“Current toys are made of a graceless material, the product of chemistry, not of nature. Many are now molded from complicated mixtures; the plastic material of which they are made has an appearance at once gross and hygienic, it destroys all the pleasure, the sweetness, the humanity of touch. “ —Roland Barthes, from “Toys”, an essay from Mythologies
Drawing inspiration from the number of quirky characters and funky forms produced in plastic toys, Megan Marlatt renders in a classic style paintings that depict the many meanings behind toys. Most of the toys she paints are products of children’s packaged fast food meals that have been discarded and salvaged from thrift stores. In a complicated mixture of emotions both critical of and complicit to our consumer society, half of Marlatt’s paintings reflect our mass plastic consumption run amuck, while the other half reminiscent for a time when a toy was a precious object.
Artists Reception / Sunday, November 7, 2010, from 4 to 6 pm
Statement / For the last seven years, my work has drawn inspiration from the multitude of quirky characters and funky forms produced in plastic toys. Most of the toys I have chosen to paint are products of children’s packaged fast food meals, salvaged from thrift stores. The paintings I created from these discarded playthings often fall into two opposite categories: one being critical of our consumer society, the other being complicit to it. Colorful and glossy, I sometimes painted these small toys in densely packed piles that spoke to me of mass consumerism, chaos and cultural vertigo. Yet at other times, I handled them as if they were forgotten treasure. I set apart special toys and with the eye of a child, focused on them as endearingly as he or she would a favorite plaything, animating them through paint.
With my portraits of puppets and other singularly depicted toys, I tried to reclaim a sense of preciousness within these mass-produced objects. Just as a child’s relation to a beloved toy blurs reality and pretend, so also moves the creative activity and play of an artist in her studio. The painter Philip Guston once wrote; “In Rembrandt the plane of art is removed. It is not a painting, but a real person – a substitute, a golem.” With my tondos like “Portrait of Ms. Oyl,” this quote was foremost in my mind. Puppets posed for their portraits in my studio and as they “sat” for me, I lovingly molded an image that represented them somewhere in between reality and unreality, static and animation, flatness and volume. Like the story of Pinocchio, the still life object and the painted picture plane endeavored to be real under the craftsperson’s eye and hand.
Biography / Megan Marlatt has spent the majority of her life on the 38th parallel near Interstate 64; growing up in Louisville, Kentucky and living in Virginia for the past twenty years. In her formative years as a young artist, she spent a lot of time studying the paintings of Pierre Bonnard, Balthus, Domenico Gnoli and Eric Fischl. She received her B.F.A. from the Memphis College of Art in 1981, where she acquired a good understanding of the Southern narrative. During the summer of 1985, she studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. At Skowhegan, Marlatt learned the art of fresco painting which was to inform her mural work for years to come and studied with Betye Saar, Mary Heilmann and Louisa Chase. She received her M.F.A. at The Mason Gross School of Arts, Rutgers University, NJ in 1986, studying under Leon Golub, Stephen Westfall, Emma Amos and Joan Semmel. She has been a professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville since 1988.
Marlatt was one of the last individual artists to receive a Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts (1995) before congress denied its access to independent artists. In addition, she has received other individual artist grants from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (2006), the Virginia Commission on the Arts (1996), and The New Jersey State Council on the Arts (1985). She has had solo exhibitions at the Les Yeux du Monde Gallery in Charlottesville, VA (2005,2008 & 2011), 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, DC (1992). Her group exhibitions include Inner Child; Good and Evil in the Garden of Memories at the Hunterdon Museum of Art, NJ, (2006), Fresco/Fresh at the Educational Alliance Art Gallery, NY (2001), New Paintings, curated by Sam Messer at The Painting Center, NY (2000), A New Naturalism at Snyder Fine Art, NY (1997), and Fresco, A Contemporary Perspective at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Parson's School of Design, NY (both 1993). Marlatt's public art works have encompassed a monumental digital banner for the City of Rockville, MD (2008), 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).
Publications concerning Marlatt’s paintings of plastic toy motifs have been included in two separate articles in The New York Times and once in The New Jersey Star Ledger. Her earlier work involving food has appeared in articles in Adbusters and Sculpture magazines. Art Papers, Southern Accents, The Washington Post, and Albemarle Magazine have also published articles about her art.
During the last two years, Marlatt has been an artist in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia, the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Banner, Wyoming and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan, Ireland.