We were able to sit down with Marisa in her studio to talk about paper, math, and her upcoming installation, Expanse, opening this week! Check out the photos and interview below to get a sneak peek!
Duplex: Tell us a little about your process and Expanse.
Marisa Green: I always start with a sketch of the main form. What do I want the finished piece to look like? From there I decide on the size, which is usually determined by the layout of the gallery. I try to make sight specific work when I can because I feel that the impact is much greater. From there I create the small, repeatable form in Illustrator—for Expanse I used a pyramid. That’s when I start exploring with pattern, numerically and visually.
The idea for Expanse came about from finding stillness in nature. You could be looking up at the sky and everything just kind of stops. For a moment you reset your inner compass and know deep down that everything is OK. I want the viewers to be able to find that inner peace and stillness in the setting of Duplex. While everyone else is walking around, talking, and enjoying each other’s company, the two people in the chairs will have the opportunity to tune it all out and settle into the Expanse.
D: Where did you go to school?
MG: I went to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. It’s a great school. When I went there, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I decided to study illustration. I also did a lot of bookbinding, 3D illustration and photography. I was able to create a lot of experimental work, but during that foundation year is when I first got into 3D. I created a very detailed installation and really fell in love with every aspect of the medium. At the time I didn’t think I would ever be an installation artist. I am a pretty practical person and it didn’t seem like a practical career path, so I would walk to the MFA to enjoy other people’s work.
D: What did you do after art school?
MG: After school I initially held a lot of different jobs. I taught art to inner city kids, I worked for an artist that made one-of-a-kind lamps out of paper and other natural materials. I also managed the design department of a boutique stationery store in the financial district. I loved being around paper and I loved designing, but I missed illustration. That’s when I decided to freelance. After a few projects and illustrating an art history book, I moved to Portland on a whim.
When I got here, I started designing 3D paper crafts for kids, which was pretty interesting. It got me excited about working with paper again. Myself and a few other artists got together and started a project called Portland Paper City, ending with a show at Disjecta. That was when I created my first suspended piece. I chose to create Mt. Hood, and the process was totally organic. I could reconstruct it again but it would take forever. With the tireless support of my husband, and a large team of friends, we strung and hung each paper triangle one string at a time. We worked from 5pm to midnight the entire week to hang the 1,000 some-odd pieces.
D: So your process has been streamlined a little bit!
MG: I loved the organic rhythm of the installation, but it wasn’t very efficient. I had to think of a way to make the process of installing the work easier. That is part of the excitement of working big–finding new ways of hanging the pieces in a way that works with the initial vision.
The last piece Intersect hung on all acrylic rods. It was gorgeous. It was a new medium for me, so there were inevitably kinks to work out along the way. For the actual paper forms, I moved to a mathematical, pattern based layout. That type of process felt right to me.
D: It’s obvious you are very methodical; with every piece there are design elements and mathematical components.
MG: My dad was a mathematician and he passed away in 2005. I think a lot of this is just a means of continuing the conversation with him, so to speak. Math was never my strong suit but I love it and I understand why my father was so passionate about it. It’s mathematical in a way, but not nearly as complex as the equations he would have been working on.
D: It’s reflected a lot even in your 2D work. It’s all about precision and pattern. There is an obsessive quality to it I think any mathematician would appreciate. Is it freeing to feel that organized or can it be confining?
MG: I don’t find it confining at all. There is a freedom in organization and structure. In my everyday life I don’t like perfection. In fact I think it can be dangerous to your psyche. When things are too perfect it doesn’t feel natural. However, there is a grace and structure in nature that is seamless—not flawless. That kind of organization I can fall in love with.
D: Setting up that kind of system seems to let you think more about the creative process.
MG: Exactly. Coming up with the initial sketch is exciting. Once I have the vision, I head to the planning stage, and then after that I go into production, which is my moment of Zen. It really is a form of meditation that I can lose myself in and let go. The structured workflow allows my mind to run wild and brainstorm about the next project.
D: What is interesting too, math is all approximation to the best answer.
MG: That’s what I love about this type of work. You are taking one type of shape and using it over and over, yet you can create a repeatable pattern to create many different larger forms. It’s comforting because there are a lot of possibilities. When the numeric patterns emerge, when I’m building an installation, it’s like watching the piece find its voice. It starts to come alive.
