Local artist Marlowe Emerson’s latest exhibition, “Portuguese Playground,” recently opened in Norfolk Arts’ Offsite Gallery at MacArthur Center. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
A mixed media artist, Marlowe creates large-scale abstract paintings using acrylic and collage techniques. “Portuguese Playground” features work in a variety of media created in 2019 in the rural setting of Messejana, Portugal at the Buinho Creative Residency. The two-week residency was an opportunity for Emerson to work alongside other artists and learn from local organizers and creatives in a unique rural environment.
This exhibit highlights works on paper, wood, cardboard, and canvas, as well as laser cutouts created in the Buinho workshop. These lively, mixed media pieces show the influence of the colorful landscape and architecture of the Alentejo village, as well as a creative approach to the restraints of using found materials and improvised techniques.
The exhibition takes its title from an actual playground at the center of the village, as well as the artist’s experience of playing with a variety of new materials and techniques. It is also a reference to the high tech “playground” the Buinho organization has created to bring access to technology and educational opportunities to rural areas of Portugal.
TW: Why is art important today?
ME: Art communicates on a level that nothing else can. In a time when sharing experiences and information consumes so much of our lives, I believe that art has a central role to play.
TW: Tell us about your background: where you were raised, went to school, career, family, etc.
ME: I was raised in Virginia Beach and went to First Colonial High School. I did not set out to have any specific career, but was interested in languages and travel, so I studied French and German at what was then Georgetown University’s School of Languages and Linguistics. I did a year abroad in France, where I also studied art history, and then moved there after graduation. Returning to U.S., I eventually built a career in marketing communications, while also continuing to paint and exhibit internationally. I work out of my home office and studio in Virginia Beach, where I live with my husband and two dogs.
TW: How did you come to be interested in art?
ME: I was always interested in art, but not the way it was taught in school. I wanted to make my own path, and living in the south of France allowed me to do that. Daily life in a part of the world where so many great painters lived and worked was continually inspiring and a great learning experience.
TW: Why is storytelling important in your art?
ME: Every piece of art has an element of story. I started to realize that bringing this part forward and giving it more attention in my work was a more effective way of connecting with people.
TW: Your current show in Norfolk is a collection of works from your two-week residency in Portugal. How did the residency experience affect your art?
ME: Removing yourself from daily distractions to spend an extended period of time where art is the only focus is the best way to make discoveries. Residencies are a really good way of giving yourself that time. In this particular setting, I was limited in what I had to work with, so it pushed me to come up with new ways of seeing and working with materials. I also started working on multiple pieces at once and seeing patterns emerge. Both of these shifts in perspective have been really valuable and expanded my practice in new ways.
TW: What did you like most about staying in Portugal?
ME: The color and light of the countryside was really breathtaking. Being in such a remote place was a shock to the system at first, but once I got the hang of it, I found the solitude to be a welcome relief from the hectic lives we lead here.
TW: You mentioned how important it is to be playful especially now. How can art help people play?
ME: Hopefully it can help people remember being a kid, when art supplies were fun. As adults we take art too seriously and are too worried about doing it wrong. There is no wrong way to make art. It should help people be silly and spontaneous. Everyone needs more of that right now, and that is how some of the best work is created anyway.
TW: Your medium is collage. Why are you drawn to this medium?
ME: I love the tactile experience of making art and find it hard to stop at just paint. Why limit yourself when there are so many other materials you can use to make things happen on the canvas?
TW: What advice do you have for artists and people who are considering pursuing art?
ME: Do you. There is no one way to be an artist. Your way is your way. Find out what that is.
Marlowe teaches classes and workshops on abstract art for Virginia MOCA. The next classes will be offered in the spring. Follow her on Instagram @marloweemerson to find out when registration opens or check her website www.marloeweemerson.com for information on all upcoming shows and workshops.