Marianne Barcellona is a painter and photographer. Her art practice also includes drawing and collage. Because I am very interested in the kinds of relationships artists have with their practice, I asked Marianne to talk about her relationship to landscape and landscape collage. You will see from the images below that her landscapes are stark, powerful and also haunting. Not one person is inside – except Marianne.
For years Barcellona was an editorial photographer and a Contributing Photographer to People Magazine. She shot portraits and produced stories for major publications, but her own photography never included people. She said it took her a long time to realize that she was always waiting for people to exit the frame.
She says landscape is about being in that empty frame, adding she often feels most like her true self when she’s all alone in a landscape, especially a landscape that has been pared down to “essentials.”
I thought I knew Marianne Barcellona – now I’ve learned she has been working in collage for years. I am pleased you can see her landscape collages and read her interview here.
The image above is titled Millington I. It’s ink, acrylic matte medium, paper, 25 ¾ x 40 ¼ inches (2016).
NN: Where were you when you did this work? What is this view?
MB: This collage was done in the studio from an image in my head. I had briefly passed this place of decimated landscape in a car and been absolutely haunted by what I saw. I created this piece as best I could as a memory until I could go back later with a car to really look and take pictures. When I did finally go back to photograph, it was a shock to find that the actual land, still a decimation, was extremely different from what I had “remembered.” Millington I was really a visceral emotional construction of my imagination sparked by that brief original glimpse from the car window.
My relationship with landscape is one of existential awe, of fear and trembling, and it influences most of the work I do, including photos, drawings, gouaches, oil paintings and collages.
The image (above) is titled What’s Missing. It’s ink, acrylic and paper collage, 22 x 30 inches (2019).
Marianne Barcellona sent me a printed flyer with this image to promote an upcoming exhibition at the First Street Gallery in Chelsea, NY. I wanted to know if this work was new and critical to her practice. This work is new. FYI: The exhibition is postponed (as all public events, museums and galleries are closed/postponed due to the covid 19 pandemic).
NN: Did you create this work at a residency?
MB: I was an artist in residence at I-Park in Connecticut and was given a huge open new studio that had floor to ceiling windows and a huge tall side door that could be kept open. I was able to work directly even when it was raining outside. I became attached to a strange anthropomorphic rock in the middle of the field between the studios that had a monk-like presence. I started this collage but struggled for several days, trying to get that rock right. One day I went to lunch and came back and the rock was gone!!! It turned out the caretaker had been asked to clear the field. I had to beg and plead for him to bring it back. And, when it was back, I just couldn’t make it fit in to the collage. It turned into the little strange shape in the foreground. That shape is representative of the rock, but (I now realize) may actually be a stand-in for me with my spiky hair, looking at the empty field and wondering what had happened to the monk.
The image above is titled Whiteout. It’s oil on paper, 17 x 14 inches (2010).
NN: What influenced you to become an artist?
MB: I say I got a “call.” As I child, in Dallas, TX, I enjoyed playing with crayons but never thought of it as a serious activity, and never had any real art training in my high school. I intended to major in physics when I attended Oberlin College (OH), but one day, while cutting across campus, I walked through the art building to get to the library, and saw a “fauvist” self portrait a student had left on an easel. It stopped me in my tracks, and I thought how could it look like anyone with all those colors? I was struck dumb! It was as though God shot an arrow into my heart, and suddenly, I knew painting was what I wanted to do. I changed my major to Studio Art and was in heaven! I came to New York right after college and enrolled at The New York Studio School (NYSS) for a year, but was self-critical and thought my paintings looked derivative. No one at NYSS helped me understand that you work through the period where your work looks like someone else’s until you get to your own voice.
I quit school, and took up photography. For years I had a wonderful career as a freelance editorial photographer. I shot for major magazines and traveled the globe. But, in the 1990s, I set aside my photography career and went back to school (NYSS) fulltime to earn a Certificate in Painting. Since graduation in 1999, my major focus has been my painting, and more recently also collage.
The image above is titled Planet Where Nothing Changes. It’s ink, acrylic matte medium, paper, 26 x 40 inches (2017)
NN: Why is this work so dark?
MB: I think my art has acquired a dark streak since the 2016 presidential elections, and all the climate and displacement disasters we’ve been experiencing. This collage simply turned dark on me. As it developed it seemed to represent a planet where something has happened, where everything has died, and nothing moves or grows. I have a feeling of gratitude that I’m only looking at this planet, and at this warning that we must change our ways…
NN: You’ve added collage to your painting practice. Please discuss what you think is exciting about collage.
MB: What’s exciting about collage is I can be FREE, work fast, make changes, be surprised at the way things both fit together and create disjunctures that force the brain to bridge the disconnections. I use paper shards as paint and I don’t need to wait for oil paint to dry, I can keep moving and changing and editing and I’m always surprised at the way things add up. The collage element, however, came from a need to edit my drawings in ink and add papers. It’s only recently that I’m working directly with shards as a first step. Collage is very energizing and exciting.
The image above is titled Lost and Found-November. Media is ink, graphite, gouache, and polymer matte medium, 12 x 9 inches (2009).
