Naughty by Nature with MARISSA TEXTOR

Marissa Textor’s graphite drawings are hyperrealistic and vivid.  With her pencil, Textor bends and molds shades of grey and white seamlessly, creating images so true to life that they appear to be photographic.

Her subjects vary, but she often creates images of pre- and post-destruction, conjuring an extreme sense of foreboding or impending devastation.  Somehow this momentum she captures lingers with you as a viewer.  After seeing “Alone out Here” in NAP 97, I am still somewhat-subconsciously haunted and chilled by the quiet and predatory sharks she depicts. - Ellen C. Caldwell, LA Contributor

Marissa Textor | Alone Out Here, graphite on paper, 28.5" x 43"

Ellen Caldwell: Have you always worked with graphite on paper, or did photography come first?

Marissa Textor: Drawing came first.  It has always directed my way of seeing and forming a visual aesthetic.  I became much more serious about taking my own photos in college when I had access to amazing mentors like Cathy Opie and Jim Welling and camera equipment and darkrooms.  I used to take a medium format Hassie [camera] out with me on ski trips with my dad and lug it with a tripod down the mountain.  If I saw something I liked, I would stop set up, shoot a couple photos, then pack everything back up, and keep skiing.  Ultimately, photography has always gone hand in hand with drawing for me and the type of imagery I'm making.  I was never interested in drawing from my imagination.  I don't really have that great of an imagination and I think real life is more interesting.

Marissa Textor | Trouble in Paradise, graphite on paper, 18" x 16.5"

EC: What inspires your drawings such as "Trouble in Paradise" and "Alone Out Here"?  The former looks eerily familiar to me, yet I can't tell if it is reminiscent of Southern California fires or some sort of dust explosion…  And the latter ("Alone Out Here") is just creepy.  It reminds me of that 2003 movie "Open Water" where the husband-wife scuba divers get stranded in shark-infested waters… Please discuss these a bit -- how did you choose these moments?  

MT: Yeah, that's the feeling that I was going for with "Alone Out Here."  I haven't seen that movie but definitely thought about it while making this.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what that experience would be like and who, if anyone, would see it.  I pictured this moment playing out in the middle of the ocean completely isolated.  There is an intense comfort that I feel when I'm submerged in water, which I've heard relates back to being in the womb yet the idea of open ocean is somewhat terrifying.  It's not the ocean itself, though it's the unknown, not knowing what is below you and not being able to see it.  I'm interested in images that are in a state of transition, and that have this sense of ambiguity.  I like not knowing the whole story and what happens next.

Marissa Textor | Wet Sun, graphite on paper,  10" x 8"

EC: I love that idea of the “state of transition.”  In NAP, you say you "focus on timeless authenticity of natural forms and avoid man-made or industrial aspects that lock the landscape into a specific time period."  I think this is a great sentiment and motivation.  Could you discuss this a bit more? 

MT: These scenes could have played out a couple hundred years ago or ten years from now.  I want the images to feel relatable and have a sense of familiarity to them.  Having this structure also gives me some guidelines and creates neutral territory that I can impose my own thoughts and concerns onto.  The work does not have much of a social or political bent to it; for me, they function on a much more personal and intimate scale.

Marissa Textor | Useless Struggle, graphite on paper, 46" x 35.75"

EC: Is this the kind of art that inspires you now?  

MT: Most of my inspirational cues come from photography and creating that "decisive moment."  Whether they are simple snapshots or beautifully constructed scenes a la Joel Sternfeld, it's about capturing that critical moment in time.  Aside from that, there are a lot of artists currently using drawing as a medium that are making a huge impact.  Ryan Travis Christian, Eric Yahnker, Eric Beltz, Aurel Schmidt, and Jonathan Zawada are some that stand out for me.  Eric Yahnker's work was the first time I had seen colored pencil drawings and taken them seriously.  The concept of drawing is often seen as a preliminary step towards something else so it is always nice when it's celebrated in it's own right.

Marissa Textor, Bruce, graphite on paper, 11" x 14"

EC: Agreed! And your drawings definitely hold their own. Can you describe your process a bit?

MT: I am constantly trying to fill my head with as much visual stimulation as possible and over time I notice certain patterns that begin to form, certain themes that I am drawn too.  Then it becomes a matter of finding the right references.  Sometimes an image will jump out at me and other times the elements are more pieced together.  I adjust the lighting, composition and scale and map everything out so that I pretty much know exactly how it will look before I begin.  The process of drawing it out becomes a lot like completing a puzzle, filling in shapes to create the final result.

Marissa Textor, Smoking Ledge, graphite on paper20" x 14"

EC: What themes and subjects are you exploring for your upcoming show at Cooper Cole?  Do they depart or take off from previous works?

MT: Most of the subject matter in my next show is consistent with the rest of my work with a few departures.  Explosions, unusually shaped foliage, animals, rocks, and water are common in the work.  I am finishing a few pieces right now that look a bit more abstract through layering, adjusting, and distorting images, which is a change for me.  Any manipulation was usually hidden before but now there is some subtle evidence of it.


Marissa Textor’s show “It Ain’t Conceptual” opens at the Cooper Cole gallery in Toronto, April 27th and runs through May 20th.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.


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