‘Portraits in Solitude’ by Ephrata artist

By on October 18, 2017

Portrait of Nicole Robb, by Mark Kromer

For artist Mark Kromer, some of his major influences were his brother, Jeff Kromer, and his Ephrata High School art teacher, Richard Huck.

Mark Kromer’s work is exhibited at Mulberry Art Studios throughout the month of October. The display will be capped off by a special celebration when Kromer marries his long-time sweetheart, Nicole Robb, at the gallery on Oct. 28. The couple will be surrounded by friends and family, and a collection of portraits of many of those friends.

Two of the portraits are of Kromer’s late brother and artist, Jeff Kromer, who passed away in October 2014 at age 45. Jeff Kromer often showed his work at Mulberry Art Studios and had an impact on his younger brother’s artwork. Mark Kromer has included three pieces of his brother’s surrealistic fantasy artwork.

“These pieces have had a definite influence on me,” says Kromer. “It’s only three, but they are most important to me, because they are the ones that have the most meaning. I feel like my brother continues to be with me to encourage me. I think he would love that we have a joint art exhibit.”

Self Portrait, by Mark Kromer

Kromer grew up in an artistic family in Ephrata, where his parents had a bed and breakfast inn. His father, Elmer, was a wood carver and his mother, Linda, loved decorating and antiques. Kromer’s oldest brother, Jeff, excelled at art and sports. Matt wasn’t interested in art; he was an athlete. His world was art, and by the time he was a senior at Ephrata High School, he was taking a full schedule of five art classes in one semester.

“My art teacher, Richard Huck, was a big influence in my art, along with Jeff. They both expected me to do something significant with my work,” says Kromer.

After he graduated from high school in 1994, he dabbled in art, creating illustrations for various venues and doing album covers for several bands. He worked as a plant systems coordinator at Pepperidge Farm. He admits that he didn’t have the confidence to pursue an art career. His high school art teacher and artist brother felt certain that he would eventually come into his own. And he has.

Portrait of John Myers, by Mark Kromer

“I think everyone around me had more confidence than I did,” says Kromer. “When Jeff died, I realized I needed to do this. Even Richard Huck came to see my work, and said ‘it’s about time.’”

Kromer’s work is nothing like his brother’s. He works only in pencil, in shades of black and gray. He mainly does portraits and he aims to reach into the soul of his subjects with no attempt to make “pretty” pictures. Faces intrigue him. He likes the rough texture of the skin, with its lines and scars. He works in great detail, drawing every hair as it flows, stands on end or is tousled by the wind. He pays a great deal of attention to the eyes, which seem to come alive. His subjects rarely smile. He wants to capture them deep in thought or just allowing their minds to wander.

You can see every whisker, every deep creased wrinkle, in Mark Kromer’s portrait of an old high school friend, John Myers. There is a grittiness, a realness that is conveyed in that portrait. That is the way Mark Kromer likes to paint. His work is powerful and striking in its finely honed simplicity.

In a portrait of his brother Jeff, his older brother gazes downward in darkness, with scars on his cheeks and lines on his forehead. His fiancée, Nicole, peers out from the fur hood of a parka, her hair flowing around her dark eyes and her full mouth in the slightest of smiles. Later, when Kromer painted a portrait of his brother Jeff after his death, the crisp details are blurred and disjointed, symbolizing his grief.

Kromer is an admitted perfectionist when it comes to his portraits. He works from photographs. It’s a good thing for his subjects. It takes between 100 and 400 hours to complete a portrait.

He jokes, “I don’t think anyone would want to sit that long.”

Portraits of Jeff Kromer, before and after his death, by Mark Kromer.

For April Koppenhaver, owner of Mulberry Art Studios, Mark Kromer’s work is a revelation. After having several exhibits of Jeff Kromer’s art, Koppenhaver was excited to have Mark’s work at the gallery. She was even more thrilled when she found out Mark and Nicole were getting married.

“I am a romantic at heart, and this was just so perfect, to have the wedding in the gallery surrounded by Mark’s and Jeff’s work,” says Koppenhaver.

Mark Kromer’s exhibit is titled “Portraits in Solitude.” But at Mulberry Art Studios, his thoughtful, introspective images of friends, family, and his fiancée will be in good company with a special champagne toast to the brother who inspired him and will be at his side in spirit.

Mark Kromer: Portraits in Solitude is on display at Mulberry Art Studios, 12-21 N. Mulberry St., Lancaster, through the end of October, weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit mulberryartstudios.com.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of The Ephrata Review. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.


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