As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Marci Washington. See the full studio visit and interview with Marci and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
We visited Marci in her backyard studio in Berkeley. It sits just behind her home, a kind of garage/storage space that got converted into a cottage. It’s comfortable and functional, with an open feel to it. Marci is full of gusto— she talks with her hands, takes on all kinds of facial expressions, and she’s funny as hell. She enthusiastically moved through our conversations, at turns awkward and eloquent, but always unguarded and real. We talked about a lot of things, but her affinity for the landscape of the English moorlands, particularly within the context of Romantic Literature, really struck me. Those rolling, uncultivated hills covered in low-growing grass, shrouded under heavy fog and moody skies have wholly captured Marci’s imagination. And it makes sense that they have— much of what interests Marci is mirrored in that rugged, desolate scenery. In various Romantic and Gothic works of literature, the moorlands often represent mystery, mysticism, liberation, turmoil, and passion; they frequently echo the psychological state of the characters, and reveal their greatest desires and fears. Marci’s current work references not just the physical landscape of the moors, but also speaks to themes found in a lot of this kind of literature, and the universal emotions that are evoked—all those feelings and ideas that run wild with mystery, awe, darkness, terror and beauty. I think Marci is after a particular kind of mood that toes the line between terrifying and thrilling, creating a response that’s simultaneously overwhelming and invigorating. All of this plays into her sensibilities as an artist, but also as a person: her love of Edward Gorey and his eerie illustrated books, her unflinching need to feel everything very deeply, her leanings towards the bizarre and unique, and her fondness for the not-entirely-explained. It’s pretty damn amazing that come November Marci will be showing work in England, not far from the wild and lonely moors that have taken up so much of her imagination.
When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
That’s always a really weird question. I just say painter, and then a lot of people ask if I paint houses, and then I tell them that I paint pictures, and then they want to know what kind, and I say big bloody gothic novel ones. And then they usually stop asking me questions, or start asking questions like if I make a living off my work or if I have a gallery— some people want to figure out if you’re a “real” painter, and that’s always a little uncomfortable ‘cause you suddenly have to prove yourself and it always makes me feel a little gross. I get it though, a lot of people don’t meet artists very often and they’re just curious, I just hate feeling unusual or set apart. And I’m always afraid people will think I’m stuck up or pretentious which really bums me out. When I was younger and told people that I wanted to be an artist they usually questioned the feasibility of it, and there are still a lot of choices I’ve made that some people can’t understand— like I’ve never had a credit card and I might never own a home. For some people that’s hard to imagine.
What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I work in watercolor and gouache on paper and I usually describe my work as illustrations for a book that has never been written. But really I steal bits of story from books, film, and fashion photography and then cobble it together into a different story— my own story that reflects the way I see the world around me; my experience of the present as well as its relationship to the past. My work is about the psychology of our time and place in history.
What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Having a designated space is really important. I work best in a small cluttered room with a place to nap surrounded by books and pictures. I need a space where I can fully immerse myself in the world I’m creating and let magic happen. When I was in school I started calling it “The Hermitage of My Mind”— like a sacred place where you can receive the messages that are being sent your direction and translate them in a deep and meaningful way. I had a really big studio in the city for a while with high ceilings and huge windows and it was a total disaster; it made me feel like a factory worker. Now my studio is a little shack in my backyard next to my garden and it’s much better.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m working on a show for the Leeds College of Art that I’m pretty excited about. Leeds is in Northern England not far from Haworth where the Brontes lived and wrote, and next to the Moors, which I’ve always dreamed of and wanted to see in person. Being invited to do a show in a place that you feel such a strong spiritual connection to is pretty amazing.
What do you want your work to do?
I want to communicate with others in a deep and meaningful nonverbal way. We are all sharing this time and place in history— my hope is that someone might look at my work and find that something emotionally clicks for them— that they might think to themselves, I know this feeling or I get this, this makes sense to me.
To read the full interview and see more of Marci Washington’s work go to www.inthemake.com.