Marischa Slusarski

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By Dan Peters

Marischa Slusarski is an interdisciplinary-artist whose individual and collaborative projects have evolved in form and medium over the years, resulting in a body of work that challenges traditional boundaries. She has pursued a successful gallery career exhibiting paintings, sculpture, photography and digital media in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Her work is represented in museums and institutions as well as in many private and public collections. She has been written about in numerous print and online publications and her artworks have been featured in film, television, theater and rock concert set design.

Slusarski has worked as a performer, teacher, body painter, toy designer and curator. She has been a production designer for film, an art director for dance performances, and an art therapy counselor for at-risk youth with mental health issues. Earlier in her career, she founded “Underbelly Gallery” in London’s Shoreditch gallery district, presenting exhibitions, installations, live performances, and video and film festivals. In 2009, she started the painting program for Children Mending Hearts, an art exchange organization between homeless children in the U.S. and the Congo. In 2010, she was nominated as one of 300 artists nationwide for the USA Artists Fellowship Grant. In 2014, she was awarded an artist-in-residence program at the prestigious New Space Arts Foundation in Hue, Vietnam. And in October of 2016, she collaborated with and studied at the Volunteer Artist’s Studio of Thimphu in Bhutan which is affiliated with the New Museum in New York City.

Also recently,
Slusarski and collaborator Britt Ehringer, founded “Namaak Collective,” an internationally renowned group of artists who seek to expose the revolutionary new ways we perceive and access art in the digital age. Recent collaborations have included shows at C-Space Gallery in Beijing, China, LAUNCH Gallery in Los Angeles, and New Space Foundation in Hue, Vietnam. Also recently, Slusarski curated “Electric Koolaid Banana,” a hybrid celebration of the revisitation of the psychotropic and psychedelic, featuring numerous prestigious artists at Merchant Gallery in Santa Monica.  In 2020, during lock-down, she taught the Visual Arts Lab for “The Woolfer Community (now a part of Revel)” an app and a Facebook annex, which included remote live model figure drawing and other activities.

Where are you from and how does that affect your work?

I was born in Denver, Colorado in a middle class suburb. I would tell people I lived in a street that ended in a cul-de-sac. That was a childhood concoction. In French, cul-de-sac literally means in the bottom of the bag. Between the neighborhood and the sadistic ruler-wielding nuns at my Catholic grade school, escape was all I dreamed about. That and being an artist. Drawing, painting and sculpting, creating materials for carnivals, designing barbie doll environments, writing and staging theatrical plays were some of the creative ways I tried to sidestep the confines and dreariness of my American mid-western lifestyle.

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

I moved to London in the year 2000, in spitting distance of Tracey Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, and George and George. I had artist friends who attended Damien Hirst’s opening at an underground warehouse, timed so that moths and butterflies flew out of cocoons as well-heeled attendees arrived. Those YBAs seriously influenced my work at that time.  I have many other broad-ranging influences, from old master still-life painting to Ai Wei Wei who I met and hung out with in Murano last year. I am a huge fan of 14th century Flemish painters and can spend hours looking at Greek Orthodox religious paintings. I’m also a big fan of black female representational portrait painters like Amy Sherald and Lezley Sarr as well as other black artists like Kara Walker and Genevieve Gaignard.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’ve always painted and sketched, but decided on a journalism degree, passing out of college composition and spending hours writing poetry and humming through assignments in creative writing. I am fascinated by Asian philosophy, Taoist art and Himalayan Buddhism reincarnation wheels. I’ve invented my own mythological creatures, half animal, half human amalgamations based on the writings of the Bhagavad Gita and other Hindu deities, both gods and monsters. Greek and Egyptian legendary creatures (satyrs, centaurs and griffins), ancient animal sculptures found in archeological museums, and Irish folk beings (banshees and kelpies)… all have sauntered or crept their way into my work

What motivates you
to create?

During “Covid Proper,” I taught a virtual Visual Arts Lab and was so inspired by the variety of artists, jewelry designers, illustrators, weavers and collage artists, that I decided to play with materials and see what abstraction might do to lift my spirits. I began to push paint out of strange contraptions, using jerky and pepperoni pumping guns, sausage fillers and pastry decorating piping tips. And even though they were abstract, the paintings had their roots in literature and poetry. They started to look like underwater sea creatures, mollusks, tentacled cephalopods, serpentine emissions and scampering centipedes. I chose to name the series “Across the Floors of Silent Seas,” from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” By prompting the viewer to imagine what scuttles across the deep sea floors, between the surreptitious cracks and mystic crevices, I was compelled to create long, lilting poetic titles, unfurling like deep sea ribbon snakes. T.S. Eliot led to Dylan Thomas and then Coleridge and Wordsworth. One piece is called, “Oh Heedless Octopus, Purling, Hissing, Shapeshift God,” another, “Liberate the Oyster Beds, Luminesce the Night,” and, “Song Beneath the Sea Wings, Siren Nymphs Prevail.”

The abstract paintings were exhibited in a solo show at Rio Hondo College in Los Angeles in October through November 2021. More recently, “Swim Through My Ribcage,” at D2ArtLA, this July and August also featured underwater elements.

Art and writing about art or art about writing are symbiotic practices. From devouring the fantastical stories of Tolkien to flee the boredom of the “cul-de-sac,” to images of ancient Bhutanese gurus riding tigers, to macabre Victorian poetry… all have influenced my visual art, helping it grow into more than a sum of its parts.

Are there other new art skills you are interested in?

I’ve been exploring software which merges poetry and text into AI generated images which can be digitally incorporated into organic subject matter. In essence, my abstract paintings can, for example, incorporate 20% of an Emily Dickinson poem, and 10% Mayan calendar math. However, AI may be a slippery slope for artists, and is already getting a bad reputation.  I also want to construct a lot more bizarre free-standing sculptures to compliment my paintings and photos.

How do you define success as an artist?

Success for an artist is subjective and contingent on the artist’s goals. It’s wonderful to be well-regarded and to sell a lot of work, but art is so much more than that. To me success is doing the time, showing up every day, making mistakes. Constant agony is part of making art, it’s how you resolve the uncertainty and pain that matters. Perfectionism is failure; you have to make a lot of work and sometimes if you are lucky, you will fly to the highest point. That is what success is to me, sweat and determination.

Please, describe how art is important to society?

Art is important to society because even though each viewer projects their own subjectivity onto the work of art, the process of that experience creates important emotional outcomes on the range of the spectrum. One may feel intellectually stimulated or learn things previously unknown from a cultural standpoint. Some viewers will feel touched, almost in a spiritual way, others will experience discomfort and pain. I have witnessed tears, racial panic and physiological symptoms; I have seen people change rigid and opinionated viewpoints. Art becomes part of our being and our collective memory. Hopefully it unites people and communities. Even if it is a short moment of deja-vu, I think it gives people a formula for alchemy, for change and ultimately growth in their individual lives. 

Does art help you in other areas of your life?

I work in many different directions and I think things have changed a lot since the advent of the internet. Artists can be inter-disciplinary and make choices outside of traditional boundaries of art. Art helps me in other ways in my life because it is a touchstone, a driver, a lover. I can share it with others, let it be seen, curate, develop residencies, create pop-ups, start my own gallery, define my community. My community in LA is robust and fertile. It shares and pays forward. My art friends are my best friends. If all else fails, you have your art.

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