Not all professional artists have known from early in life that they want to be artists, and their ideas, materials, and ways of working can change drastically over the course of their careers. This is frequently demonstrated in museum retrospectives on single artists, but is not always apparent from a visit to a contemporary artist’s studio. However, every year Art Ready artist mentor Marci MacGuffie makes a point of showing students the progression of her work, from high school to today, when they come to visit her small studio at 55 Washington St (right across from Smack Mellon).
This year, this took the form of a “timeline” wrapping around two walls of the studio, which included text labels and photos of artwork from each stage of Marci’s life. In high school, Marci pursued sports as well as art, and chose to apply to Cornell University rather than an art school, studying architectural history in addition to screen-printing and collage. She was grateful for the opportunity to make “different types of friends besides artists” in college. In graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), her focus turned to painting and installation. She explained, “It took me two years to be ready to apply to graduate school…I spent those years in Chicago teaching high school students and working in a print shop while building more of a portfolio.”
Now, Marci dedicates herself to her work full-time, responding affirmatively to a student who asked whether she spends time in her studio every day.
Perhaps it is this sustained focus on art-making as a career that has allowed Marci’s work to keep evolving, and as she described, reach a point where “the work itself is closer to how I feel about it in my head.” Vince Contarino, in the blog “Progress Report,” describes it as “investigative work that brings together emerging patterns from widely different sources, such as science, religion, and ancient texts in order to unlock a deeper understanding of our transient existence.” (http://progress-report.org/657041/Marci-MacGuffie-Studio-Visit). In college, Marci had established her interest in depicting relationships between humans and nature, and commenting on popular culture, in paintings; by graduate school her site-specific work had evolved into large-scale installations resembling aspects of nature themselves, transforming a gallery’s white walls.
At a certain point, Marci moved towards more interactive work: “I wanted to capture how people respond to my work, and have the work itself physically change over time.” This compelled her to start making installations out of ferromagnetic paint marks that visitors can move around a wall. Halfway through the Art Ready visit, Marci showed students samples of the stop-motion animation videos she creates to document these magnetic installations as they evolve from different audience interactions.
The meaning behind a lot of Marci’s work is not immediately apparent. One of the students reported after the visit, “at first my friends and I found it hard to follow the descriptions of the work. But then when we spent more time just looking at it, we all of a sudden got it!” There was certainly a lot to appreciate visually in Marci’s diagonal wood installation that stretches between two adjacent sides of an L-shaped partition in her studio, or her Geometry of Paper Dolls: Coincidence Calendar (2009) that resembles an ancient calendar with different symbols for months and days—students asked a many questions about this particular piece, immediately making their own associations with astrology and religion.
Much of the appeal of Marci’s work also seems to lie in its tactile nature; she showed students paper plates full of small paper triangles divided by color, which she usually makes from recycled junk mail, or from cutting up her old work. These paper triangles are layered into her collages whose textures almost resemble feathers of a bird, intertwined with repetitive pen marks recalling an animal’s fur. Students were curious to see a drawing of an animal’s hoof as well as real animal skulls and other props from nature lying around the studio, that inspire some of the work. We took close-up photographs of paintings whose brushstrokes chase each other in thick circles across the canvas.
Marci fielded questions such as how to handle criticism (not everyone interprets artwork the same way) and the advantages of being represented by a single gallery vs remaining independent, as she currently has done (as an independent artist, you must do all your own fundraising and promotion, but if you are represented by a large gallery, you could become a small fish in a big pond and hardly ever get your own work shown).
Marci also briefly discussed what she typically does with students as a mentor; rather than having students assist with her work, she helps them make their own projects and “find their own voice,” which she believes is most crucial for any young artist.
By the end of the visit, the Art Ready group had gotten the chance to fully take in Marci’s journey to find her own voice, through dialoguing with nature, patterns and “coincidences.” As a final coincidence, maybe, a huge rainbow appeared outside the window just as we were about to leave, reminding everyone of the power of natural phenomena to inspire us as artists.
Please visit Marci’s website at www.marcimacguffie.com and see the full “Progress Report” review and her studio at: http://progress-report.org/657041/Marci-MacGuffie-Studio-Visit