Marion Griese completed a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Toronto in 1992. After travelling and working in Europe, she studied jewellery art and design for two years at Vancouver Community College. These two art forms have allowed her to explore ideas and concepts from different angles. A found object may inspire a painting, which consequently may inspire a piece of jewellery. Other times, the jewellery may spark ideas for a painting. She has a deep appreciation for balance, proportion and colour and looks to both natural and urban forms for inspiration. She is currently focusing her time on a new series of abstract paintings. Marion Griese resides in the Niagara area of Southern Ontario with her family, where she teaches art to young children.
My approach to painting is intuitive, yet also imbued with my years of studying art and design. Whether I turn to the natural or the urban environment for inspiration, I am always looking for a dialogue between colour and form. I am so interested in how notes of colour can play off of one another to transport and even transform us. My current work begins with lines rooted in organic shapes to form the structure of the composition. Sinuous lines intersect across the canvas to reveal shapes which are then given colour from a palette I observe around me, or sometimes draw from the hues of memories, poetry or music. The intertwining of the creative challenge and sense of serenity I experience when composing my paintings is what I find most compelling and rewarding.
You talk about the colors in your current body of work as being inspired by the hues of memories, poetry and music. Can you be more specific? In what way do certain moments, written works or songs speak to you?
I find inspiration in many places, often in the everyday moments when I am just walking outdoors and observing my surroundings. It may be the colour of a shadow falling alongside a house or the bright neon of a street sign that I remember and bring back to the canvas. Today it’s the grey/blue Canadian winter sky forewarning snow. I take artistic cues from many writers and musicians, too. Michael Ondaatje is one poet and novelist whose writing style has had a great impact on me. His poem “To A Sad Daughter” remains one of my favourites for its beautiful colour imagery and metaphors that define the mood of the scene he’s portraying. The music of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip and the poetic lyrics of Gord Downie have also long inspired me. It is not only the words, but also the variations of sounds, rhythms and the experience of the music that makes its way into my work. It is the nature of what I experience through my surroundings, or music or words that I am trying to relay - not literally, but through tones and shapes of colours that meet or overlap. A fitting quote I like that is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci goes: “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
How did this series develop? Have your paintings always focused on color and form?
Like most artists, I’ve explored different styles, mediums and subjects over the years and so my work has gone through many changes. In previous years my paintings were more expressive in style and landscape was the focus of my interest. My current work grew out of art I produced for the 100 Day Project in 2015, where I committed to painting a 6 x 6 abstract for 100 days. To move away from painting a subject to relying on intuition was challenging and intimidating. Stepping into that uncertainty required me to quiet my mind and trust all that I'd learned and studied for the last 30 years! I discovered that in just showing up every day I was developing a new visual “language” for myself that I had not anticipated. I felt I was also beginning to get clearer on what was important to me artistically. In some ways my art, whether painting, illustration or even jewellery has had elements of the work I do now, but the focus had not been solely on colour and form. Removing some of the details and simplifying the composition allowed me to concentrate more on how a piece might make one feel, rather than what it might make one think.
In addition to painting, you also create jewelry. How do you balance working in both - and very different - mediums?
Making time for two different art practices is difficult, especially when coupled with being a parent and having a part-time job. At this moment I’m not actively working on jewellery projects, but focusing what time I have on painting. On occasion though, I make sketches for jewellery pieces when ideas come to mind, or make small samples out of wax, or get asked to make a commissioned piece. I continue to find working on jewellery as exciting as making a painting and I really enjoy translating a two-dimensional image into a 3D form. I hope to include more jewellery work to my studio practice in the coming years. I’m so interested in other artists who work in various disciplines – like Tapio Wirkkala, who worked in metal, glass, ceramics, jewellery and sculpture.
Does teaching inform or affect your practice as well?
Teaching young children is such a privilege! I began teaching art to young children over 10 years ago and feel as though it has informed my work in many ways. One of the things that I enjoy most is researching artists from the past or present and building a lesson around the work that will be fun, experimental and exciting for the kids. At the same time, it fulfills my own curiosity and I've come to discover the work of so many people that I may not have known before. Something I also enjoy and admire in young children is their inhibition and willingness to experiment. I love watching them choose colours or describe the details of their illustrations. Their fearlessness and sense of fun are a good lesson for me. I am reminded to enjoy the process, mistakes and all, and to not take myself so seriously.
Can you explain your creative process? What does a piece go through from your initial idea to the completed painting?
I am someone who needs movement first thing in the morning, so after my household has emptied and I have walked the dog and had my run, my mind is settled enough to start my studio practice. I will often flip through art books or my sketchbooks for inspiration, spend some time researching other artists online or organizing my space. I used to feel like I was procrastinating, but I’m realizing that this time of transition is important. To get a painting started I draw a few lines and shapes that interest me and then after some contemplation, I begin to add colour. I work intuitively to orchestrate the forms and colours, all the while being conscious of how the painting feels. The initial layer of the painting will change many times as I constantly rotate the canvas and stand back to have a look. I also like to take photos of the work-in-progress, as it gives me another frame in which to see areas that feel right or may still need work. A painting may, depending on its size, be finished in a few hours or a few days. I like to work on many paintings at a time, both large and small.
What is the best art-related advice you have received?
I have come across a lot of great advice over the years from creatives who have generously shared insights about living an artist's life. One piece of advice that I've embraced and appreciate the most is the idea of “showing up” everyday. Steven Pressfield speaks to this in his wonderful book The War of Art and even Picasso knew this when he said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Ideas generate ideas. To keep the momentum going you have to practice – regularly. This also means accepting the mistakes and the work that just isn't very good. It’s hard for me, but I’m trying to remind myself that it’s about the process and that the lessons within the mistakes are valuable.