a lot of bicycling around Detroit and go by all these wonderful pieces of tree bark and limbs. Some are very unique, so the idea will gestate in my mind and I’m finding wood is very cohesive with the environmental theme I’m seeking to highlight.”

Does Mark ever get to a point where once he’s finished with a series he might decide to go back and add a new piece to the collection? “Usually, I find each series I want to develop through at least a half dozen pieces, which gives me enough time to explore the theme enough to make a statement. One piece standing alone does not fulfill a complete statement. I will open up these series if I don’t feel its fully explored, but in the past for the most part I’ve not gone back to re-address issues. Current issues are what I want to illustrate.”

When rendering these pieces as he moves through each series, obviously political problems necessitate solutions; so does Mark try to rectify the issue for his audience in order to focus or signify what people need to be looking at?

“If you identify the problem first, which is what I’m doing through most of my work, then I feel I’ve achieved my goal,” he explains. “I’m not in elected office so I can’t change things. Therefore, I feel if I can identify various issues, people may look at them and start their thought process moving in different ways, or hopefully get them to think a little more about the object or topic.”

Throughout the expanse of his career, are there any particular works Mark is especially proud of and that he feels stand out as being most representative of his work?  “The newest is always the best,” he states. “Sometimes I look at older or previous works and think I might change this or that and go back to revisit it; but honestly, I think it’s better to be excited about the newer work and express myself that way, which is in the Distress series.”

When asked what the biggest challenge is with his work Mark states it’s finding an audience. “Work is not complete if it sits in the stadium,” he reflects. “It need to get out and be seen by people who don’t agree with it, which can pose a difficult situation. I’ve been doing sculpture for 35 years now and to this day I still like working with found objects because it starts people thinking by relating to a form. It’s a starting point.”

“For awhile I kind of got away from that because I ran out of collection space for all these wonderful shapes and forms,” he continues. “When I started 35 years ago there maybe half a dozen galleries around the Detroit area and now there are countless galleries, but it’s always a struggle to find a venue. That’s why I’m so pleased I can have this show at Marshall Fredericks, as I’m hoping it’s going to expand my audience.”

“What I’m hoping people take away from it is their own thoughts on it, and their own questions.”

Even though the artist may have a clear political stance, the Museum itself remains neutral with regards to political affiliation. Megan McAdow, Director of the Museum, elaborates that “The views and opinions expressed in this exhibition are those of the artist and do not necessarily reflect those of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, Saginaw Valley State University, our funders or sponsors, including Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.  We support artists with a variety of viewpoints and do so as they promote dialogue and understanding across issues or the political spectrum.”

McAdow continues, “Beltchenko is not a loud or verbose man, but his work screams at us with a dire urgency. That is not to say that his work is obvious, rather, it is not. It requires effort. One must spend time with the work and breathe into it. You may not immediately recognize the discourse; however, allow yourself to linger and as one lingers the layers begin to unfold and reveal its meticulous detail and dialogue. It affects and changes you.”

The “Mark Beltchenko: • • • — — — • • • (SOS)” Virtual Exhibition is available to view at and includes photos, 360-degree videos of his works, a virtual 3D tour of the gallery, as well as videos of the artist discussing his work. An Artist Talk with Beltchenko will be held online in the coming months.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the physical exhibition is currently only available in the galleries for SVSU students, faculty and staff until the Museum is able to open to the general public.

The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum is located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, 7400 Bay Road, University Center, MI. For more information, call (989) 964-7125 or visit the Museum’s website at




Please login to comment



Current Issue


Don't have an account?