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28 May 2021

Interview: In Conversation with Marissa Sher

Below is our Q&A with video and graphic artist Marissa Sher. You can follow Marissa on her Instagram @whelkeye and check out her website to see more of her work!

What drew you to working in video art and graphics? Did you start learning one skill before the other or was it all at once?

I was a dancer/choreographer and started filming my work, and just realized I loved the film layer more. I geeked out with set design on those early projects which led me to the art department in the film industry. I learned graphic design at the same time to support myself, and eventually made my way up to leading graphics teams for films and tv shows. My art is definitely a combo of all those worlds.

What elements do you keep in mind when composing a work of art?

Nostalgia is an important feeling in my art. I like to make viewers feel farther away in space or time.

Language is a nostalgic thing for me too, I love old novellas like Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Little Prince, Peter Pan. Stories about childhood and getting stuck there, lost in an alternate universe of our own troubles and thoughts. I love how books for that age group are playgrounds of idioms and wordplay. I keep a pile of those plus a dictionary of cliches at my desk. I like to take a simple phrase or thought, move the words around, try to visualize it. Especially something said over and over to me as a kid. So many times the meaning is fraught or off.

In your experience, how does motion help you to tell a story through art?

I like to create places you can fall into. I’ve always been obsessed with astronomy and planets and what it would feel like to float through space by yourself. I built my first miniature planets with wool, and spinning them was so gratifying. Then it just became…can everything feel that ominous and lonely, suspended and spinning indefinitely?

Capturing motion definitely helps me express the surreal environments in my head. I like everything to feel as real as possible, so I do whatever effects I can in camera. All the spinning is animatronic, then I speed up or slow down the footage and layer in backgrounds with a found footage feeling in post.

You shared in a recent post “Trash makes the best art.” Can you elaborate on that?

It does! My favorite activity as a kid was called “junk art,” you found odds and ends and garbage around the house and then had to make it into something. I’m always picking things up off the street and putting them in my pockets. Buds, screws, dead bugs, discarded toys.

Craft stores were my temples, I could spend hours there just wandering around imagining what I might make. I always loved the blank slate of the styrofoam balls they sell there, those were the cores of my early spheres.

Now walking into a big craft store is so fraught. All the plastic boxes of plastic supplies shrink wrapped in more plastic. Makes you feel so dumb holding your reusable bag. So a few years ago I started melting old plastic bags together with a glue gun to make the sphere centers. My dream is to one day make an affordable eco Michael’s and put them out of business. My studio is definitely a bit hoardy.

How do you work so that you enjoy the process as much as the outcome when creating? Any advice for artists struggling with this?

I had no formal training in film or 3D programs, so for a long time the ideas I had just didn’t come out the way I envisioned. It was so frustrating. I think when I finally came off the computer and rediscovered how much I love to make things with my hands, my art got a lot more enjoyable. I can sit in the studio for hours sculpting and gluing, and that’s my favorite part. Eventually I move onto rigging, filming, keying and editing, but the magic part is the time alone tinkering, the thing itself taking shape. Realizing I didn’t need to learn 3D, and in fact prefer the old special effects look I get from building and taking real objects apart, that’s made a huge difference.

I’d tell other artists not to be hard on yourself if nothing looks right yet or you don’t have the time to make what you want because you’re struggling to stay afloat. I have piles of sketchbooks full of ideas from my 20s, and I used to get so anxious about them slipping away. They don’t go away, they grow and change with you. Half my art is just some really old thought.

Who are some artists who inspire you right now?

A lot of the landscapes I envision incorporate bodies, and in the past I’ve used doll parts to get the effect. I’m slowly bringing my own body back into my art as a material, and I’m drawn to women who are doing this in interesting ways.

Sam Cannon’s art (@samcannon) is so well done and accessible, I think she mixes analog and digital really brilliantly. And she seems fearless exploring ideas around women’s bodies as commodity.

Jordanna Kalman (@rabbitsparrow) takes beautiful nude self portraits and then lets plants and insects interact with the physical prints. They have this wonderful feeling of overgrowth and decay.

Honey Long & Prue Stent (@honeylong / @prue_stent) abstract their bodies and mix them with the most breathtaking landscapes. They are a favorite on my feed.