Transcending Reality: An Interview with Artist Marion Grant

Artist Marion Grant is a lifelong creative innovator, with a career spanning fine arts, graphic art and textile design. Her work strongly aligns itself with spiritual growth, and her strong use of color and lyrical compositions follow the precedent of other spiritual artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Anselm Kiefer. For Grant, however, spiritual development and transcendence serve as key attributes in her art-making. Her focus as a fine artist distinctly embraces self-empowerment. Combining a decades-long artistic practice keenly melding color field theory and harmoniously blending distinct visual elements, Grant’s work continues to speak on a personal level to her collectors, peers and all who encounter her works.
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Grant, Marion. Blue Dragonfly (2018) 16″x 15″ alternative media on handmade transparent acrylic skin, image courtesy the artist.
ANTE. You work in a very multi-disciplinary style, from digital art to fabric to mixed media. What originally encouraged you to develop your talents as an artist across different mediums? How has your practice evolved?
 
MG. I feel like all my life experiences coalesce into how I approach art-making. After studying Fine Arts at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, I got my dream job working for the artist Frances Butler who was a huge idol of mine. Working with her, I was responsible for silk-screening fine art textiles. Butler was truly an influential artist for me.
Eventually I returned to New York to pursue a career in the textile industry which was headquartered there. I attended classes at Parsons to learn some specific skills for the industry, eventually going on to work professionally in the textile industry for the following twenty years.
 
