Since the 1960s, the commoditization of art has been casting a pall over the numinous web of light that great art casts over the viewer. The income gap between “collectible” artists and the under-recognized is mind-boggling. So many gifted artists must pay out of pocket to continue their practice.

Your contribution, big or small, one-time or reoccurring, will provide a respite from this financial struggle and fuel the next wave of creativity. All funds will be used for a variety of art supplies which will provide the opportunity to broaden my practice, and to once again include etching and sculpture, which have been laid aside due to financial constraints.

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Marla Wagner
Jeff Fejes

Artistic Vision

I am a direct descendant of the Paleolithic shamans who crawled miles into the caves of the Périgord to leave a record of their psychedelically-induced journeys to the spirit world. I also journey to places where the rest of the tribe cannot go, and return with visual magic that gives a visible, though abstract, face to the ineffable. My intent is to create for the collective a doorway to the heart, a window to the soul that connects the mundane with the divine. I am confident in my ability to use classical and modern tools and materials to forge pathways to the Infinite. After nearly 50 years of working with my materials, I no longer need to give conscious thought to the nature or process of creation.

Medium

During my last six years in New York City I used handmade oil paints created daily by a talented assistant. I switched from oil paint to acrylic paints upon my arrival in Sarasota. The reasons are multiple: I was unable to find an assistant with the necessary skills, was moved by a desire to make a less toxic footprint on my new home in Paradise, and am physically limited by the advancing effects of 9/11-induced lymphomas on my bodily energy and stamina. Happily, I discovered Guerra Paint & Pigment, a source of magnificent pigments and acrylic binder mediums that give me back the power to create my own paints.

This was the most important milestone in the development of my artistic practice in Sarasota. I missed the opportunity to create my own materials from scratch — allowing me the freedom to paint as Universe directs. Creating my own materials in the studio, I feel the collaborating presence of the ancient alchemists who cloistered themselves in noxious laboratories to experiment with various substances to discover their mystical properties. Mixing my own paints gives me an incredible sense of relief, freedom, and a connection to that Power that drives my artistic process. In studio, the Muses run the show. My art is a voyage of discovery, my means of communicating the numinous wonder of being. This has always been the foundation of my need to create art.

The Development of My Art Practice in a Personal History

My parents were devoted patrons and collectors of the arts. Before I could walk, our family regularly visited New York City museums and galleries. These excursions were the high point of my formative years. My earliest and fondest childhood memories are formed around the visual vocabulary of modern art.

At the age of nine, Universe emphatically informed me of my calling — to unyieldingly devote my life to creating art. It has been said: “No one decides to be an artist. Art picks you.” This has certainly been my experience. The Muses will drag you to and fro, using you as their agent to create something new. They will tolerate no mutiny on their ship, but relentlessly whisper and scream, “Shut up and row!”

In 1972, I was blessed to be accepted into the diploma program of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I mark that as the beginning of my work history. I was honored to be Teaching Assistant to Jan Cox, who became my mentor. Jan Cox was a member of the COBRA school of painters that exploded out of the violence of World War II. Like me, he had been deeply affected by violence, and by trauma. His influence was welcome and profound. During my final semester, I received a coveted Independent Study Award and moved my studio and practice to Antwerp, the cradle of oil painting.

Upon returning to New York, I moved into a fourth-floor studio on Broome Street. Conditions were spartan to say the least. Cold water only was available by walking two flights down. Sleeping quarters consisted of a collection of paint rags in an unheated room, with plastic-sealed winter windows and zero ventilation. It was a thrilling time.

I partied with Andy Warhol and Gregory Corso, became close friends with SAMO® — AKA Jean-Michel Basquiat — and the two of us went tagging on hot summer nights. I was one of the Jamie Canvas Gang and an earlier adopter of Color Xerox art. I originated the technique of manipulating SX-70 Polaroids by drawing into the emulsion as it set. Immersed in SoHo and Tribeca life, I became acquainted with Keith Haring, George Condo, and other luminaries of today’s Art World. I was to become one of the lesser-known founders of the Neo-Expressionist School.

