Marela Zacarias combines painting with sculpture to create site-specific geometric abstract shapes. Born in Mexico City, she currently lives in Brooklyn. She attended Kenyon College and received an MFA from Hunter College. Marela has exhibited work in many NYC galleries including a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, as part of the Raw/Cooked series.
When I was doing my MFA, I had a huge studio space in Times Square. I used to let things pile up but now, in this studio, I need to be conscious of the space. Half of my studio is in storage so I keep going back and forth. I constantly clean up, curate, get out, bring in. I picked this studio because it had the right wall length for the Brooklyn Museum pieces. I needed walls that were 14 feet high.
I loved my old studio but it was an hour commute from Brooklyn. If I wanted to stay late and finish something, I had to hide because it was a school building. Now it’s my place and I can come and go whenever. I live nearby so I can work, go back for dinner and then keep working. It’s a much healthier lifestyle.
Before I moved to Brooklyn, I lived in Connecticut and taught mural painting. I wanted to paint full-time so I applied to graduate school and moved to New York. It definitely changed everything. For the first time, I had all day everyday to experiment, and that’s how I developed my own technique. I became a sculptor. I went from representational painting to abstract sculpture.
Because I wasn’t trained as a sculptor, I used materials that no one would have ever used. I form everything out of window screen and slowly add layers of joint compound, which is what people use to patch walls. The material is very light and I dilute it with water and add other things to make it harder. When they’re dry, I sand them down and paint them. All of these materials are construction materials, not art materials.
I’m not very calculated. Forming the screens is almost like a gestural drawing. It needs to be done in five minutes. If I take longer than that, they get little marks on them and it’s overworked. It needs to be very gestural: move it, put it down, move it, put it down. Five minutes. Then, I spend a month making that movement into a sculpture.
I build layers and it’s dripping joint compound. My clothes are full of joint compound for a month. It’s messy. When they’re ready, sanding the sculptures is satisfying. You make the surface smooth. It’s a very sensual thing. They’re very nice forms. There’s something really nice about the discovery of the form. They’re all white and pretty, but I’m dirty with dust in hair and drinking coffee with dust.
When it’s sanded, the drawing is fast. I go around the sculpture and see what’s going on. The painting, however, becomes a really obsessive, time-consuming aspect. I enjoy every phase but I definitely love the painting. I have to paint them with a headlamp because I have get right up inside of them. It’s very physical. I call it, ‘contortionist painting.’
I use wall paint. I know every department at Loews. Sometimes I need 60 shades of color and they mix it for me. I write down the exact colors that I use for my projects so it’s easy to retouch or redo. The paint names are so funny. I took a class in color theory and everything was saturated, unsaturated. I would be like, ‘What about ‘Fluffy Cloud’?’ and my professor would hate it.
I don’t find the easier solutions right away. I was mixing the joint compound by hand when my sculptor friend said, ‘Why don’t you use a mixer?’ The first piece I did, I did directly on the wall and one of the shop managers, who’s also an art handler, said, ‘Why don’t you make a cleat and put it on a base?’ There’s no expert on this technique. There’s no YouTube on it. I had to discover it by myself and a lot of those eureka moments came from working in New York, with a community of artists.
-Marela Zacarias, as told to Studio Beat.
Photos by Courtney Vokey
Visit Marela Zacarias’ website here.