While I worked in the textile industry full time, I continued developing my career as a fine artist. During this time I was creating large scale multi-media paintings which involved silk-screening, chemical patinas, assemblage and painting. I sold artwork to corporations such as Pfizer and Signet Bank.  And I was also silk-screening on fabric, making award-winning, one-of-a-kind tableware.
I see my process evolving, with every stage leading forward to something new. In this way, my process acts like an open continuum. I don’t see myself as the type of artist who works exclusively in one medium: in fact, after working in the textile industry I transitioned to work as a graphic designer using contemporary technologies to create digital designs for marketing materials in the dance world. Through this evolution, I realized I’m the kind of artist who likes to explore and discover new things. I like applying an interdisciplinary approach to art-making, uniting the corporeal, metaphysical and psychological. I tend to experiment with unique elements and alternative processes, particularly if it’s something that hasn’t been done before. Once I innovate, I’m then ready to go on and explore what’s waiting to be uncovered. I just don’t like to repeat things because my impetus is to explore the unknown. My work exists at the boundaries of past tradition and new technology. 
ANTE. Your work draws from a deep, richly nuanced understanding of color combinations and color theory. How do you balance colors in your work? How do you see color as a key factor in how your artwork is experienced? 
MG. When I attended art school, color theory was rooted in a scientific approach. I recall choosing not to enroll in color theory classes because my approach to color is purely intuitive. I studied enough to understand complementary colors and the color wheel, and from there I was able to instinctively grasp color combinations.
After working in the fine arts industry, I transitioned to become a designer in the garment industry. There I developed my skill set and realized I excelled at selecting colors for fabrics. Eventually I transitioned to working in home furnishings as a colorist. I was in charge of painting several different color combinations in gouache paint to define different fabric “looks”, then going to the textile mills to oversee the printing of the selected color combinations. This was a very specific job which required a keen understanding in learning how to balance color. The colors that live with you in your home set a mood and reflect your taste, making color a key element affecting sales in this field. 
Great color combinations speak to people. They want to live with furnishings because the colors they’ve selected make them feel good and reflect their personality. I feel like color is experienced on a visceral level and can evoke certain emotions. I wonder in some sense if color evokes emotions similar to how music does, maybe on a subconscious level? It’s my hope that throughout my career in home furnishings that I helped set a tone of comfort and joy in a home.
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Grant, Marion. Primordial Space (2014) 40″x40″
image courtesy the artist.
Through my spiritual development, I have learned how colors have profound spiritual implications and can greatly effect our vibrations and how others perceive us. Each chakra is represented by a color, and it’s helpful to have some understanding of energies and the colors representing them. For example, blue indigo is affiliated with an increase in peace, tranquility, and devotion. It is symbolic of the inner mind, intuition and the vast cosmic consciousness. It is also the color of the third eye chakra. To increase clarity of thought and intuition, it helps to meditate with indigo. Interestingly enough, I see my artwork innately incorporates some of these color meanings. One example is my fine art print Primordial Space”, which is about meditating in a vast cosmic consciousness – an investigation of both inner and outer space.
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Grant, Marion. Indigo Sky (2017) 22″x18″
alternative media on handmade translucent acrylic skin, image courtesy the artist.
ANTE. Can you walk us through how you approached your acrylic “skins” series found on your website under “Alternative Media”? When did this process enter your artistic practice, and how is it evolving over time?
MG. I began work on the acrylic skin series about six years ago. When I left the textile industry, I returned to Parsons in 1999 to take classes in new computer programs specific to design in order to build a wider skill set. Through these experiences, I began making art on the computer. My style of digital art involved combining portions of my previous artistic processes. This included painting, silk-screening and various chemical processes and patinas. After working and developing my digital art, I wanted to switch gears and to experience working with my hands again. I wanted more than just a flat surface in my artwork.
Around six years ago when this series began, I discovered two things simultaneously: first, was the book Digital Art Studio which was published in 2004 outlining how three artists combined digital art with traditional art materials. Secondly, I encountered the work of Catherine Steinmann on view at the Tibet House in New York. I saw her show “Vanishing Tibet” with artist Danny Conant. They were combining digital and traditional processes in photography to create mixed media artworks. I was very inspired when I encountered these works, which were printed on traditional handcrafted paper. I was so excited because I realized this was exactly what I wanted to do, and the spirituality present in the work also spoke to me. 
I subsequently discovered Mary Taylor’s work. Taylor was an assistant to a co-author of Digital Art Studio. I took Taylor’s class on working with digital and traditional materials and this launched me into experimenting with digital art and combining it with analog processes. This mainly resulted in using acrylic materials as I don’t like to use anything with chemicals or solvents if it can be avoided. I also happened to meet Catherine Steinmann in this class. We struck up a friendship, and I’m happy to have a peer to share this experimental approach to unusual processes and techniques with.
I started to develop my own process as a combination of digital art and handmade surface details. The process is labor-intensive, and many things can go wrong along the way, but it is exciting in its unpredictability. As a result, this process is continually changing and evolving. Putting the handmade surfaces through a printer is intimidating, as the sticky quality of the acrylic surface can ruin the extremely expensive printer I have to use in this process. These skins also possess a raw quality that in a sense makes them feel alive. They don’t have a stiffness to them, or feel overly polished: instead, they feel organic. This process is aided by layering iridescent paints and hand-embellishments with digital designs in between the different layers. 
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Grant, Marion. Mother and Child (2013) 26×18″
alternative media on handmade acrylic skin, image courtesy the artist.
ANTE. Admirers of your work often appreciate its spiritual and soothing effect. What subject matter and concepts are you investigating in your work? Is it meant to be spiritual, and if so, how do you see this affecting your audience?
MG. My art is intrinsically connected to my spiritual identity. I’ve devoted my life to spirituality, creativity and transformation. Making art is my life’s purpose and serves as a visual meditation for me. I mindfully strive to create works that are uplifting, transformative and healing for the viewer.  My work introduces harmony and a sense of compassion to a wider audience, and my artistic practice reflects my spiritual development and vice versa.
I’ve been drawn to and inspired by Buddhist and Hindu imagery because it is so beautiful and soothing. That has been a big source of inspiration, especially for the prints on display in the Fine Art Prints” Section of my website. I have met those who encountered statues of the Buddha, or viewed representations of supernatural deities, who reported feeling a strong, energetic presence. Through the years many people have recounted these transcendental experiences to me. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this phenomenon: once, I met a viewer of my work who described a powerful experience they had while viewing my fine art print at a Buddhist retreat. I felt overjoyed and humbled to be a part of this transformation in some small way. 
The series I’m currently working on is centered around the dragonfly, which serves as my spirit guide. I serendipitously discovered a dragonfly on the door outside of my building in Manhattan in May. This was a very unusual circumstance as Spring is not dragonfly season, and dragonflies are also not commonly found in urban spaces. The dragonfly is revered as a symbol for transformation and empowerment. It embodies creativity and light: reflecting the sun and bringing us out of illusion. Dragonflies encourage us to apply creativity and imagination to transform our lives and discover ourselves in new ways. The dragonfly appeared at a significant time in my life, and I appreciate its meaning and message for me. I hope that others can connect to uplifting messages that the dragonfly brings as well. 
While I don’t feel that people have to connect spiritually to my work, I do hope that my work positively impacts the viewer regardless of their own philosophy. I hope it enriches and uplifts others in their life’s journey.
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Grant, Marion. Thousand Petals Gray (2009) 45″x43″, image courtesy the artist.
ANTE. You often incorporate nature and fabric patterns into your work. Do you see these motifs as contrasting or complementing one another? How do you create an interaction between the two throughout your practice?
MG. Contrast is a key element in my work. As long as I can remember, I’ve always combined geometric patterns with organic ones. This balance of subject matter persists throughout my practice, from painting to  collage and throughout my digital work. I see both contrasting and complementary elements at play in my compositions. For example, in my work “Blue Dragonfly the architectural draftsmanship in the background of the work juxtaposes with the delicate anatomy of a dragonfly’s wing. 
In the series Illuminated Miniatures on my website, the contrast lies between the organic, hand-painted watercolors and the textile patterns which are then overlaid in Photoshop. That series elicits a sense of being worn away: of layers being pulled apart and deteriorating as these contrasting elements are combined. In some of my works, iridescent paints between each layer unites the different overlapping layers of natural and man-made patterns. I often incorporate minimal elements, such as flat gray lines, that then create a sense of geometric contrast with the organic elements in the composition. Dorothy Krause, co-author of Digital Art Studio, unwittingly described my work when she wrote that the best digital art “combines the humblest of materials… with the latest in technology to evoke the past and herald the future.” It is this union of opposites, ranging from old to new, from geometric to organic, that creates transformation. 
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Grant, Marion. detail image, Pink Brocade I. (2016) 10″x10″
transparent acrylic skin on wood panel, image courtesy the artist.