D: It’s the idea that we consist of the same parts but everyone is different and has a separate personality, look, and experience. But we are all made of the same exact material.
MG: That’s right. There is absolutely a unique quality to each piece and I speak to that parallel with people in my work.
On a personal note I explore that theme a lot. My brother passed away when I was in high school and my dad’s dad passed away when my father was two years old. It’s an odd tale for me because my grandfather and my brother both shared the same name, and they both passed at the age of twenty-three. It’s a weird coincidence that is eerie, strange, and interesting. Apparently they were very similar people, its sort of this trinity, with my dad passing. It’s part of the reason why I am obsessed with these triangular shapes. These three men inadvertently changed the coarse of my life.
For me, this is highly personal, but at the same time death is inevitable. Everyone is going to experience some type of loss in his or her lifetime. Everyone can relate to this because it is a natural part of life. That is basically what it comes down to. Even though it is sad, I don’t feel alone in that. Without sadness there can be no joy.
D: How many of these hanging installations have you done?
MG: I have only done about four so far. I can’t wait to do more and more and more. My friends sometimes tell me to try working smaller, something that people can take home on the spot. I just have a tendency to think big and can’t stop myself. I’m rebelling against my practical nature. (laughs)
D: Usually when you do curtail those instincts the pieces don’t turn out right.
D: Do you get inspiration from nature, Mt. Hood per say, or is it more literally from the form of a triangle itself?
MG: Both, and I get inspiration from relationships. The last piece was all about connection, the experience when you first meet someone. Anyone. It could be that person you buy coffee from everyday. Those little interactions that contribute to your attitude and who you are as a person.
I love genealogy as well, and tracking down familial patterns–a trait that carries down from your grandmother, or one that is shared with your sister. Those are patterns. So all of this is one big connection for me.
D: Are these pieces all hand cut?
MG: The smaller more intricate pieces I cut by hand. The installations, with the exception of Mt. Hood, are cut mechanically. There are so many great tools out there. The process of creation is really dependent on what it is that I’m building. Even with the machine cut pieces, there is still a great deal of work by hand that goes into creating every paper form.
These pieces take so long that, at this point, I’ve only been doing about one show a year. It takes a long time to plan this out; it’s really months of preparation before even getting to this point.
D: When did you start planning and conceptualizing Expanse?
MG: I had been thinking about what I wanted to do for a while, but probably October (2013) was when I started my first sketches. Usually a few months of planning—mapping out the patterns and figuring out the logistics of the suspension structure. The last month to two months is cutting and stringing the individual pieces.
D: If you did hand cut everything, how much longer would it take?
MG: A lot. A lot. I was lucky back when I created Mt. Hood because I was freelancing. I could make my own schedule. That was my full time job for a while. Plus I had a crew. It felt like the Warhol Factory for a while.
I am really excited to include furniture in Expanse. The viewer experience was much of the inspiration for this piece. It also allowed the opportunity for me to collaborate with my husband who is a builder and a sculptor.
D: When you create a space for the viewer to put their body, its much more of a rewarding experience. They become part of the installation.
MG: The experience itself can change your perspective on things. The viewers can either lose themselves in the experience or become hyperaware of their own bodies and the role they are actively playing in work of art itself.
D: Do you work in a certain color palette or does it change per piece?
MG: It changes a little bit. I love neutrals, browns and greys. My house is decorated in a lot neutral tones but in my work I tend to lean towards a more bright color palette. I’ve been excited about pink lately. It’s a really girly color, but it is also associated with comfort and feeling nurtured. It is a safe color.
D: Against the tone of the turquoise it kind of takes away that “baby girl” connotation.
MG: I think turquoise and magenta play well together.
D: That magenta has a harsh presence in some sense, it matures the pink.
MG: It also softens the edges of the pyramids. The color relationship in Expanse brings a more natural quality to the piece. I really wanted to make something that at first glance looked organic but after further inspection reveals an intricate pattern. There is a lot of play on the negative spaces.
D: Sometimes the viewer sees the pattern and then will stop looking. This is a good way to get the viewer to keep thinking about it. It’s always a challenge to keep looking. Especially nowadays, when there is so much vying for our attention.