09 April 2008


My favourite works from Marci Washington are obtuse glances that appear to be specimens from an Edwardian murder mystery showing the suspects, the crime scenes, and the objects involved. Though apt, that is still oversimplification and only scratches the surface of Marci's work which hints at much more in the dark spaces between.

Growing up in California, Marci Washington attended the California College of Arts & Craft where she received her BFA in 2002. She's currently pursuing her MFA and CCA while building her collection of work and exhibiting.

SIOUXFIRE: How would you say work has progressed since graduating from the California College for the Arts in 2002? And has anything surprised you in regard to your work in this time?
MARCI: I think that there are still some things from then in my work now, and I think I’m interested in making art for the same reasons that I was back then, but I hope that the paintings are technically better, as well as more developed in terms of the story I’m telling. When I was in school I wasn’t very interested in narrative, but now the story that connects all of the paintings is a really important part. The paintings are like hints toward the bigger story.

The really weird thing for me now is how I spent so much time trying to get away from these dark gothic kinds of tales just to end up totally immersed in them. I used to be worried that people would just think that I was some super melodramatic goth girl (which I totally was), but now I know that it would be kind of silly to discount something that has always had such a huge impact on me. So now I paint all the dark melodrama I want.

SIOUXFIRE: To me, your work has a hint of folk art and Erte with a hint of David Lynch thrown in; how would you describe your work as a whole?
MARCI: I think of my work as illustrations for a novel that doesn’t exist. I borrow tons from the romantic gothic novel and from old bookplate illustration. I’m also super influenced by film. My paintings are kind of between bookplates and film stills.

"I liked the teeth because they were a way to imply violence without showing a violent act."

SIOUXFIRE: One of your most intriguing pieces simply pictures falling teeth. Would you tell us a little about how this came about and what you were hoping to achieve? And what would you say are the differences between your portraits and works such as this?
MARCI: Paintings like this I think of as supplements to the figures and settings- revealing a little bit more about the narrative, or helping to set the mood. Giving clues to the bigger story. I liked the teeth because they were a way to imply violence without showing a violent act. They also have so many different symbolic meanings. Everyone has dreamt of losing their teeth at some point, and it’s usually a pretty horrible dream that seems to be an expression of social anxiety- losing your friends or family, etc. Violence and losing your connection to others? Perfect.

SIOUXFIRE: The visual simplicity of your paintings have come in for some criticism; would you explain your intention in keeping the image simple?
MARCI: I am interested in communicating very clearly. I love to make paintings that are very simple, but still have a lot of weight to them. I like to find moments in my narrative that reveal a lot about the story and the psychological space of the characters, and then narrow it down to the essentials of that scene. One critic called my paintings “deceptively simple”- I really love that. I hope that they seem simple, but that there is much more beneath the surface when you spend time with them.

SIOUXFIRE: You’ve also created some sculptural pieces such as the chandelier of faces and jewellery; how do you approach this kind of work? And some of the jewellery was “pirate jewellery”, would you explain a little about that?
MARCI: The chandelier of severed heads was specifically for a show, and it was probably the only sculptural thing that I’ve done, but I really liked it. I’m not sure how it’ll pop up again, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind.

The jewellery is really just for fun. I was working for a jewellery component manufacturer and working with a lot of jewellery designers, so I just started making things for myself. Then Kelly Lynn Jones really liked some of it and wanted to sell it on Little Paper Planes. So I make it for her and for Cinders in Brooklyn, but that’s about it.

It’s just a fun hobby that helps me afford to not work a real job too much. Sometimes it intersects with what I’m doing art wise, but usually it’s just it’s own thing. The pirate jewellery was really fun- lots of bone dice and sculls, pearls, and old coins. It turned out so cool, but way too expensive to really sell, so I just made it for friends. It might make it to Little Paper Planes sometime, but I’ve just been too busy to work out the kinks since I’m back in school.

SIOUXFIRE: You’ve cited fiction and history as important sources of inspiration. What is the last piece of fiction you read and what did you think about it? And what period of history intrigues you?
MARCI: I love the French Revolution and Edwardian England. I love turn of the century turbulence and the gross reality of people’s good intentions. I love how the fiction of these time periods reveals the anxieties and social conditions of the time. I also just love a good story- history and fiction are both full of really great stories with ulterior motives.

Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Bleak House are all really great stories, but also pretty pointed social commentary. Their ability to have a critical comment relies completely on their ability to draw you into the story with romance, mystery and drama. At the moment I have a bit of a crush on Nathaniel Hawthorne. I just finished the House of the Seven Gables- so good!

SIOUXFIRE: What films or music haunt you?
MARCI: My absolute favorite movie right now is a Korean film called A Tale of Two Sisters. It’s set in this big house in the country with really great wallpaper where all of these horrible things happen. It’s not like an American horror movie where the scary parts just flash really fast, they hold the scary parts for an excruciatingly long time- moving so slow, you think you can’t bear to watch anymore. Then something fast will happen and you think you’re going to jump right out of your skin. That movie totally got to me. The colors are so beautiful and the story so well crafted- that’s how I want to make paintings.

"I got to this really horrible place where I started to think that I had to know what they were about before I even painted them."

SIOUXFIRE: What is your favourite work by Elizabeth Peyton and why? And would you explain how you discovered her work and how it affected you?
MARCI: When I was in undergrad I was getting so much pressure to be able to talk about what my paintings meant. I got to this really horrible place where I started to think that I had to know what they were about before I even painted them. Suddenly I had no idea what to paint and I got really stuck and depressed.

When I saw Elizabeth Peyton’s paintings, suddenly I understood that you can just paint what you like for whatever reason you want to paint it and the content will come on it’s own. I was working at the school library at the time and super in love with all of these photos that I found in books there- photos from history books, magazines, old snapshots, etc. I just started to paint from all of these photos that I had been attracted to for whatever reason, and suddenly I understood why I had been attracted to them in the first place. I understood what they meant together as paintings, and I didn’t have to worry about planning it out, the content was there in the images I had selected and in the way they were interpreted by my hand. I don’t think I could pick a favorite, but the SFMOMA has one that I absolutely love to visit in person.

SIOUXFIRE: Is it important for you to create work that can be enjoyed by as many as possible? And what do you think of the split between so-called “high brow” and “low brow” art? In some circles it’s a no-go area to do album covers or t-shirts. What do you think of this and would you do an album cover for a musician you didn’t like?
MARCI: It is really really important to me to be able to communicate with as many people as possible. I’ve never been interested in making art that only people educated about art can understand. A lot of that work is really great and I like it, but I’ve never seen myself working that way. The paintings that I really like are ones that get you right in the gut and make you think about them because they affected you physically and mysteriously before intellectually. A good painting works on both of those levels.

"The weird grey area between illustration and fine art can be a really great place to work from..."

The “high brow” and “low brow” thing is tricky. I like art that is accessible, but I also think that it has to have sophisticated content to be worth looking at. Some of what people call “low brow” has some really sophisticated content being delivered, but some of it is just trendy visual one-liners that sell everyone else short. There is a world of difference between the two, but right now all of that gets grouped together.

The weird grey area between illustration and fine art can be a really great place to work from- you have a much wider audience. To me it’s all about drawing people into your content- romancing them into spending time with your work and discovering the content behind it. Album covers, t-shirts, and zines are all tools for the same purpose- to deliver “high-brow” content in the guise of pop culture. I’m really careful about the projects I choose- there needs to be some similarities in what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve done two album covers- one for The Rosebuds, and one for A New Spelling of My Name. With both of them, we had conceptual similarities that made the project a good fit.

SIOUXFIRE: You mentioned in an earlier interview that you were interested in making a film. Is this still something that you want to do and has this project moved forward at all? And would you ever consider animating your works?
MARCI: The film thing is a collaboration with my sister and hopefully, we can finally start on it this summer. Film and video takes so much planning! I just haven’t had time with all of the school stuff going on. I did a photo project that was super fun and kind of pointed to how the video thing might start to work out. I’m not so interested in animation- but real people sound like tons of fun.

SIOUXFIRE: What are you aspirations for the future? Ideally, where would you like to be in 10 years time?
MARCI: All I want is to have the time and money and space to be fully immersed in my projects. So yeah, I hope that I don’t have to go back to working a real job too much.

Thank you, Marci.

Marci Washington
Marci Washington interview (Fecal Face)
Little Paper Planes

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