Living with Light and Shadow:
Lawyer and Artist Mark Sotak ’90
Growing up in Rocky River, Ohio, Mark Sotak ’90 loved being outdoors, especially on trips to Florida. These trips south inspired Mark to attend the University of Tampa and major in Marine Biology as an undergraduate. However, early into his freshman year, Mark suffered a horrible car crash which paralyzed him, leaving him with only limited use of his upper arms. Overwhelmed by trying to take care of himself, he returned to Cleveland to be close to his family.
Mark eventually enrolled at Kent State University, deciding to major in English and Political Science. After graduation, he went on to the Moritz College of Law. Mark still believes that, “There is no better whetstone than law school for sharpening reason, objectivity, and common sensibility.” He fondly remembers his OSU classmates who helped him through his last semester, despite a bad blood infection that hospitalized him for the first three weeks of classes.
Mark Sotak '90
Upon graduation, Mark joined a sole practitioner in consumer bankruptcy and personal injury. His first case led to a settlement and fee that allowed him to purchase the practice from his boss and co-found a marketing promotions company in Westerville, Ohio. However, life threw Mark another curve ball.
A difficult divorce and resulting financial problems left Mark without his law practice and promotions company. He moved to Florida “to escape the brutal effects winter was having on [his] independence.” However, he notes, ”There was a lot of skepticism among employers with whom I interviewed: Would an investment in me be worthwhile?”
Feeling down on his luck, Mark visited his housing development’s clubhouse, where he saw an elderly woman painting. He was fascinated and mumbled, ”I wish I could paint.” The woman heard him and got excited, “‘Anyone can paint,’ she told me.” Mark was skeptical, not only because of his paralysis, but also because, even prior to his accident, he “couldn’t draw a straight line.”
The next day the woman came to Mark with paint, an easel and canvas. Mark remembers, “She stuck a paintbrush in my mouth and said ‘Paint.’” Inspired by a phrase from Robinson Crusoe, “we never see the true State of our condition, till it is illustrated to us by its contraries; nor do we know how to value what we enjoy, but by the want of it,” Mark painted an island. He remembers being excited about the painting. He says, “All evening I was rather proud of my island and looked forward to getting back to it the next day.” He had a found a new career.
At work in his studio
To date, Mark has created over 40 paintings, and exhibited his work in local galleries. He is currently trying to establish a non-profit gallery to exhibit the art of people with severe life challenges. Even with this new career, Mark hasn’t fully left the legal profession. He still helps “neighbors, friends and people from my church fill out bankruptcy, dissolution or small claims paperwork.” Mark also consults with the American Alliance for People with Disabilities. Still, Mark doesn’t miss his prior law practice, namely, “14-hour days, statutes of limitations, and collecting fees.”
Even after all he has been through, Mark manages to retain his sense of humor. Asked how his current career differs from his original path, he notes wryly, “There are no artist jokes.”
Mark can be reached at Mark_Sotak@yahoo.com or you can visit his website.