In the 70s and early 80s, my art was primarily an expression of pain and rage. It was an outward expression of the madness arising out of childhood abuse, and the wild sex and drugs fueled debauchery of Soho and Tribeca nightclubs. By 1986, I had journeyed so far into my own personal Hell that I was able to receive a gift from Heaven. In a true White Light experience, I received instant, complete freedom from alcoholism and recreational drug addiction. Throughout this life so filled with both agony and ecstasy, my unending task is to slay the Demons and make contact with the Divinity.

Bodies of Work

In the midst of this heady mix, I also drove a cab on the night shift 12 hours per night, six nights per week. Birthed out of the underbelly of nighttime New York City, Views from a Yellow Cab encompasses three notebooks that were painted on the bench seat of my Checker while I drove. I filled sketchbooks and painted myriad oil paintings of my life as a Night Driver. In the December 1982 edition of Details Magazine, Cookie Mueller wrote a wonderful article showcasing me.

That collection became the forerunner of an unending series of cohesive bodies of work in oil. The first is Nature, which consists of plein air oil paintings. The next set of collections, Naked Girls, Death and Lymphoma at Night, were inspired by my life, and painted in my studio. The Herbert Tarot consists of 22 paintings representing the Tarot Major Arcana cards; each image is 5-feet tall and 3½-feet wide. Creating the blank canvases themselves represented a substantial financial investment. Those works were thickly impastoed, making them extremely sensual both to paint and to experience. The process of re-imagining these archetypal images, so deeply connected with the expansion of consciousness, opened a door to abstract painting.

My first body of abstract work was created in dim nighttime lighting from my bed during active chemotherapy. It became a series of 10 paintings entitled The Tree of Life, and brings to life my visualization of the eternal Kabbalistic structure. The next body of abstract paintings, Formation, consists of 43 paintings completed in seven and a half months. Formation is a series of process-based paintings that combine variant abstract languages of mark-making while alluding to the color striations and textures of natural rock formations.

In Formation, subtly blended colors move in rhythmic passages; they glide, drag and break over succeeding layers, implying the beginnings of mountains or the separation of earth from sky. Various saturated colors assert themselves in each new passage, only to be partially buried again under additional applications. The thick atmosphere of texture and color asserts, yet obscures, deep space clarity.

The use of painting knives and brushwork creates minute textural details. Each painting possesses a unique topography. The irregular breaks in horizontal ribbons of paint are events that interrupt rhythmic patterns of color, exhibiting surface accretion and erosion, thereby hovering between abstraction and the illusion of landscape

These paintings address the vastness of space and time. They are paintings in the process of becoming. Due to the intricate dance of both formation and destruction, each painting demands prolonged inspection, a visual excavation to reconcile the microcosmic and macrocosmic nature of the natural world and our place in the universe. This body of work would be my swan song in the city that never sleeps.

Moving my physical body and painting studio to Sarasota brought changes of great magnitude. It’s a long way from Brooklyn, not just in miles but in atmosphere. Sarasota offers irresistible tropical inspiration. The first body of Sarasota paintings is Atmospheres, reflecting the inescapable reality that in Sarasota the Big Show is the SKY. Currently I am producing a body of work in acrylic which I conceive of as Cosmos.

My titles are intended to inform and add to the paintings. I try to avoid objective names, and often use terms and concepts from quantum physics and cosmology. Alternatively, I sometimes use song titles or snippets of lyrics. I do not want to identify a painting with an object. My intention is to take us off the planet and even off of the material plane. This body of work is inspired by my renewed fascination with cosmology and spirituality.

An archive of selected paintings on my professional website shows the artistic development of my entire life’s work. May your soul to dance to the music of my paintings.

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