Mark Wiseman Is Making a Name for Himself in the Emerging World of 'Calligraffiti'
The artwork of Sarasota’s Mark Wiseman is neither just graffiti nor mere calligraphy, but a mix of both—a blend of styles known as calligraffiti. His pieces combine an abstract take on the artful lettering of calligraphy with the large-scale, in-your-face bravado of graffiti. “It’s in the streets. It’s public art,” says Wiseman, who goes by the nom de plume Fndmntls. “I want the work to be where everyone can see it and enjoy it, or hate it.”
Wiseman is one of the most exciting painters in Sarasota today, though unknown to many. “Sarasota was always an artsy town, but growing up here, I wasn’t really part of it,” Wiseman says. “I’m still not really part of it.”
That, however, is beginning to change. Wiseman has painted a giant mural in the Rosemary District and completed other public works around town and has been an artist-in-residence several times at the Art Ovation Hotel. A number of people have also found his work on social media, where he showcases his in-home studio paintings. He’s connected with patrons, art buyers and fans from around the world on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
Calligraffiti is a worldwide phenomenon that began appearing in streets and has increasingly migrated into galleries around the planet. It’s a visual language that has roots in ancient and contemporary alphabet forms that range from Arabic to Latino fonts found on the walls of East Los Angeles.
Wiseman was born in Sarasota and calls himself an outdoorsy kid who
was also drawn to art at a young age. “I wanted to be on my bike and skate,” he
says. “I remember drawing [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles. I went to a private art class on Casey Key. I drew frogs but didn’t like sitting there. I wanted to get up and go outside. I wanted to get hurt, break bones and get dirty. But I was always writing alphabets.”
Later, Wiseman enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served eight years and did three overseas tours in places like Afghanistan, where he was exposed to street and business signs written in Arabic and classical languages like Sanskrit. “I saw a lot of writing,” he says. “I couldn’t read any of it. It just looked really nice. It was very
elegant and pretty in this war-torn place. It showed me you could make art out of anything. It looked like brushstrokes, and because I couldn’t read it, it was abstract art for me.”
A constant doodler, Wiseman began to incorporate some of these movements and forms, almost unconsciously, into his scribbles. At some point, designs reminiscent of Farsi began to dance into his sketchpad, as well.
“People tell me I write words,” Wiseman says. “They’ll pick out letters [in my paintings] and tell me what it says, which is cool, though I don’t mean to do it. It’s channeled from somewhere.”
After serving in the military, Wiseman experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and used drugs and alcohol to cope, not uncommon among members of the military struggling to adjust to post-service life. He found a way out through art therapy. “I had to do some ‘de-conditioning’ classes,” Wiseman says. “That might not be the formal word for the class, but it’s the best word. Art therapy was one of those classes.”
During and after art therapy sessions, Wiseman would spend time in front of the canvas, just staring and thinking about what mark to make. “I cannot sit and paint,” he says. “I like to flow, use my body—like a dance with the wall.”
This type of active painting—or action painting, like the work of Jackson Pollack and the New York School he was associated with—led Wiseman into larger-scale work. Sitting in front of the canvas or walls for hours on end, he began to experiment with what he calls “portals” or radials. He started to draw circles upon circles and filled in the in-between spaces with the character forms he was sketching in his notebooks.
The nickname Fndmntls came from Wiseman’s emphasis on mastering the basics of art. “The style of art I do is essentially the brushstroke, put down nicely,” he says. “A lot of painting is that, but my work is based off the single stroke—motions, really. Whether it’s a portrait or a landscape, it all starts with a single stroke.”
Now years into recovery, Wiseman works at a sign shop, drawing and painting letters. He also has a 4-year-old daughter, Rosie, who wants to paint like her father, and a partner Amanda, who is a baker. “We play the two-ships-passing-in-the-night game,” he says about their schedule. In order to raise their daughter, pay rent, eat and follow their dreams, they tag-team the week to maximize the hours in a day.
After thousands of hours wielding a paint brush, it’s unfathomable for Wiseman to consider another path. “I can’t think of anything else I would have done after I decided to get my life back on track,” he says. “I have to pay bills and have time for other things, like my family, thankfully, but if I could sit around and think about painting and paint all day, I would do that.”
For more info on Wiseman and his work, visit his website, fndmntlsdesign.com, or follow him on Instagram @__fndmntls