MB: The Lost & Found images were my first collage works. I was feeling blocked and frustrated. I went to the Strand bookstore in Manhattan and found a book by Gerhard Richter, titled Wald. It included hundreds of photos of gnarled trees, broken limbs, woody detritus, overgrown vines – all pictures of wintery impassability with no path through – obstacles everywhere. I bought the book and decided to use some of the photos as a way to find a way through my own blocked creativity. I tried to pretend I was lost in the woods and used my pen point as feet to walk, stumble, climb, jump, get lost and be forced to start over, etc. I made mistakes and since ink is impossible to really erase, I wore holes in the paper trying to scrape it, and had to patch the paper, first on the back, and later on the front, redrawing my way through the woods on the clean patch to meet up with marks I’d made on a previous attempt through the tangle. One time I hated the new patch and tore it off, and realized it left a residue of torn paper that couldn’t be removed but created a new set of textures and marks. So eventually I made use of those textures, the torn shards I had removed, and new scraps.
The image above is titled Lost and Found-Winter Breath, ink on paper, 9 ½ x 7 ½ inches (2014).
MB: I save every little piece that I tear while I’m working because it may be useful on the same work later, or even on a different work. Lately I’ve been preparing large sheets of random tones and textures and values and drips, scrapes, scratches, colors so that if I get stuck I can just go to these sheets, tear off a piece, and stick it onto a drawing to either give a specific texture and shape or to disrupt what is there in order to see it freshly. I’ve accrued boxes of shards and folders of torn papers that I can now use as a resource library. All the works entitled ”Lost & Found” are based on the Gerhard Richter photographs and in parentheses they have a GR page number referring to the photo I was looking at. Now I tend to use my own photos, but every once in awhile I like to go to that book, to create an interpretation of a situation that I never experienced in person. It makes me feel as though I’ve been “dropped” into a strange forest and must make myself familiar with it. I greatly admire Richter’s work and am indebted to his photographs for getting me out of a stuck period and providing a vehicle for forward movement and finding a path out of my own morass.
The image above is titled I-Park VII. It’s ink, acrylic matter medium, paper, 25 ¾ x 40 ¼ inches (2016).
MB: My first collages were “corrections” and edits of simple walnut or black sumi ink drawings, and were never conceived of as color works. But gradually I began to experiment with colored inks. The above collage was originally a wintery landscape, with only a few subtle colors. I like that subtlety and felt no need to introduce bright colors, but, when I brought the collage back to my LIC studio and continued to work on it, with spring breezes wafting through the window, this work turned green.
The image above is titled Landmannalaugar. This work was inspired by a residency in Iceland. Media is ink, acrylic and paper collage, 11 ¾ x 16 ½ inches (2019).
The image above is titled Landmannalauger 5. It’s oil on canvas, 48 x 60 inches (2015).
MB: I’ve been to Iceland 3 times: first at the Baer Art Center in 2009, second at an off season residency when I traveled and spent 10 days on site in 2014, and again in 2019 for 5 weeks that included giving a 4-day workshop in ink/collage at Baer Art Center. I shot about 3,000 photos the first visit, 5,000 the second and 8,000 (YIKES!) the third. Every photo inspires me, not just to provide structural starting points for a work but also to remind me of what it felt like to stand in the middle of a lava field or on top of a cliff. My relationship with the landscape expands my sense of existential awe, and influences the work I do, including photos, drawings, gouaches, oil paintings and collage.
The image above shows Barcellona at I-Park, facing her easel.
The image above is titled Deluge. It’s ink, acrylic and paper collage, 32 x 42 inches (2019).
NN: What is the meaning of the title Deluge?
MB: Deluge is about an overwhelming and unexpected flood that you can’t control – a metaphor for life. With this collage, I realized I was inside (not outside) and was looking out the window and in no actual danger.
I live in New York City, and so far I’ve escaped any direct personal experience of the disasters I see on television, but know friends who have been hit. How can I be this lucky to have a dry safe abode, a roof, food, soap, shower, clean clothes? I wasn’t consciously thinking this when I made the work in2019. I was just putting paper down and the image seemed to form itself over the period of a week. But this is what the collage says to me now.
It seems even more a metaphor for life now during this corona virus pandemic. I’ve still managed to escape direct personal experience of this disaster. I’m in my apartment on the upper West Side in Manhattan, watching it through the “window” of the TV, even though it’s happening a few blocks away in Central Park. It’s both close and intense, and remote and VERY hard to comprehend.
TEACHING AND FELLOWSHIPS
Barcellona has been invited for seven consecutive years to be a Visiting Artist for Harvard’s Freshmen Arts Program, and has given 8 master classes on drawing with dip pens and inks. She keeps tweaking the class, encouraging students to experiment with mark making, also using twigs, stones, leaves and other unlikely implements. Recent classes included editing and “correcting” the ink drawings by adding paper scraps and collage elements. She encourages students to always carry a pen and bottle of ink in their backpacks so that, when they take a break during the day, instead of checking email they can maintain a visual journal with images from their day.
In 2019 she led a professional workshop on landscape-based Ink Drawing and Collage at the Baer Art Center in Iceland.
She has been the recipient of 13 Fellowships at internationally renowned artist residencies and been included in over 70 exhibitions.
There are two portals at Marianne Barcellona’s website: one for art and one for photography. Enter the visual arts portal HERE and you’ll see a funny photocollage titled Self Portrait with Childhood Friends (Barcellona is wearing a space suite, perched in a lunar landscape, holding hands with a doll, a stuffed dinosaur, and a teddy bear in a pink dress).
The link to the first heading is NEWS – a must see – you’ll find information about the residencies the artist has attended, the Master Classes at Harvard, and the two-person exhibition in NYC (rescheduled – we hope soon – when the corona virus is under control and life returns to normal).
Visit Barcellona’s online galleries. See all the new collages at RECENT WORK. See paintings and drawings done at residencies at ICELAND . See small paintings at CITYSCAPES. See a selection of her photos that inspired landscapes at PHOTOGRAPHIC SOURCES. Join her mailing list HERE.