Megan Marlatt

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Info: Artist's statement | Critic's essay | Artist's bio | Artist's resume

Artist's Statement

Matter matters. My task as a visual artist is to transform tangible matter. We live in a world of matter that informs all of our senses, evokes our most primordial emotions and roots us to the universe. Therefore, I have learned that the key to making miraculous art is less likely to be held in the artist’s mind than in her hands. Refuting the notion that his work manifested a philosophy of transcendence, the modern abstract painter, Marc Rothko insisted that he was giving us a material experience, the sensuousness of the world in all its richness. According to him, his work was “about” as well as “of” this world. This is why I hold a deep respect for the matter I manipulate and the ensuing enmeshment of material and ideas that occurs in my creative process. This enmeshment in representational painting often occurs when the material and the motif become one. When realism is evoked through the plasticity of the paint medium itself and the canvas becomes more than a mere illusionist picture. This is the heavy weight of Morandi’s paint turning into wet clay when he paints his still life objects as if he were painting gravity itself. Or the oily sea of Turner’s pictures when they submerge, churn and float in unison with his palette. Or Van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters” that he expressed to his brother, Theo, is an attempt to make the paint as the dirt that the “eaters” ate on their potatoes.

The artist William DeKooning once said that oil painting was invented to depict flesh. So, I ask, why was acrylic paint invented? I had always snubbed the medium as inferior to the great tradition of oil painting. That was, until I started to paint plastic toys and then my sixteenth century painting material failed miserably to depict a mid-twentieth century substance. For all its modeling and illusionism, somewhere in my pictures of plastic toys it had to flatten out like melted plastic stuck to canvas. Only with acrylic paint, (plastic virtually painting plastic), could I produce that magically place where the material and the motif fused into one.

Beyond the material, the motifs in my paintings struggle. The events of 9/11 profoundly shook my illusions of a safe and secure world. So the armies of cartoon characters and salvage store superheroes that make up my piles of plastic toys have become a personal metaphor for the varying factions of external forces rallying to destroy or save us. In addition, abstractionism and realism struggle to co-exist on the picture plane and the antithetical applications of loose expressionism and focused control scuffle to find resolution. I paint the toys from observation and I fight to find visual clarity as I fall into vertigo over the extreme colors and mass consumer objects. Still, it’s the depiction of plastic that I feel makes my work truly contemporary and where it can best make a contribution to the history of painting. What is this matter that we have surrounded ourselves with in increasing amounts since the 1960’s and how do I make humans aware of its omnipresence in their lives?

Critic's essay

Pensive Play:
The New Paintings of Megan Marlatt

Like Rocky and Bullwinkle, sometimes called the first cartoon for adults, these paintings are not really for kids,” laughed artist Megan Marlatt, discussing her work during a recent studio visit. I agree, and not just because Marlatt’s new paintings, like the escapades of “moose and squirrel,” smartly gravitate towards dark humor. Rendered through an adroit painterliness, these new large-scale easel paintings of mounds of garish plastic toys transform objects of childhood play into sites of mature melancholy and uncertainty. This occurs visually and aesthetically through a fusion of still life with landscape, and conceptually, like classic fairy tales, through an inconspicuous translation of the everyday language of juvenile amusement into an array of symbols of adult variance and power politics. The best of her new paintings, like Under the Watchful Eye of the Elephant and Orange Slinky, are generous because of the dialectic of childhood and adulthood they involuntarily embrace—how each of these two phases of life, through desire, struggle, and hope, contains elements of the other, and how each phase, with both longing and disapproval, gazes at the other.

Marlatt’s new paintings are anchored in many of the devices of traditional still life painting. The subject matter is literally objects on a table, and these objects function both aesthetically and as signifiers, and in so doing possess an animate inanimateness. Yet, the inherent reciprocal flow between childhood and adulthood is prompted by a blur of two genres: still life and the landscape. Her recent paintings reveal a horizon that expands the scope of the composition. Consequently, they become scenes rather than formal arrangements, environments for narrative, situations for verbs as well as adjectives.

The seductive, fermenting mounds of toys revel in the stuff of their making, in their own raw material: fossil fuels, petroleum-derived polymers. Here all is plastic and plastic is all—the medium for the megalography and rhopography of a child’s world, the medium for variance in the adult’s. A curiously withholding light seeps through the paintings along with a range of disquieting social, political, and cultural associations such as the sallowness of late capitalism, specters of terrorism, the odd stirrings and disruptions of seasonal weather, and wounds of a warming planet.