 

ANTE. You often layer objects and concepts in your work, both physically and metaphorically. What importance do you ascribe to layering in your practice as a whole? Do you see this as crucial to your creative process, why or why not?
MG. Layering is the most crucial element in my artistic practice. It acts as a key factor in my artistic expression, whether using computer programs to make artwork or creating work traditionally by hand. Layering allows me to combine different elements which may otherwise be disjointed, but when separated and re-arranged, allow a sense of complexity and depth. When finished hopefully this combination of imagery coalesces into a harmonious whole giving the work a new meaning. This is the essence of my work. 
It’s exciting to work in layers because you can’t really plan it. As a result, you’re never really sure what the end result will be. This method is perfect as it helps me discover new aspects of my process. I might plan a concept in advance, but then let the layering process lead me, allowing it to take over and guide me to unexpected results.
I am now seeing a similar pattern in my spiritual development, made evident by peeling away layers of personal development to reveal more truths underneath. Only after one layer is peeled away can the next layer underneath be worked on. It cannot be rushed. I never thought about this before, but I think it’s interesting to see how this compares to my process of making artwork.
The word “palimpsest” has been used to describe my practice, alluding to my practice of scraping and masking certain elements in an artwork in order to reveal others. By revealing traces of what is left behind, my work shows a worn quality, evoking a sense of history and alluding to mysteries of the past. 
ANTE. What new challenges are you looking forward to in your work? What new mediums are you anticipating working with and how would you like your practice to develop in new ways?
MG. Currently I have acrylic skins that I’ve made in a larger format than I’ve previously worked with. I want to print images onto them but I haven’t tried it yet. Printing onto large acrylic skins is challenging on my printer and can be risky. This is one reason why I’ve been working in a smaller scale until this point, but now I want to take on the challenge in this next phase of figuring out how to scale up. 
My work has also been developing toward working with multi-dimensional surfaces. I like the extra dimension as it brings out the reflective quality of the paints I use. As well as utilizing transparent and translucent surfaces, multiple layers in a work results in the image changing depending on how light hits the surface. This imbues the work with a sense of movement and helps to keep it from feeling static. It takes thought and experimentation to recognize how to best display my artwork, particularly when it comes to framing. The process is very different with each artwork. It can take time to find the best position and angle for artworks to hang onto the wall in order to truly capture the depth and shadows present in an artwork. It’s not the same as working with an opaque or rigid surface, because each work requires a different approach in order to enhance the work. 
With my artwork, the types of energy incorporated into each layer can change as the artwork builds. More layers mean a combination of energies can be present in each work, adding a feeling of depth and complexity.  This can almost be considered a type of alchemy in which an artwork transforms as layers are added. My hope is that this will lead me to explore new aspects of my practice I haven’t considered yet.  
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Grant, Marion. Fairy Music (2018) 11″x11″
alternative media translucent collage, image courtesy the artist.
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