Marion Peck is surely a name known to almost anyone with even the most casual interest in the continually flourishing world of Pop Surrealism. Peck’s potent imagery is not tainted by over analysis, but instead comes to us through a quiet, sensitive ability to listen to her inner world and those subconscious whispers that tell stories and truths we find difficult to verbalise or even comprehend, yet in picture form, they speak so directly and with such honesty. Rendered with her remarkable technical skill, Peck’s paintings allow us to become truly submerged within her universe; a place of dark (if not sardonic) wit, where the past, present and future collide in a melange of beautifully magical optimism and a moderate sprinkling of unease.
Marion Peck was born on October 3, 1963 in Manila, the Philippines, while her family was on a trip around the world, and grew up in Seattle, Washington. She received a BFA from The Rhode Island School of Design in 1985. Subsequently she studied in two different MFA programs, Syracuse University in New York and Temple University in Rome. In 2009, Marion married her long-time partner, the artist Mark Ryden and they have recently re-located from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon.
WOW x WOW is incredibly honoured to have had the opportunity to chat with Marion as she prepared work for an exciting upcoming group exhibition entitled, ‘Pages from Mind Traveller’s Diaries’. The show will be hosted by Dorothy Circus Gallery in Notting Hill, London, in what will be their brand-new exhibition space and the first prominent brick and mortar gallery dedicated to Pop Surrealism in the UK. With this show, Dorothy Circus is not only celebrating the launch of a new gallery space, but also their 10-year anniversary. ‘Pages from Mind Traveller’s Diaries’ opens this week, with the private preview on 12th October and the public opening on the 13th. Marion will have three new works in the show and her husband, Mark Ryden will also be featured as a special guest.
Hello Marion! It’s such an honour to have you join us for a little chat! First of all, let’s talk about the event which has brought us together, the exciting launch of a brand-new Dorothy Circus Gallery in Notting Hill, London and its inaugural exhibition, ‘Pages from Mind Traveller’s Diaries’. We’d love to hear a little about how your relationship with Dorothy Circus began.
A few days before I left on a trip to Italy in 2015, I received an email from Alex Mazzanti, asking if I would be interested in participating in this show in London, which she was just starting to plan. It turned out our hotel was just a few doors down from her gallery, so we stopped in for a visit. Alex was so ‘simpatica’. It turned out we had friends in common. And her space was beautiful. So I agreed to participate both in this group show, and also to do a solo exhibition with her next year.
Please tell us about the new work you’ll have on show in ‘Pages from Mind Traveller’s Diaries’. How do these pieces fit into your broader body of work and what kind of events or circumstances did their concepts stem from?
One of the three pieces I made for the show is an unusual one for me. It’s a lot more topical and political than my work usually is. It features a goddess treading upon Donald Trump. The level of outrage I feel at the evil, idiotic clown some of my compatriots elected President of the United States is like nothing I have ever felt in my lifetime. I felt compelled to make an image expressing this outrage. The other two pieces are quite different. The next two are about joy. They both reflect my happy feelings about recently moving from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. One of them is called ‘Home’. The idea for that painting has been knocking around in my head for many years, but I finally felt the time had come for me to make it. It’s a beautiful feeling, finding home.
Over the course of your career, how have you seen your place within the art landscape change? In what ways do you feel that gallery and museum approaches have changed or evolved to best represent Pop Surrealism and the type of artwork you create?
It’s been quite amazing, watching the rise of Pop Surrealism. At the beginning it felt so revolutionary, so against the status quo. Now there are so many artists working in this genre. A lot of them are really amazing. It’s incredible how much the skill level, in a general sense, has risen. On the other hand, there’s a lot of re-hashing, a lot of copycatting, sometimes not much intelligence or originality. But still, the Pop Surrealist world keeps growing and growing. Pop surrealist openings are not the boring events art openings used to be, with a few elitists standing around. There’s an enormous appetite of the public for this kind of work. People were starving for art that was not so cold and intellectual, art they could respond to and love. It looks like this movement is going to just keep gaining ground.
What has been the most exciting life and impact you have you witnessed any of your art take on once it has left the confines of your studio? What kind of feelings do you have about letting your creations go and live their own lives in the big wide world?
I don’t have problems with letting my paintings go. I’m always much more interested in the next work I’m going to make. It’s extremely gratifying to see them making an impact out in the world. For example, a painting of mine I often see out there in the cyber world is called ‘Fuck You’, of a gentile young lady flipping the bird. Perhaps it strikes a kind of feminist chord with people. If an image of mine can ring a bell like that for people, it makes me very happy.
