Meet Marta Lee

 In which Marta does a show-and-tell of her rolls of blue tape and scavenged organ that doesn't make sound. Our photographer takes the J train for the first time, and the curator is just excited to exchange music recommendations. 


You have this style of collaging things in a table-spread composition using domestic patterns or objects. What is your inspiration behind that? 

I just really like domestic spaces and I think a lot about the idea of home.

Some of these objects are things I’ve had for a very long time and then some of them are things I’ve found on the street. I like that dichotomy of precious and not precious, even using balls of tape which are basically trash. But then, hidden under here I also have all of my diaries from the last nine years. So there's really special stuff and then there's stuff that I could potentially throw away. 

And you make miniatures - or maquettes - as models for many of those paintings right? 

I’m trying to figure out where the still lives go after the paintings are made. I've disassembled them in the past, but although I don’t necessarily feel precious about them, I now do feel like they have a life of their own even after they’ve been painted. That’s something that I’ve been trying to navigate a little bit more actively. 


I like that you mentioned scavenging because that's one aspect that I'm really drawn to. Do you have favorite spots to walk around?

I really just walk to my studio - and if I'm out and about doing other things sometimes I find stuff in other neighborhoods. I have a lot of pieces of furniture that I’m excited to use for something and I have an excess of stuff for new works so I’m kind of in the process of sorting it out. 


A lot of people talk about heterogeneous identities, but then there are so many different ways to visualize it. You seem to do shoutouts to bands or subcultures. Do you have a personal interest in them, or does it come across in a musical way in your work somehow?

It’s a mixture… I usually have a personal interest in the music. I like to set those kinds of rules because I think the plus side of any rule is that if you have that part decided then you can focus on the other decisions. Sometimes I’ll use one brush for certain things or I’ll listen to one album for a certain painting or something like that. 

I made a painting of my friend's couch when I was in grad school, and I listened to music that he liked whenever I was working on it. That same friend, I did a portrait of him. Well, it was a portrait of his shoes, but I was doing portraits of people by painting their shoes. And this person was really into Yo La Tengo. So I listened to the Yo La Tengo album “Painful” anytime that I was working on that painting and I actually made paintings of the “Painful” album cover and the “Extra Painful” album cover and then I made transfers of those paintings of the album covers. That became the  background of the painting of his shoes. 


So it's usually something that relates to the content like that, but then sometimes I just have a playlist that I have sort of seasonally listened to. There’s like a Lou Reed piece behind you too, that is just a bunch of transfers of Lou Reed from a t-shirt I have. I listen to music obsessively so these choices tend to happen intuitively. 

It's a good way to get into a meditative space. And I think it’s also a good way to keep track of time, like “Oh I’m gonna listen to this album, and then maybe I’ll work on something else.” 

Speaking of which... what's your five most recent Spotify searches? 

Perfume Genius, cause I was just listening to him. Snail Mail. Lucky You, the song by The National. And then Lucky You again. And then the last one is David Bowie. 


Which David Bowie album? 

I wanna go through all of the albums. My friend who is obsessed with him just told me he could make me a “best of each album” playlist so I don’t know what will happen first. I know his last two albums were really good and I mostly just heard the older ones before. I don’t know if you’ve been recently, but there was this great piece at MoMA “Cinematic Illumination” by Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver. 

We actually took a video of it! 

I went to MoMA with my friend who loves Bowie and saw everything that day, like the Judd show and everything else. Then he was like “ok there’s one more thing” and we went to that video installation with me not knowing what to expect. It was so fun. 


I think one of the lesser-known mediums you use is transfer. Could you explain what it is and how you would make it? 

Yeah, so there are different ways of doing transfers. Some people apply the matte medium to the image and then stick it on the surface, but I actually coat the image in about five layers of matte medium, and then soak it in water, and it turns into a sort of skin and I apply that to the surface

A lot of them are objects that I've scanned, so I'm flattening things. I also oftentimes just further flatten things that are already flat and I like that it becomes like a skin and I can use it to make my own patterns.

I have actually been using the transfer significantly less in the last six months, I've just been painting.

