Interested in learning more about the artists on display at Emerson Contemporary’s Media Art Gallery? Read about Marshall’s journey and process.
When looking at your work, I noticed a lot of your descriptions said that your work repeats the duality of creation, destruction, and decay over time. How did you decide to center your work around these topics?
A lot of what we’re dealing with in our lives contacts a lot of dualities. When I was younger, I was really connected to nature around me. Anyone who lives around this area in New England can see the natural changes of nature, within the foliage as plants live and die. I was interested in the connection between life in organisms and what happens afterwards. I know that it doesn’t just end, that there is a rebirth of something, so it brings in that duality of life, whether it’s transition to decay or how time moves. There’s a duality in time too, like how fast it’s moving but how slow it feels.
As a glass artist, when I was learning the material, everyone would say that it’s about craftsmanship. And I agree, it’s really important to learn how to make something perfectly well, like a straight-walled cup and other functional things. But I also think everyone gets so caught up in “perfectness” that I was interested in what the opposite of perfect would be like, and how I could bring imperfections into this art scene. Duality has just kind of seeped into my life in so many different ways, and it seems like such an overarching theme for everyone in their lives and in how we react to the world around us too.
I like that you take a very naturalistic approach to art, how you connect it back to your own experiences and how you show that life is imperfect through your own work. When and why did you decide to work with glass? How did you form your style?
I went to MassArt and graduated in 2017. I took one class in glass. Most glass artists will tell you this, that when you play with fire you kind of get addicted, and I agree. I touched the material once and basically from there I was obsessed. Everyone’s kind of afraid of the process, but then everyone who works with glass is so beautifully dancing with it too. It felt like an opposites game where I’m looking at a big fire and everyone is calm while making glass. I was really drawn to the material, the community, and everything about glass.
I think with all of us, creating who we are is kind of a big task. I know who I am personally, I know what I think and feel, but then portraying all of that to the world seemed kind of stressful. Because I’ve always felt that I wasn’t in line with everyone else and how they looked at the world, I knew I was a dark textural person. I’ve always been a physical and visual learner, so I’m interested in divots and cracks and all these little moments. Those moments keep me in tune with anything around me. Finding my style came through realizing that I love the imperfections of life. Instead of looking at what other people were creating, I started looking at what I love. My whole life, I’ve collected dried flowers and have had a connection to things that are no longer beautiful to other people. There are things about those moments that others would glaze over that I find super special. The women in my family taught me that there is so much more to objects when you find ways to preserve them. Nothing that is dead is actually gone. You can reuse and remake the special moments. That’s where I started to find my style. I also started to understand that, while I am the artist, the glass is also the artist too.
You said that you’re from around the area, can you say more?
I grew up in Middleton, Massachusetts. I love Massachusetts, and it’s been very hard to leave honestly. I feel like most colleges in Boston are so special because they attract very unique people, and Boston as a city is a very weird city. They attract artists and people who want to explore.
Do you feel like a piece of your identity and who you are can be placed in each of the works you make or a specific work?
I think it would be in each piece that I make. I’ve made a lot of art in college and, to this day, I still think about that work. It’s so a part of me and what I’m trying to portray. I think I leave a little bit of myself in every piece and I also think that my pieces actually inform me. Everything is kind of related to the next thing, even though they don’t necessarily fit together. For me, seeing how everything reacts to each other, I think that means that I’ve left parts of myself in the work in different ways. With that, everything I make informs the next idea.
In addition, based on your work, are there any pieces that were based on a memory or specific experience that you’ve had?
They’re memories through an emotional standpoint. When I was making some of the work I made in college, I was basically taking things like strawberries and pouring glass on them. They would immediately deteriorate. Time and materials are always fleeting and leaving. We’re always losing something to time, but gaining something as well. That’s the emotional side of it. I’m not sure if a specific memory relates to each piece, but I feel like it’s more about the relationship to myself, and then also the relationship other people feel to what’s not beautiful. How do we as humans live our lives through beauty standards? Society has made, especially for females or even people who are non-binary, these boxes of “what is beautiful” or “what you’re supposed to enjoy.” Like in the Victorian era, they were very explicit about “what makes what beautiful,” there was a formula for beauty. I’m really interested in the opposite of that. We all have memories of being incompetent and not good enough, and we’re always comparing, so I’m working to build towards how we can confront society.
It’s important to highlight, too, that, in the glass world, people will always tell you all the time that “it has to be clear” or “it has to have this proportion.” I related all of those rules to the rules I feel everywhere else, so it became this relationship to how I perceive myself and how the world perceives me. It was an amazing moment to look at this art and find it really beautiful. Most people, when they look at glass art, say that mine is not glass art. I’ve had a lot of critiques around the material, that they couldn’t see it, and I would say “that’s the point.” You force the question of “what actually is this” and “how do I now question and investigate this material,” like how we should be questioning societal standards and our perception of ourselves. We shouldn’t just accept; we should always question and investigate.
Would you say, overall, that you’re able to find freedom through the art that you make?
I would. Sometimes I do struggle when I’m making and feel really lost, but I think that’s just natural human emotions of anxiety and depression. But I do think, through all of that, I do find my most joy when I make a piece and I am in the moment of it. The cool thing about glass is that it’s created right in that moment, and you have to put it in a box to cool it down. So you’ll work with something one day and then open the box the next day to see what you made. Sometimes I really don’t know what I actually made and I think that’s the beautiful part of it. Glass has its own voice, I’m just the facilitator. We work together in the moment to create the piece.
Sometimes, you can even make things more unique inside of the kiln, so there’s a lot that can happen where you can investigate and explore. I think that play is such a large part of art making that so many people have lost. And that’s why college is so great, because we’re not thinking at that time about making money off of our art. I’m really lucky because I actually have a job in my field, so I am able to make money for myself, but it’s not my main thought. But it has allowed me to make such weird work and let me find my voice.
Over the years, have you seen that your work has evolved?
In college, I was so focused on each method individually. But the way I have progressed and advanced my work has been by mixing the methods of glass making. At the beginning, I was so focused on learning the process that I didn’t realize I could bend the ways of making glass art. How I’ve been able to progress with my work has been through playing and meshing techniques together. Mixing these processes together has made me realize that I’m making magic.
Do you have any advice for aspiring or young artists?
My biggest advice is: no matter what someone tells you won’t work out, listen to them, but still try it anyway. It’s really important to stay true to yourself. I know that sounds easier said than done, but if I hadn’t listened to my heart and know that I am a weird person, and I should keep going with that, I don’t think that I would be where I am. A lot of people have questioned my art. At first, I was really reactive and I wanted to stop making. But I kept making, and I think I found my voice more through pushing myself in that way. Don’t give up on yourself, even when you feel like you really want to.
(Interviewed by: Felicia Varlotto)