Mathematics, Connections, and Meditation: Interview with Marisa Green
Marisa Green (American, b. 1978) is a mixed media artist, primarily working in cut paper. She received her BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2001. Her work has been shown throughout the Pacific Northwest in galleries such as Disjecta. She has had solo exhibitions at Gallery 135, Duplex Gallery, as well as the Multnomah County Art Center. Her work has also been featured in online publications such as This is Colossal and Strictly Paper.
Marisa lives and works in Portland, Oregon.
My work explores mathematics, connections, and meditation through the use of geometric shapes, patterns, and the art of physical repetition. I construct time intensive installations, sculptures, and 2D works out of cut paper, based upon numeric relationships and multiples of a single form—inspired by nature’s exquisite precision.
Often times, color is used to draw out a form within a form, revealing layered configurations hiding in plain sight. Bright, saturated hues juxtapose neutrals adding additional layers of interlocking shapes.
Through suspension techniques, weaving, and/or construction, these complex patterns symbolize the life force that molds each of us and our unique experiences. Through focus and introspection, my work attempts to connect us all to a shared awareness of boundless unity.
What is your artistic background and training?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I primarily studied illustration, but quickly got into graphic design after graduation. I would say that my background informs the type of work I do now, more so than my official training.
I dabbled a lot in photography, installation, 3D illustration, sculpture, bookbinding, and paper craft. The illustration work I did was very exploratory and the jobs I held varied from art teacher, to lamp designer, to working on DreamWorks paper crafts for kids, to brand design. I studied abroad in Viterbo Italy, pleinair painting and writing. It’s the sum of these experiences the led me to paper installation.
I will say that the common thread has always been paper. I’ve always been obsessed—even as a child. I remember moving across the country from California to Massachusetts when I was 5. I didn’t have any toys for weeks because the moving truck hadn’t arrived yet. My mother helped me make various paper dolls to play with. That’s how it all started for me. Minimalism inspires creativity.
Tell us about your interest in mathematics and when you started applying it to your art practice.
I’ve always been fascinated by the role mathematics plays in nature—the golden ratio, patterns in nature, sacred geometry, etc. My father was a mathematician, an engineer, and a professor. Sadly, I was never a student of his, and so I inherited his love and appreciation of math, but not the technical skill. My artistic interpretation of mathematics comes through via experimentation in color, pattern, and geometric shapes. I love exploring the endless possibilities of pattern creation and hiding patterns within patterns—intersecting shapes, overlapping color families, etc. At times, I’ll literally hide patterns inside paper shapes that can only be seen from below. Nature is incredibly inspiring and surprising, so I like to emulate that feeling of wonder and discovery in my work.
Describe your process. What inspires you and how do you plan and prepare for each piece?
Most of the time I’ll envision a simple shape—two intersecting triangles, a series of circles, etc. Other times, with site specific work, the space will inform the perimeters of the work. Then there are the times when the viewer will inform the next piece. For instance, with Intersect, some people at the opening wanted to see the installation from below. They spontaneously laid down one-by-one, and then in full on groups, underneath the piece. Usually I’d be worried about people getting too close to the work, having strings get tangled, etc. but I trusted them. Plus, I was really curious to see their reactions. That moment informed my following installation, Expanse. I designed two chairs that sat underneath two adjacent tunnels of suspended triangles and invited viewers to lay back and look up into the work. Each section had different color patterns hidden inside. That said, how I begin a piece can vary.
After the shape/idea is sketched out, I’ll continue to evolve it, bring in color, decide on dimensions, and research what it will actually take to build it. This can also mean figuring out the supporting materials—wood, metal, acrylic, etc.
If I’m working on an installation or a 2D paper piece, I’ll bring it into Illustrator next, and further develop color narratives, patterns, and begin working on the math. I’ve tried doing this is CAD but I’ve found, for me, that using layers in illustrator allows me to break the physical layers up, dissect the overlapping patterns, and work on the math—yes there is actual math involved. Depending on the scale of the piece, I’ll then use Excel to keep track of every single string, how many paper objects are on it, what number is in what row, what the incremental measurements are between paper triangles, which triangles are which colors, etc. It gets extremely technical and if I’m not 100% organized, it can become very confusing. Plus, this is so much easier to communicate when I have people helping me construct the work. The 2D work is just as meticulous, but not nearly as difficult to organize.
When all of the prep is complete, I finally start to work. That’s when I can zone out and meditate. Sometimes it can feel a bit like a factory assembly line and other times, like dissecting an ant. My mind goes back and forth between intense concentration and completely zoning out on the task at hand. It can be a difficult process because I want to jump ahead to the making/hands-on part, but for this type of work it usually ends up being the final 30% of the whole process.
To tie it all together, the meaning behind the work usually comes to me last. The title will jump out at me and I’ll jot down a single word in my sketchbook. A lot of times I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for the artist statement. When the work is completed the story will naturally emerge on its own.
What would you say your work is about and what do you hope the viewer experiences?
If I were to boil it all down, I’d say my work is about Growth and Connection. I can’t thrive if I’m not changing, learning, and growing. It’s a natural part of life and when I feel stuck or stagnant, I suffer. I need to be discovering and evolving, problem solving, and connecting dots.
Growth is closely intertwined with connection. We learn from our experiences with people, nature, spirit, animals, etc. Our relationships with the world shape who we are and who we become. It also helps us work through and carve out our place in the world. It is a cheesy expression, but we are all connected. If you can sit with that idea and truly take it in, you can get passed the superficiality of it and appreciate the sentiment for what it really means. It means that we need to take care of each other and the world around us in order to be our best selves. This concept is what drives my work. It’s the underlying ethos in everything I do artistically, and in life.
Describe an ideal day. In a perfect world, how would you spend your time?
There are so many ways I could answer this question. I’d describe it more like a recipe. The ingredients would be:
Sunshine (always sunshine), outdoors, a new experience, friends and family, an intimate conversation with one of my heroes, road trip/travel, studio time, incredible food and beverages, live music, adventure, and listening to my daughter’s laughter.
What artists have influenced your work?
There are so many, but here is a sampling of who I would consider the most influential:
Chuck Close, Tim Nobel & Sue Webster, Irving Harper, Morton C. Bradley Jr., Ursula Von Rydingsvard, and Stefan Sagmeister, to name a few. Sagmeister would not describe himself as an artist, but I am endlessly inspired by his design practice, execution, narratives, and installation work.
What should we look out for and expect from you this year?
Great question! I’m having my second child in October, so I’ll mostly be working in the studio until she arrives and then concentrating on motherhood for the remainder of the year. I’m currently working to schedule out more shows for 2019 and introduce new work at that time. Until then, I’m launching a new website (www.marisagreenart.com) in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!