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In the Studio with Marsha Balian

Marsha and I first met each other over ten years ago in an exhibition at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. Since then, I have followed her artistic journey in collage and mixed media with great interest. Her aesthetic is unmistakable. Muted tones, an antique patina and those mysterious faces! I imagine her artwork being a family archive of some truly legendary and fascinating characters.

During a recent afternoon, I had the pleasure of visiting Marsha in her home, seeing her brand new studio and diving into her creative world. As a self-taught artist, Marsha has devised a way of working that seems both anthropological and mystical.

In one series, she juxtaposes a strange object with her signature collage style. Spools of thread, rusty lids, rocks–carrying a hidden meaning and a curious history. They’re the kind of things one might come across in an ancient barn or buried at the site of a long-gone circus. In several of her recent works on panel, the collage composition seems to be in reaction to this curious found object–affixed as if being preserved and catalogued. The object sometimes unites with the color palette in the collage, but always seems to anchor the story.



In another series, Marsha confidently shifts into abstraction by employing rich color fields and patterns that are just beyond the edge of recognition. Linked closely with the more narrative work through their intimate scale and the appearance of a time-worn surface the work alludes to fragments of memories. Organic floating forms cross stark boundaries and mingle with patterned cut paper elements.  



As a lead-in to her upcoming Gearbox exhibition, A TWIST OF FATE, Marsha shared with me the following in regard to her artistic practice and new body of work.


On process…


In terms of my process, in some ways the materials themselves can be the starting point.  Since starting to use collage in my work, I’ve become a bit of a scavenger and am always on the lookout for some little piece of detritus that might lend itself to a future piece of work.  Discarded pieces of paper, rusted can lids, and construction materials, the list is endless.  I recently became the happy owner of a box of old photographs from the late 19th century, each one a little treasure.  And each one possessing elements of mystery and intrigue.  The opportunity to play with so many materials is a great source of pleasure for me.



On technique…


I love the surface of encaustic, but cannot work with that material.  So for close to a decade, I have been experimenting to create a similar or “faux encaustic” surface.  Because I use such disparate materials in my work, somehow the final (and somewhat laborious- it can take up to 16 coats of medium- with the final addition of oil paint and linseed oil) surface is essential to marry all those ingredients.  I can’t really see the work until that final step is complete.



On joining Gearbox Gallery…


Artists can be so isolated, so I had been interested in being a part of a member run gallery for several years and spent some time looking for the right match.  I observed the Gearbox Gallery starting to grow and thought: “that’s where I want to be”.   It’s been wonderful.  I love being part of and working towards something larger than my own limited self-interest.  And it’s very exciting to see the gallery flourish.



Marsha in her brand-new studio, October 2019