Our general consensus is that it is in the eyes. It has to be, for there is nothing else to offer up that feeling of wrongness in the art of Marion Peck. Her palate is sunny enough, her subjects innocent enough, her landscapes full of greens and lights and other indications of virtue. But the eyes "“ the eyes hold none of those characteristics.
Some of us think that the eyes are that feeling you get five minutes before you find out your best friend was in a car accident, the rest of us think of them in only slightly less ominous terms, but all of us find in them the reason that we always look again. Yes, the paintings are beautiful, but it's the dreams in them that draw our attention. They are familiar, they are unfamiliar; they are disconcerting, they are comforting. They are in the eyes, vacant, but not abandoned, and we can't stop looking.
Joshspear.com: Can you share your background with our readers, please?
Marion Peck: I grew up in Seattle, W.A., and went to art school on the east coast. I did a little bit of graduate school in Italy, then dropped out of school and stayed in Italy for a few years. That had a big effect on me. Then, I was back in Seattle until five years ago, when I moved down to L.A. to live with Mark Ryden.
JS: You're one of the few people who can claim to be doing what they've wanted to do since childhood. Do you ever compare the work you do now to your very early paintings – and if so, are there any elements of your style/subject matter that have stayed with you from then through now?
MP: Yes! Sometimes it seems to me like I have maybe twenty or so paintings inside me that come out over and over again – always different and changed, but always related. When I start a new painting, I'll not be aware of it. I'll always think, this painting is new and different, but at a certain point it will occur to me that, oh, this painting is another such-and-such kind of painting. The painting I am working on now reminds me of a painting I remember doing twenty years ago.
JS: The subjects of your paintings, whether animal or human, are often young, and appear somewhat sad. However, when you do have an older subject, they frequently look painfully sad. Does this represent anything?
MP: People always tell me that. I really don't try to make them sad. I guess what I might be shooting for is a neutral kind of expression, kind of like the neutral expressions you see in the old Northern Renaissance paintings when they're standing there next to someone getting flayed or something like that, but they have this neutral expression. People always tell me I look sad, even when I am not feeling at all sad. Sometimes I am feeling totally ecstatic, and I go into a store to buy gum or something, and the woman behind the counter will say to me, "Tired? Had a long day?" I don't know why. They say that artists often resemble the people they paint. Maybe that's the case with me.
JS: You pull much of your imagery from dreams. My dreams are either useless compared to yours, or you have an amazingly vivid memory (or an equally amazing system for recording them). How do you do it?
MP: Well, when you first wake up, you must lie very still, and most importantly, think no thoughts about the daytime world. Just let yourself drift back into the night world, and then you can catch them. If you let yourself think a daytime thought, then poof! They are gone, like fishes in a black pool. Remembering your dreams depends mostly on how much you really want to remember them; on how much importance you are willing to give them. If you want them, they will come.
Actually, I don't remember mine nearly as well as I used to. For a while there, I was a real dream explorer. I vividly remembered several complete dreams every night, and I dreamed lucidly (i.e., knowing I was dreaming while I was dreaming) with more frequency. I would love, some day, to go back and explore more, just sleep and sleep and devote myself to my dreams. They are so endlessly amazing and fascinating. It seems to me dreaming is like an amazing portal each of us has to different worlds, yet we just ignore it because we do not understand it.
JS: One thing that remains generally constant in your work is an overall feeling of wrongness "“ like each subject has experienced something dark, or is waiting for something sad to happen. Is there an answer to why they're hurting, or do you purposefully leave that question unanswered?
JS: I adore your new painting, Landscape with Submerged Deer, from your most recent show at New York's Sloan Fine Art. Does that painting have a story?
MP: It is another dream image.
JS: I didn't realize you and Mark Ryden were a couple "“ but now that I look at your paintings side by side, I can see the small influences you've had on each other's work. Are these really things that have emerged from your relationship, or are they just inadvertent creative similarities?
MP: When I first saw Mark's work on the cover of Juxtapoz Magazine years ago, it was like putting on my first pair of glasses when I was eight years old, and seeing all the little leaves on the trees. His work completely blew my mind. I felt a deep kinship with it. Our vision of the world is eerily similar; we both have always been attracted to the same things. We were born in the same year; we remember the same weird things. We are just soul mates, plain and simple. Mark has taught me so much. He has such incredible technique. Watching him paint is like watching Mozart playing the harpsichord. I have picked up a thing or two, you bet. And no doubt he from me. We are together all the time.
JS: There's a freedom in the urban art scene, one offered in less abundance in other areas, that seems to really encourage artists to just go with their gut and paint for themselves (as opposed to the market). Is this what initially drew you to explore more lowbrow art?
MP: Graduate school in the 1990's was a sad place for art. I knew in my heart that they (i.e. the professors, the critics, the whole snobby hypocritical art world) were wrong, and that art had to be saved from them. Heart is exactly what they were lacking, and I decided to follow my heart, and not them. I suppose that is what led me to wherever I am now.
JS: Each year your work seems to take on a slightly different theme. Does 2008 have a tone of its own yet, and if so, what can we hope to see from you?
MP: It does, but I think I will keep it in the studio until my next show.