The transformation that occurs within the paintings is initiated and sustained through the creative process by the optical allure of the toys within Marlatt’s eye. It is symbolically and, therefore, emotionally and psychologically effective solely because of her particular manipulation of visual form. Seduced by the mutable charm of her subject matter and the pulpiness of paint, she follows her instincts and allows form to lead the way. Marlatt is not establishing specific narrative structures or systems of symbolism—this would probably mean utter failure for the paintings, placing them within the realm of kitsch. As writer and critic Guy Davenport has said: “…language knew it for [her]…, and carried the meaning as genes pass on information from organism to organism.” In these captivating paintings of plastic he-men, evil queens, super heroes, roly-poly puppies, transformers, Disney characters, building blocks, and mummy sarcophagi, Marlatt has unwittingly tapped in to an archetypal power.
—Paul Ryan

A painter and art critic, Paul Ryan is Professor of Art in the Department of Art and Art History at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. Since 1990 he has been a contributing editor for Art Papers Magazine.

Artist's Bio

Megan Marlatt received her B.F.A. from the Memphis College of Art, TN (1981), studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, ME (1985), and received her M.F.A. at Rutgers University, NJ (1986). She has been a professor at the University of Virginia since 1988. She has received an Individual Artist Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts, (1995), the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (2006), the Virginia Commission on the Arts (1996) and The New Jersey State Council on the Arts (1985). Marlatt has had solo exhibitions at the Anthony Giordano Gallery of Dowling College in Long Island, (2005), the Dupree Gallery in Philadelphia, (2005), "Art Nurnberg 8," Festival of the Arts, Germany (1993) and the District of Columbia Arts Center, Washington (1992). Her group exhibitions include the Educational Alliance Art Gallery, NY (2001), The Painting Center, NY (2000), Snyder Fine Art, NY (1997), Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Parson's School of Design, NY (both 1993). Marlatt's public art works have encompassed a fresco mural completed for Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Rapidan, VA (1996); and site-specific works for Hillwood Museum, NY (1993) and Atlanta Arts Festival, Georgia (1991).