Right. I like how you say skin– I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

Yeah totally. Right now I'm kind of just enjoying painting still lives pretty directly, and then some material experimentation. For example, this is flashe paint, which is vinyl-based, so it's very very matte and very opaque and different from acrylic or oil. 


Some of your works I think were on linen, is that correct? They had not been stretched yet. 

Yeah I had some unstretched works. I like making unstretched things or things with unconventional surfaces, but then I have trouble figuring out how to exhibit them sometimes. 

I’m in a show right now in Kansas City, Kansas at the Community College and it’s an exhibition by all-female artists called “Becoming: Monuments of Trauma.” I have two unstretched works there. There is one other unstretched piece that was in the Geary Contemporary  show in Millerton, but they actually framed it for the exhibition and it looks very nice. They had it sewn into the frame and kind of floated it, so the irregular edge and shape is still preserved. 

Seeing that you have different ways of framing - or not framing - and hanging things, have you ever considered experimenting with the way things are displayed? 

I like it when people can hold paintings, which is not typical with larger-scale works. I probably shouldn't have tons of people touching my works, but I like the tactility of everything.

I want to do an outdoor exhibition. I have a friend that has a backyard that’s a pretty decent size and I’ve had this idea in the back of my head to have paintings hanging on a fence and build an awning to go over each canvas. I think that is the next series that I can just start once I finish the rest of the works from the group I’m currently working on. I'm excited to have consistency within the canvas size and shape but then experiment with the way they’re covered. I’m thinking about hopefully doing that realistically this Summer or Spring. 


I imagine that you know piecing things together like this, you go step by step instead of planning out the composition beforehand. Do you have any personal hacks to get into the creative mood?

I mean these are really simple things but I always say don't work on something when you're hungry or tired because when I'm hungry I just rush everything and I mess things up. If I am going to do something when I am hungry or tired, it has to be something really mindless. I try to not work on things when I don't want to work on them. 

Are some of your pieces personal documentation in a way?

Yeah. I would say pretty much all of them are. I think about time a lot and different time periods and indicators of time and how long I've had each object that's in the still-life, or even seasonally what was happening when I made that work. I have a whole list in my own personal archive of every painting and then whatever my relationship status was at the time I made that painting because I’m just interested in how my personal life reflects in paintings. 


I also wanted to ask you about your current studio in Paradice Palase.

I moved to the studio in June, so I've only been here about eight months. I'm going to be in this space at least another year. This is probably the most settled I've been in a studio. I have been moving studios a lot for the last three years, basically almost every two months.

I see. Does your working environment, especially in a shared space like this, affect you in any way?

I’m not sure. I think mostly the neighborhood affects me a lot. I think the proximity is really important because it just makes it like having a commute. I don't want to have my studio be right by my house, but I think like 15 or 20 minutes walking is perfect. Just a nice time and a good amount of time to be able to find one thing on the sidewalk to carry it. 

Another past community experience that I was interested in was the Fire Island Artist Residency. 

I wasn’t living in New York then, so I flew in, and then I stayed here for about five or six days before spending a month on Fire Island. It was a great experience. It was the first time I've been in a community where I didn't feel ostracized for being gay, basically, because everybody there is gay.

It definitely is more of a male space rather than a female space, but I had a great time. I went to the beach every day, and I made a lot of gouaches– I had a watercolor pad I brought but then I also had these tote bag bases that came from the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, and they're just basically like fabric with maybe a little cardboard in between and then they’re sewn around the edges, so I painted on those and really enjoyed using a found fabric surface. 

I did a lot of paintings of the house we were living in. It was pink and teal and I did like three or four paintings of the front porch. Then, I did some paintings of rugs in the house. And then, I did a painting in the backyard and one of the neighbor’s front yard because he had tons of buoys on his fence, so I went and painted all his buoys. I just sat on the end of the boardwalk. He had a big pet parrot.  There were just a lot of interesting characters there and their decor was all really exciting to me. 


Lastly, are there any new themes, any new techniques, new materials, you're already working on planning to work on this year? 

Mostly just trying to figure out the best way to build on what I have been doing. I need to start planning out the awnings and also have some new still lives to make. 


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