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The Magic Touch


Since 1989, diners at San Francisco’s famed Bix Restaurant have wondered about the large painting that hangs at the entrance, of a man in a tux and white gloves mooning over a lipstick-stained glass. “People have their own interpretations,” says Mark Stock, the Oakland-based artist who created the iconic image. “Basically, he’s the head butler in love with the woman of the house. He can’t have her, and that’s the tragedy of it.”
“Butler in Love” spurred Stock to produce an ongoing series of enormous paintings depicting figures grappling with love and loss. “I’m a painter, but I think like a filmmaker. My paintings have been called narrative paintings—there’s always a story behind them.”
    Despite his long hours in the studio, Stock would never be mistaken for a lonely, sensitive artist. Especially not once the sun goes down. Every Thursday night, Stock puts down his paintbrush, picks up his drumsticks and a deck of cards, and heads to Walnut Creek’s Prima Ristorante to exercise his other artistic pursuits: music and magic. Between his jazz trio’s sets, Stock works the room, pulling cards from thin air, and generally allowing patrons to experience the seemingly impossible. “I just love seeing the expression on people’s faces,” says Stock with a grin, “knowing what a jolt I’ve sent through their body.”
    Stock can thank his forlorn butler for the Prima gig. While at Bix, the artist honed his jazz drumming skills by playing with Donald “Tee” Carson, a pianist known for his work with Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. After seeing the painting, Carson invited Stock to sit in with his band. Carson told Stock, “You must have some soul; you painted that painting.”That one-night stand at Bix turned into a steady gig at Prima, and Stock became an artist-magician-musician.In this era of technology, Stock lives like a renaissance man: no pager, no cell phone—just lots of art. Each of his passions influences the others, as is obvious in his latest show, a new series of trompe l’oeil paintings. “Since I deal in magic,” says Stock, “the whole aspect of fooling the eye in art appeals to me. It’s an illusion—just like a magic trick is—to walk up to a piece of art and think that you can grab a card off it.”
    Stock’s new show of paintings, Illusions, appears at Modernism (685 Market St., San Francisco, 415-541-0461) through mid-August. You can hear the Mark Stock Jazz Trio at Prima Ristorante (1522 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, 925-935-7780) every Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m.  

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