Have there been occasions when images you’ve created have revealed something to you after their completion; something that maybe you hadn’t been consciously thinking about while making them? If so, we’d love to hear about one such occasion.
Once, when I was younger, I was seeing a therapist who was kind enough to trade me hours in exchange for a painting. I traded him one of a seal lying on a deserted beach, lonely and helpless. The painting hung behind the therapist as we talked. Only after many hours of talking with him with the painting right there in front of me did I realize how much the painting reflected my emotional state at the time. That sort of thing is often much more obvious to others than it is to me, I think.
Being an artist who works within the visual realm, can you shed some light on some of the most important inspirations and influences on your work that aren’t visual?
Music, of course, is very important, especially to help create the kind of meditative mood I need for the long hours of painting. I like listening to very quiet, soothing, ambient types of music, like Brian Eno, or Hildegard Von Bingen. I like burning incense while I work, for the same reason, to create a meditative mood. Of course, books, both the important ones I read as a child, like Alice in Wonderland, or whatever I am reading at the moment, can be influential. Right now it is ‘The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Greece, A Guide to Sacred Places’.
Every artist strives to develop and progress their skills and vision, as treading water has a tendency to kill passion and motivation. However, what are some of the things about your creative process that you feel it’s important to have remain stable and constant?
For me, it is the simple discipline of painting which is the constant. I have made forays into other modes of art making: sculpture, mixed media, video, but I always come back to painting. There is something so beautifully simple, self-sufficient and timeless about smearing colors onto a piece of wood or canvas. I will do it for the rest of my days.
Given that life is short and your paintings take quite some time to complete, one must assume that you have many more ideas for paintings than the time to realise in actual paint. What are the most important boxes a concept must tick before it merits the time, love and attention required to make it a living work of art?
There are two different ways a concept will make its way onto the easel. One is when an idea suddenly strikes a resonant chord inside me. Those are the instant winners. The other way is through longevity. Sometimes an idea, like the one for ‘Home’ that I mentioned above, will hang around for years, and then suddenly its moment will come.
Where does your focus lie when you’re painting?
Well, mainly on the painting itself. But in a strange way, it will often stray to the next painting, the one I’m thinking of making next. There is something so attractive about possibilities, and difficult about realities. I guess that’s true about a lot of things, not just painting.
To what extent do you think about the viewer when creating your art and what do you hope that they take away with them after interacting with your imagery? What are your thoughts about the conversation cycle which exists between artist and audience?
‘The Viewer’ is to me, not like a real person, like someone who might at some point actually look at one of my paintings. The Viewer is instead a voice inside my head, which speaks only occasionally, but clearly, and almost always in the negative, in other words, it tells me what not to do. Socrates spoke about his daimon, a voice within him that spoke to him in this way. The Viewer will say to me “Nobody wants to look at a painting of…”. And I always listen. But, so far as the real people who look at my art, I think about them as little as possible. Thinking about them just confuses me and makes me self-conscious. I can’t paint that way.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one whose memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
I guess the hardship I went through that comes to mind is not that personal. I think about art school, especially the last years of grad school, and how hard that was for me. I feel so bad for young people struggling through it. The way I was taught art was not the best way, I feel. I wish there had been much more emphasis on technique, and less emphasis on personal expression. Especially when you’re young, you might not be ready to explain everything your art means. It shouldn’t be so important to be intellectually erudite. I think the most important thing for art making is just to keep practicing, to keep doing it. In my opinion there should be more imparting of a disciplined devotion, and less critique, in the way we teach art.
Where does your sense of community stem from as an artist? Do you feel part of a close-knit scene in your home city, or do you connect more with other creatives online? Is community something that is important to you and your creativity?
To be honest, I am lucky enough to be part of a very small community indeed: myself and my husband, Mark Ryden. We constantly bounce ideas off each other, get input from each other, check each other’s work and find inspiration together. We are all the community we need. Maybe it’s ‘unhealthy’, but it doesn’t feel that way. A relationship like ours is such a rare blessing, and we both know that.
What’s next for Marion Peck?
Mark and I are very much looking forward to settling down in our beautiful new home in Portland, living quietly and painting away, together in our own peaceful little paradise. What more than that could you possibly want?