Artist's Resume

2006 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship, Individual Artists Fellowship in Painting
1996 Virginia Commission on the Arts, Individual Artist Fellowship in Painting
1995 National Endowment for the Arts, Individual Artist Fellowship in Painting
1990 UVa Rome Fellowship Exchange Program, to study frescoes, Rome, Italy
1987 Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, Individual Artist Fellowship in Painting
1985 New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Individual Fellowship in Painting
Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, Full Tuition Scholarship, Skowhegan, ME
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2005 "Cultural Vertigo", The Anthony Giordano Gallery, Dowling College, Long Island, NY
"Cultural Vertigo",  Dupree' Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
"'X', Ten Years After the NEA", Les Yeux du Monde Gallery, Charlottesville, VA
2004 "Of Two Minds",  Woodberry-Forest School, Orange, VA
2003 "Specimens and Artifacts: Reflections on Lewis and Clark", Pyro Gallery,  Louisville, KY
1993 Art Nürnberg 8, Festival of the Arts, Nuremberg, Germany
1992 "Houseworks",District of Columbia Arts Center,Washington, DC
1991 University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Yvonne Rapp Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky
1985 Artemisia Gallery, Chicago, IL
1983 Clough-Hansom Gallery, Rhodes College, Memphis, TN
Selected Group Exhibitions
2007 “Inner Child; Good and Evil in the Garden of Memories”, with Elena Sisto, Randy Bolton, Katerina Lanfranco and others, Hunterdon Museum, Clinton, NJ
2006 "Bethesda Painting Awards/Finalists Exhibition",  Frazer Gallery,  Bethesda, MD
2004 "Al Fresco, Contemporary Art in Plaster and Pigment",  curated by Robert Bunkin, Schiavone/Edward Contemporary Art,  Baltimore, MD
2004 "Lucky 13",  Ada Gallery,  Richmond, VA
2002 "500 Works on Paper 1922-2002",  Gary Snyder Fine Arts,  New York, NY
      "Holiday Show",  Erin Devine Gallery,  Louisville, KY
     "2002 Viterbo Student/Faculty Exhibition",  Montserrat College of Arts,  Boston, MA
2001 "Danko-Marlatt-Schaffer",  Murray State University,  Murray, KY
     "Fresco/Fresh", with Italo Scanga, Yvonne Jacquette, and others, Educational Alliance Art Gallery,  New York, NY
     "Three Ring Circus",  Rockville Arts Place,  Maryland
2000 Group Exhibition, curated by Sam Messer,  The Painting Center,  New York, NY
1999 "Spirit & Earth",  Bernard Maisner Fine Art Gallery, Bay Head, NJ
1998 "All Media Group Show", The Turtle Gallery, Deer Isle, Maine
1997 "A New Naturalism", Snyder Fine Art, New York, NY
"The Whereabouts of Beauty",  The Hand Workshop, Richmond, VA
"Larry and Co.", The University of Memphis Art Museum, TN        
     The Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair, Snyder Fine Art, New York, NY
1996 Frescoes in collaboration with artist, Italo Scanga,  University of California,  San Diego        
Annual Invitational Exhibition, Spark Gallery, Denver, Colorado
"Picture This; artists interpret text", A.C.,T. Gallery, Detroit, Michigan
1995 "Fresco", Elan Vital Gallery, Boston, MA
1994 "Fresco, A Contemporary  Perspective", Boston College Museum of Art, MA.
 "Interior Essence", Akus Gallery, Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, CT
1993 "Fresco: A Contemporary Perspective", with Alison Saar, Italo Scanga, etc,  Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York &  Parson's School of Design Exhibition Center, NY, NY 
"Recycled Ideas", Craven Arts Council and Art Gallery, New Bern. NC           
"Touc"h, Traveling Exhibition touring the Mid Atlantic Region in  affiliation with The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and The Hand Workshop, Richmond,VA
1992 "10 Steps", Muranushi Lederman Inc and Horodner Romley Gallery, New York, NY                              
 "Annual Cite' Artists' Show", Cite' Internationale des Arts. Paris, France
1990 "3 Women in the South", Robinson/Willis Gallery, Nashville,TN
1990 "The Street, The Slogan, The Artist", District of Columbia Arts Center, Washington, DC  
     "Objects D'Art", A Touring Exhibit of the Commonwealth of Virginia in affiliation with The Hand Workshop and The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA   
1989 "Mythic Moderns", Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT
"Embracing Mysteries", Souyun Yi Gallery, New York, NY
1988 "New Forces", Ceres Gallery, New York, NY
1987 "Emerging Artist", Princeton Fine Arts Gallery, Princeton, NJ
"NJSCA Fellowship Show", The Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ
Murals and Public Art Works
2007 Public Art Commission, a temporary, 5 story digital banner that depicts the history of  Rockville, Maryland and its demographics with hats.
2005 Finalist,  Rockville's Town Square Public Art Project,  Rockville, MD
2000 Site-Specific  window drawings and asphalt paintings, "Hindsight/Fore-site; Art for the New Millennium", group exhibition with Ann Hamilton, Dennis Oppenheim, Lucio Pozzi and others, The University of Virginia Art Museum,  Charlottesville, VA
     First Alternate/Finalist,  New York City Percent for the Arts, proposal for stained glass  window at P.S. 66, Canarsie, Brooklyn.  Finalists included Dale Chihuly and 6 others 
