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Chopping Block: Marie Larkin

Recently we were lucky enough to peer inside the mind of Marie Larkin, an Australian pop surrealist artist known for her beautifully strange paintings of girls in a most unexpected yet entrancing way. We chatted about her inspirations, the transition from embroidery to fine art and a few things inbetween. She was able to give us great insight into the mind of a professional artist and was also kind enough to offer some words of wisdom for young aspiring artists.

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POW: Your artwork is stunning and beautiful! Seeing the doll like faces placed in those dark settings was very unexpected and intriguing.  It makes me pause and ponder the what, where and why of each character in your piece.  Do you find  yourself going through the same process while creating them?  Is this something left to our imagination to create or is there a message enveloped in each piece for us to uncover ourselves in our own way?

Marie: Thank you very much for your kind words! My female characters give the images their narrative and a humanity.  I just can’t paint a work without one, it just feels like it’s missing something.  At times they have been innocent , shy and sweet but more often they are darker, bolder, and more recently, aloof and quite the cynics. When I paint each one I make a connection with her, with her mood and I try to imagine what she might be thinking or feeling. I guess there is usually an aspect for the viewer to uncover in the mood or narrative in the compositions.

POW: Have there always been strong female characters at the center of your works? Or is this something that developed over time? If so, was there another central theme/character that dominated your work at first?

Marie: When I was a little girl I drew big eyed girls, but I think that my world has been a very female one all my life and my construct of the world is probably  influenced by that. I went to a private girls school in Sydney, I never had any brothers or male cousins, my father was much older as a parent, and I spent eleven years of teaching at an all girls school from 2000 to 2011. I find the female so familiar, but I think women are so terribly complex and capable of feeling many things at once. It makes them interesting as subjects, even if they are stylized in form. They give me the opportunity to explore sexiness, innocence, capriciousness, sadness, longing.  I have used their attire in my latest series Paradisum Curiosum, in a kind of Steel Magnolias manner. Women can be so soft and sensitive but also have that steely hard grit underneath. So the organzas and velvets are juxtaposed against the tarnished metal of their armor.

DeathGhost Rider by Marie Larkin

POW: There’s no doubt that many fairy tales and popular stories influence your work. Which would you say is your favorite and why?

Marie: I think nursery rhymes interest me the most. Many have such dark meanings, like Ring a Roses, or Pretty Maids All in Row. I love the idea of farmers wives running amok with knives! In Jack and Jill, after Jack falls and tries to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper, Jill laughs at him for being ridiculous and cops a beating from her mother. Hence my ending in Jack and Jill where she takes her revenge. The nursery rhymes were great to work with because there was already that familiar narrative  but the opportunity to really ‘play’ and use irony and humour in reinterpreting them.

POW: What motivates you to begin a new project? Is there a routine that you follow in order to start painting?

Marie: I usually have lots of ideas floating around in my head for my next body of work. I tend to filter these as I work on a current series. I never really finish a series, I always have images I never get to do, but you just realize it’s time to move on to something new. With Paradisum Curiosum, my current series, I was walking in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and I was reminded how much I used to love walking through the gardens in Sydney on my way to the Art Gallery of NSW. The quiet beauty and mystery of the meandering gravel paths through foliage and manicured lawns. I thought what a wonderful setting for my females and as I walked I began to imagine the possibilities for them in this setting.

I follow the same artistic practice that many artists do in creating a body of work. It begins with research of visual references, and perhaps the work of other artists. Then drawing, which can be anything from ‘thinking out loud’ with a pencil, to finished sketches I’ll sell. Before I start painting I usually do a huge clean up in the studio and go through all my references, putting them into different groupings, I also prime my canvases about 6 times sanding in between.

Whispered-Autumn-EveningWispered Autumn Evening by Marie Larkin

POW: I read your art career began with embroidery, achieving many accolades and awards, but then moved into painting and sculpture.  Was there a specific event or moment that created the shift from embroidery to fine art painting and sculpting? Do you still embroider?

Marie: It did, and yes I actually achieved a great deal of success with it. I began the embroidery when my third child was born and I decided not to return to Visual Arts Teaching. Although time consuming it was small and easily manageable with young children. We only had a tiny house so I could put it away under the couch etc to be picked up again later. In the later 1990’s I had to return to work as the children were at an age when we just needed the extra income, so I had to leave full time art. I have always been the senior art teacher at the schools I taught and with that comes a great deal of responsibility so my professional art practice had to take second place. You need to put that energy and focus into what your students are creating. In 2009 I began to wind back my teaching to part time before resigning altogether so I could once again pursue my art. The time for embroidery had just passed. I had done everything I could with that medium. I don’t embroider anymore. It was so fine, 196 stitches to every square centimeter! I could never do that again. I also think the stories I told with that medium, which were intimate tales of our ordinary life were particularly suited to embroidery but not painting. When I took up my art again I started with painting/collage but my interest in the painting and my desire to achieve greater mastery over it took over.

First-Day-of-SpringThe First Day of Spring by Marie Larkin

POW: Do you remember your first painting that you sold?  Did it feel different from selling the embroidery pieces?

Marie: I think the first painting I sold was to a work colleague but she bought the work because she really liked it and I was pretty excited. Whereas I was always surprised if the embroideries sold because they were so personal, so intimate. People really identified with the images and themes of motherhood and family but the images were of us, so I never really expected them to sell. The painting I do now, I do make to sell. I have no trouble parting with it and indeed want to give others something they will love for their walls and treasure for years to come.

POW: It seems teaching art, which ever the genre or platform, workshops or formal classes, has been an important focus in your life.  From a teacher’s perspective, what advice can you give aspiring artists?

Marie: I spent thirty years on and off, teaching and it was the most rewarding thing. I loved every minute. To be involved in young people’s lives during their teenage years is such a privilege. It is particularly so with visual arts because it allows a closeness you don’t get with non creative subjects. I was very close to the girls I taught and they were so very, very kind to me. Many of my ex students still ask for advice and let me know how they are going. It’s very special. I used to tell students you don’t have to be gifted to do this subject, you just have to have a god almighty need to ‘play’ with stuff and have something you want to say! My advice is always work hard. Hard work, persistence and self discipline is needed.

The-Bee-CharmerThe Bee Charmer by Marie Larkin

POW: I see you have an upcoming exhibit at the Flower Pepper Gallery in Pasadena this December in celebration of their 3rd year anniversary.   Can you give us a sneak peak of what we can expect to see at the show or share the theme of your pieces?

Marie: Because I am still very much completing the work for the opening of Paradisum Curiosum, I am only just beginning to think about upcoming shows and commitments. I may do a piece following on my botanical setting or it might be a good opportunity to begin exploring my next theme which is going to be quite sad and nostalgic, I think. It’s about being left out or left behind, about not being included, aloneness and regret.

Thank you so much very much for this opportunity, I really appreciate it and thank you for your wonderful questions and reading about my art!

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Thank you Marie, we are glad to have you apart of the Prints on Wood gallery.

For more information on Marie Larkin, visit http://www.marielarkin.com.au/

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