Marlene Struss selects intriguing title for solo exhibit
Why did Marlene Struss, a longtime Santa Barbara artist, choose the provocative title, “Dancing with Paint,” for her first-time exhibit at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara Gallery?
For a very good reason, it seems.
“My parents, both Marines, met at a USO dance, and dancing seems to be in our blood,” Ms. Struss told the News-Press. “Everybody in my family likes to dance. So right off, dancing is a very joyful activity to me, and the word symbolizes the joy and excitement I feel when I’m working in my home studio, and it’s also something I do a lot in the studio while listening to mostly Japanese, Indian or classical Western music.
“More than that, dancing represents the partnership I feel with my abstract paintings themselves,” she continued. “It’s as if we take turns taking the lead in the dance. I start the process by interacting with the panel with paint, splashing, impressing, blowing around, whatever feels right. And then the painting calls out for more blue or add green or emphasize this. And back and forth it goes, layer by layer of paint.
“Bearing in mind that I am painting abstractly and not from a preconceived image helps me not to ‘force’ anything and break the color harmony and balance my painting and I are achieving. Sometimes the dance is short, and the painting comes together quickly, and sometimes we struggle but ultimately come to a place where we are completely satisfied with the result.”
Rather than try to teach a lesson or tell a story with her artwork, Ms. Struss said she has “faith in my aesthetic sense. I know I will produce something that speaks to the viewer. Once the panel is enlivened with the background color, from then on, I allow the painting itself to lead, calling out to me for a particular hue or other balancing element or for a chance to dry naturally into surprising organic patterns.
“For me, painting is exhilarating exploration — play, if you will — of the effects of acrylic paint of varying viscosities and additives applied or removed with unusual tools and forces aided by instrumental or ambient music.
“This process, best labeled biomorphic abstract expressionism, emulates the game of life where the future is unpredictable, but the past never completely disappears. The paintings pay homage to the mysteries of nature and creation and serve as an antidote to the anxiety of the manmade world.”
Born in San Jose, one of six children, Ms. Struss told the News-Press she was “super shy until I was about 10 years old, when I came out of my bubble, as I always say. That shyness lent itself to my being an artist, playing alone in my room a lot, and color crayons were my favorite.”
After attending Santa Clara University for two years and graduating from UCSB in 1973, she went to court reporting school at Santa Barbara Business College and in the 1980s began working for herself as a private court reporting instructor.
“This opened the way for me to start really participating in the local art world and beyond and become a professional artist,” Ms. Struss said. “It also gave me the chance to do a lot of backpacking and hiking in the Southwest to really hone in on my love of nature, which influences my present day painting style, biomorphic abstract expressionism. I still have a court reporting instruction program online, which I enjoy and supplements my artist income.”
It also allows her the flexibility to participate in the Santa Barbara Studio Artists, 10 West Gallery and the Abstract Art Collective.
“People often ask about my concept and how I go about creating the images,“ said Ms. Struss. “Some paintings seem complete almost immediately, and others take forever. I don’t give up on a painting; I keep working on it until it’s pleasing to my eye. Playing God like this, being completely in the ‘now’ when I paint and loving all colors is probably the reason each of my pieces is quite different from the others. Each is unique, like each living being is unique.”
When she is frequently asked what inspires her paintings, the artist answered, “I’ve chosen to honor nature in my paintings by using organic forms and patterns, so surely nature is a big inspiration.
“If the question means, ‘Why do you create? Why are you an artist?,’ that goes back to events in childhood, the fun of making things, using color crayons, the praise of my teachers and parents, the games we played, my very DNA.
“As I got older, I gradually made my life more about being of service, contributing to the smooth maintenance and protection of the world and its inhabitants. So in my small way, I would like to think that my fulfillment and pleasure in doing art is communicated through art to receptive viewers and patrons, who are positively affected by my works, that what is pleasing to me is also pleasing to them.”