Love these mysterious, atmospheric landscapes by Florida-based artist Logan Marconi, who has a show opening up on the 20th of July at the Dougherty Arts Center in Austin, TX! We chat about the sacredness of landscape, experience and truth, and breaking one's own rules in painting. More at the links below!
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Hi! Can you introduce yourself? Where are you from originally, and where are you based now?
My name is Logan Marconi, I'm a painter based in Gainesville, Florida. I've been here since 2010 but I'm originally from a small town in northern Indiana called Peru.
What has your art education been like, whether formally or informally?
My arts education has been mostly formal. I received my BFA from Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis and my MFA at the University of Florida. Outside of academia, there have been two experiences that helped shape my practice. The first was attending a week long studio seminar like program at the studio of Enrique Martinez Celaya in 2011. That was a profound experience due to the intensity of a week full of critiques, discussion, and writing. My time there further distilled a strong discipline of work and being self critical. The second experience was becoming the studio assistant for a local painter in Gainesville, named Arnold Mesches. Arnold, whose career spans over 50 years, made art until his early 90's and worked everyday. Just being around such an artist that possessed a deep knowledge of painting was truly a blessing for me. Between numerous conversations and observations, I learned a great deal about my craft as a painter and what it meant to be a successful artist.
What first interested you in making art, especially making it?
As a child drawing was something that constantly took up my time. It seemed normal to me to draw for hours on end, just being lost in my imagination. Very early on I had told my parents I wanted to be an artist, though I really had no idea what that meant. In high school I had a great teacher that pushed me to get a BFA. Only later in college did I realized the intimate link between making and meaning. Over the years it’s that quality of art that has kept me interested, the way in which art, specifically painting, allows me to make sense of the world and myself. I’m also broadly interested in how artistic practices connect to the values of a beliefs of the artist, which ultimately seems to account the resulting process and how the meaning of the work unfolds.
I'm interested in how your paintings focus on landscape, but with a mysterious twist, though not necessarily "dark." Part of this comes from your pairing of brilliant, saturated hues with neutrals and darker tones. Can you elaborate a bit on your subject matter?
My subject matter is rooted in an idea of landscape being a sacred place, particularly as this pertains to a sense of spirituality. I'm interested in the association of a spiritual presence to certain places, ideas of rituals to commune with such places, and the given significance to things like trees and bodies of water.
I find within certain landscapes a kind of resonance that feels more sacred, more silent, or more still.
My use of landscape imagery connects to the biblical use of garden imagery, particularly to Eden in Genesis. I'm interested in the fractured sense of existence that came from banishment from Eden and how that has to be reconciled. To me, the sacrality of rituals, specific locations, or even natural things seems to temporarily mend that fractured existence. Mircea Eliade, writing in The Sacred and Profane, spoke of the need for the religious individual to continuously seek out the sacred, either in ritual, specific locations or natural things, so that the individual may find their correct orientation to the world.
There are a few reasons my paintings are dark in terms of tone and value. First, I enjoy darker paintings, like James Whistler's Nocturne Series or the American Tonalist paintings by George Inness. Secondly, the darker aspects of the painting come from using glazing as part of my process. Glazing is using thin layers of transparent paint to build up dark areas so they are deep or luminous. Lastly, I connect with the sense of light and shadow described in the book In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. In the book Tanizaki discusses Japanese aesthetics, specifically how darkness is a beautiful and necessary component because it is far more subtle and resonate than harsh light. Due to the interest in creating drama with light and dark, the light play in certain spaces can feel more transcendent. While my paintings are formally dark, they are also about light and space. It's more about how light comes into the space of the painting and illuminates what is there. I use light as a metaphor for Spirit as well.
Your statement describes your interest in exploring ideas surrounding existence and uncertainty, both physically and spiritually. What draws you to those issues?
I've always been more interested in questions of existence and meaning, especially how I might have a sense of truth. Many times I feel like I’m missing something or just don’t understand. This sense of uncertainty comes from confronting the limits of my reason and faith. I find art to be the best way for me to confront my limits. It’s the way I make sense of the world and my sense of a felt reality behind the physical one I experience. My aim is to examine and hopefully clarify my beliefs.
What is your process like?
My practice can be characterized as a contemplative in nature. I don't normally known prior to beginning a work what the outcome will be, I only have a sense of the direction. I make small sketches, which are more visual notations, that often give me a direction in the beginning but the process typically involves numerous revisions or complete changes if the painting doesn't feel right. This comes from the gap between intention and realization, specifically how my own limitations to communicate often lead to something that does not suffice, nor does it bare the full gravity of feeling. I'm always looking for the painting to hold my attention for some time, it needs to be mysterious or feel silent if it's going to survive the process. Otherwise I will sacrifice the painting to make a better one. A close inspection of many of the surfaces reveals the evidence of changes. Working in this way keeps me at the edge of my comprehension.
