Mariana Russell: The Reluctant Artist

Mariana Russell is an artist based in Wisconsin. We grew up around the same area and always teetered on the edges of each other’s circles — never quite crossing over into each other’s space. From a distance, I knew of her as a liaison of the arts, ushering and exposing fellow artists in the rural area we lived in. I have admired her work since I knew of it. Recently, the sticky web of the Internet reminded me of her prolific brilliance, and I reached out to get closer with current Mariana.  

Do you feel a responsibility within the identification of an artist?

Generally, no. I try to free myself of the things that have the potential to prevent me from making. Feeling that responsibility could bring an anxiety that would make me question what the hell I’m doing even more so than I do now.

Do you ever feel like giving up (on art/on life)? How do you approach those feelings?

In college, when a few of my professors would talk to each other about me, they referred to me as “the reluctant artist.” So yes, I have felt like giving up before I even started. One year in particular I nearly did. During this time, Jerry Saltz wrote an article called “My Life As a Failed Artist” and in it he talks about making the choice to quit making art. It seemed so tempting, especially because he quit as a prolific maker and I was barely making anything.

It has been some time since I felt like quitting and I think in part it’s because recently I have allowed myself the freedom to quit whenever. I can see the happiness that not being an artist can bring and, at times, am envious of those who have had families and lovers that have found an incredible amount of happiness and gratification — and who no longer feel compelled to make like they once did. 

For me, as long as whatever I’m doing instead of painting brings me as much gratification and fulfillment as painting, I’m alright with giving up. But so far I haven’t come across anything that could entirely fill that space.

How do you navigate consumption of your work? Where do you show your work and why do you show it there? Do you need people to consume it? A lot of people, or a few?

The consumption of my work within the community of artists and creatives around me is most important and meaningful to me. If art is a method of communicating, consumption is important to have a conversation.

It’s not critical that my work is consumed by a lot of people, but I like to show my work. Showing work is a celebration of one’s efforts and accomplishments, as well as an open line of communication.

Have you ever been scared of someone that came into your life? How did you handle it?

I’m really fortunate to not have anyone in my life that I feel very frightened by, but there are two people that come to mind that scare me because of their beliefs, interests, lack of empathy, and understanding… as well as the handguns on their belts. I generally distance myself as much as possible and don’t engage in conversation when I’m around them. I’m very cold and shut off. Maybe not the best method, but, man, are they ever scary beings, and I don’t know what to do. Oh, and I unfollow on social media, of course.

How important is it to be in your body? Do you spend time there or do you find yourself often living outside the confines of presence, maybe completely? Does physical presence relate to your work?

There are things that we can’t fully understand that can be shown both when we are present and not present in our bodies, so I feel both are important. Physical presence is maybe a little too important to my work. I spend way too much time in my body with each single mark. But I find that sometimes when I’m outside of my body with a painting something important is revealed to me.

Do you ever feel inferior to others?

All the time. I make my work knowing that I don’t know best, and never will. I feel super inferior to others because I am not very intellectually intelligent. There are so many blocks in my brain and my short-term memory is shit. I also feel inferior within my work technically because I’m a messy artist. I have a hard time caring about the temperature of the light of where I’m working, if my pallet or brush is clean, or the exact hue of red that’s in my head when I’m frantically trying to get an unclear idea out and make sense of it. In comparison to the artists that spend the time to really prepare their surfaces well, and know the difference between each brand’s Indian Yellow when mixed with Titanium White, and know so much about the science of light and color, I feel lesser. I wish so badly I had the perseverance and presence of mind to learn those things.

Does art and money have a relationship for you? How do you see the relationship of art and money in general?

Art and money has a relationship for me because I sell my paintings. I wish I didn’t have to sell them. I would give every painting away if I could, but selling work allows me to buy more paint and pay for my studio. It may be ignorant, but I really try not to think about art and money. Art has little to do with money.

Why are some artists relevant and others not?

Oh man. I’m not even sure what makes an artist relevant to begin with. But I think the artist that doesn’t try to unlearn everything they know in order to better understand themselves and their practice can’t be very relevant.

What is inspiration? Do you nurture it or is it given?

Inspiration is vibrations of the soul’s desire. I think true inspiration is given and is always around. But sometimes you just have to honor its existence and be a little more silent to be able to accept it.

What do you see as the future of art and of consuming art?

Internet! Online galleries! It seems when people want to consume art, whether it is purchasing work or viewing, the Internet is the first step. I sell a good amount of my work through Instagram, and the once brick and mortar gallery that represents me has become entirely an online gallery. There are some sweet curated Instagram pages that I just eat up daily. Although showing on Instagram and the Internet can be cheap, it also somewhat levels the playing field. It allows artists all over to be seen even if they don’t live in a big metropolis area. The center of art doesn’t have to be in a certain city anymore. Additionally, artists painting out of their laundry rooms that don’t ever intend to be a part of the “art world” in a formal way can be shown next to emerging artists and professional artists. You get to see a lot of artists’ works — and not just finished works that would be seen in a gallery. And that is super sweet.

Is there a recent piece of art that’s moved you?

Laure Prouvost’s installation, They Are Waiting For You, seemed to give clarity to so many unknowns in my work. It was a whirlwind of film, installation, text, and curated domestic/office-like spaces with strange little sculptures and nipples on trees addressing language and our understanding of words and objects. It felt comforting to me. The text was somewhat instructive. Everything addressed the viewer directly. It allowed me to rethink on everything I knew and interact with every day.

David Aragon is the Art Director for The Fullest.

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