     Finalist Award, Arts Council of Montgomery County, for proposal of Crescent Trail Tunnel temporary art installation, Maryland
1996 Fresco Mural,  Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Rapidan, Virginia
1993 Site-Specific  asphalt painting, Hillwood Museum, C.W. Post Campus, L.I. University,  NY
1991 Site-Specific asphalt & grass painting, Atlanta Arts Festival, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA
 Fresco Mural, Charlottesville City Hall Annex Building, Charlottesville, VA
     Site-Specific asphalt & grass painting, Louisville Visual Art Association, Louisville, KY
1990 Site-Specific asphalt painting, in conjunction with "The Street, The Slogan, The  Artist",  District of Columbia Arts Center, DC
1987 Fresco Mural, St. Michael's Chapel, Piscataway, NJ      
     Community Mural, Washington House of East Harlem, Cityarts Workshop, New  York, NY
Mural, The Memphis Pink Palace Museum of Natural History, Memphis, TN
     Community Mural, Casa P.R.A.C. of Vineland, NJ, organized through the Walt Whitman Cultural Center of Camden, NJ 
1986 Fresco Mural, Memphis College of Art, Memphis, TN
Site-Specific asphalt painting, Trenton Art Museum, Trenton, NJ  
Community  Mural, C.P.E.#2 of East Harlem, Cityarts Workshop, New York, NY
Selected Publications
2007 Review,  "Childish things: Hunterdon exhibit remembers innocence " by Dan Bischoff,  The Star-Ledger, New Jersey,  October 14, 2007
2005 Review,  "Megan Marlatt, Cultural Vertigo" by Helen Harrison,  The New York Times, Long Island Edition,  March 6, 2005
     Article.  "Spongebob Must be Stopped...", by Gerry Dantone, The Improper Magazine, Westhampton, NY,  April '05
2003 Book,  "Siting Jefferson; Contemporary Artists Interpret Thomas Jefferson's Legacy",  by Jill Hartz,  University of Virginia Press.
2002 Book Cover,  "Beyond Babel; A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages",  edited by John Kaltner and Steven L. McKenzie,  Society of Biblical Literature. 
     Article,   Adbusters, anti-consumerist magazine, Vancouver, BC, Canada,  June/July '02                
Review,  Group Exhibition, Sarah Sargent,  Art Papers,  June/July '02
2000 Book,  "Exhibitionism, Art in an Era of Intolerance", by Lynn Munson, Ivan R. Dee Publisher
1998 Article,  "The New Gouache", by Donna Dorian Wall,  Southern Accents, July/Aug '98
     Catalog,  "The Whereabouts of Beauty", The Hand Workshop, Richmond, VA
1997 Article,  "Recovering Sacred Spaces; the Art of Megan Marlatt", by Sharon Leiter,  Albemarle Magazine, Apr/May  '97
1996 Article,  "The Rainbow After the Flood",  The Washington Post,  July 13,  by Dana Hull
1994 Catalog, "Fresco: A Contemporary Perspective", The Snug Harbor Cultural Center
1993 Catalog,  Art Nürnberg 8, Nürnberg, Germany
Review,  "Art Nurnberg 8", Michael Becker,  Nurnberger Nachrichten, April 24, Germany
1992 Article,    "Cravings; Food Into Sculpture", by Jude Schwendenwien, Sculpture Magazine,  Nov/Dec '92
1992 Catalog, "Houseworks", solo exhibition at District of Columbia Arts Center, DC
1991 Catalog,  The Atlanta Arts Festival, GA
     Review,  "Objets d'Art",  Ann Glenn Crowe,  Art Papers, Feb '91
Since 1988 Professor of Art, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
2002 – 2005  Visiting Artist,  Montserrat College of Art,  Summer Program, Italy,  fresco workshop 
1986 M.F.A., Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
1985 Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME
1981 B.F.A., Memphis College of Art, Memphis, TN
Visiting Artist and Residences
2004 Artist-in-Residence,  Art Space, Big Tancook Island, Nova Scotia, Canada                               
2000 Artist-in-Residence,  Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Sweet Briar, VA
1999 Visiting Artist, Randolph-Macon Women's College, Lynchburg, VA
1997 Mentor,  Careers Workshop, College Art Association, New York, NY
1995 Juror, "All Mixed Up", group exhibition, Associated Artists of Winston-Salem, NC
1994 Panelist, "National Recognition: An Elusive Concept for the Artist-Educator", College Art Association, New York, NY
1993 Artist-in-Residence, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Affiliate Program, Richmond, VA
Visiting Artist/Juror, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
1992 Artist-in-Residence, Cite' Internationale des Arts, Paris, France
1990 Visiting Artist,  Hampden-Sydney College, Hampton-Sydney, VA.
Selected Collections
The Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Gary Snyder and Kristen Accola, New York, NY
Margareta Douglas, Charlottesville, VA
Randolph Macon Woman’s College, Lynchburg, VA
Charlotte Minor, Richmond, VA
Evansville Museum of Art, Evansville, IN
Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR
Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY
Aaron and Bobbi Fine, Philadelphia, PA
Marion Dunham, Princeton, NJ
John & Gail Marshall, Rapidan, VA
Castle MacLaughlin, Cambridge, MA
Coleman & Powell, Pipersville, PA
Dee & Pug Winokur, Greenwich, CT
Theodore Simon, Philadelphia, PA
Rebecca Thompson, Little Rock, AR
Sarah Sargent, Somerset, VA


Watch Kent Wiley's latest video on Megan Marlatt's January/February 2011 exhibition at Les Yeux du Monde. View video >


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