Depending on size, I've made paintings that took an hour to paintings that have taken up to a year to make. If a painting happens too quickly or easily I'm often skeptical of it. In those cases, I'll set it aside to think about. I'm usually working on ten or more paintings at a time. By letting work sit I can better digest the development of each painting which allows me to see connections between works, revolve issues, and keep working when a painting is too wet. I have to factor in drying times between sessions since I work in oil.
Doing research before a body of work isn’t normally a part of my process. Ideas being investigated in a body of work lead to further investigations in new works. Writing and reading constantly about the work also helps guide what I do in the studio. In the past, when my subjects were spiritual sanctuaries, I did visual research where I would visit specific locations to spend time drawing and experiencing the site. Visiting was an effort to enter into a contemplative space, however, I know approach my studio as a contemplative space instead of going to such a space.
What is your studio or workspace like?
I try to keep my studio as clean and sparse as possible. Too many objects or things lying around causes distractions for me. Plus, maintaining a sparse and clean studio helps foster a level of intentionality towards my practice. I only keep what is necessary in my studio to aid the process.
Do you have any routines or rituals that help get you into the best mode to create?
I work best early morning until the afternoon. Keeping a consistent schedule helps me paint better. When I arrive I might begin by mixing paint, sweeping the floor, and looking at the previous day’s work. Music is essential as well. I have to have the right music and think a lot about what my paintings would sound like if they were music. So it's important to have the right kind of atmosphere and mood. For instance, I listen to a lot of Scandinavian bands that range from dark folk to metal. The music from this region generally feels solemn or personifies nature, particularly winter. Some of the more influential ones would be Tenhi and Kauan, or Wardruna. Just listening to this kind of music helps put me in right state.
What is the best advice you've ever received so far? Any that you're glad you chose to ignore?
There are a couple of things that come to mind about advice. Firstly, I can remember Arnold Mesches telling me to paint with greater feeling. Secondly, as a graduate student I remember a studio visit where I was having some difficulty and my professor, Julia Morrisroe, asked me what rules I was placing in front of my paintings that kept me from making the paintings I needed or wanted to make. Both of those moments proved highly beneficial for me when I find myself in a difficult situation in the studio. In essence, they were both telling me to "let go" so I could get to the real painting.
In regards to advice I chose to ignore, I would say filtering out the advice that didn't seem to line up with my vision for my practice. I'm pretty much a traditional studio painter, and by that I mean I rarely make work that is not a painting. Until recently, my practice hasn't taken me to a moment where making something other than a painting would be necessary. When it was suggested to me to make installations I ignored the advice because it had no relevance to my work. My feeling was the comment was directed at being more relevant or contemporary.
What do you need or value most as an artist?
What I need and value most is studio time, integrity and good painting. My paintings can take a lot of effort to make because of my process of painting and repainting, so I need a good amount of time to work and reflect on the work. Integrity has more to do with staying true to my vision as an artist but also finding integrity in other artist's work. I greatly appreciate when I feel an artist making themselves vulnerable in their work, as if they are reaching for something beyond themselves. I also value good painting when I see it. I love looking at paintings and trying to figure out how they were painted. This has helped me a great deal with my own work, particularly with my sense of color since that is probably the most difficult thing for me.
What do you feel is the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
For me, the most challenging part of pursuing art professionally is getting my work seen and getting some financial return. The biggest hurdle is living in Gainesville where there isn’t a highly developed art market or network to support artists. It’s been a great place to paint because I can focus, but taking my work to a larger audience proves to be difficult. However, it’s something I’m working on. It’s like running long distance, trying to sprint to the end isn’t the best practice, rather I trying to have a steady and solid pace to reach my goal.
What are you working on right now?
Currently I'm working on finishing some paintings for a show opening July 20th at the Dougherty Arts Center in Austin, Texas. The exhibition is called "The Sanguine Heart" and focuses on preserving faith even when feeling uncertain such matters. For instance, I've been working with images of palm fronds as these are symbolically understood as victory or the power of spirit over flesh. So many of the pieces utilize the palms strung up as if being preserved, sometimes the fronds hang over fire or tied to trees giving a ceremonious feel.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my work and a bit about my practice. Please keep doing the work you are doing, it's important to have advocates for artists.
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