The colors ripple like some secret language across the objects’ surface, arrayed in geometric patterns as elegant as a circuit board and as mysterious as ancient hieroglyphics. They sit on a series of banners and bulging sculptures in the south lobby of Viacom’s Times Square headquarters, dancing along the walls, each with a unique pattern of colors and lines.
The expansive and varied texture of the work reflects the deep cultural influences of their creator, Marela Zacarias, a Mexico, Montana and Brooklyn based artist who was the latest exhibitor for Art at Viacom, an ongoing program that showcases rising artists at our offices around the world.
Huffington Post contributor Isa Freeling wrote this about Zacarias’ exhibit in April: “Her show, Echoing Forms is impressive in its ability to sensually exact beautiful pieces by casting sheets of mesh into sensuous folded blankets, by using plaster and polymers and are so exquisitely executed and rich in texture and strength, it is a pleasure to look at the work.”
Zacarias’ installation follows a parade of Art at Viacom projects: the striking metallic oil paintings of Kip Omolade, the geometric wizardy of Tahiti Pehrson, the cartoonishy wondrous works of Australian duo Dabs Myla, the mammoth swirling tablecloth sculptures of Crystal Wagner, the multicolored yarn meadows of HOTTEA, and massive ceiling-dangling floral display from Rebecca Louise Law.
Zacarias partnered with Viacom after high-profile installations at the Brooklyn Museum, Praxis Gallery, Brooklyn’s William Vale, and other places. She is constantly on the move. When I spoke to her over the phone the week after the exhibit opened, she was already down in Mexico City, preparing for a gallery show. Below is a condensed and lightly edited version of our conversation:
Stuart Winchester: How did you decide to use the banners, which are a departure from your typical work?
Marela Zacarias: There were challenges in terms of how much weight I could hang, and the sculptures are 135 pounds, so I couldn’t do my usual work, because there was nowhere to hang it from. And then I thought of the banners. I’ve been doing sculpture for about six years, and I really haven’t gone back to canvas for a while, so it felt really liberating to return, and I don’t know if I would have made that strategic choice if it wasn’t for the lobby’s structural situation. The technical problems led me to real artistic growth.
SW: A lot of research goes into your geometric patterns, which incorporate cultural histories and symbols of resistance. What is the story and symbolism behind the paintings at Viacom?
MZ: I referenced Times Square and its energy and the colors. The work had to be spectacular, a spectacle. In terms of the creativity, I’m not specifically referencing anything. I’m really just tapping into the right side of the brain. It was more like improv or jazz. I’ve been doing a lot of research on abstract American art, and one artist in particular, Alice Trumbull Mason. I’ve become an expert on her life and her work. I definitely can see influences of her work in this.
SW: How do you manage to create such large works before they are transported to the site?
MZ: I was making 26-foot canvasses, so I painted nine feet, and then I would draw them up and leave a little bit showing, because my studio is only nine feet high. I could never see the whole thing together. It was very free-flowing, really honest and really in the moment and really instinctive. It couldn’t be too planned, because it would have felt contrived. In the end, the canvas and the sculptures really worked well together.
SW: Did you spend any time in Times Square to get inspiration for those colors and patterns, or did you just go for something very energetic and multi-colored?
MZ: I made the decision early on of doing red, green and blue. My first studio in New York was on 41st Street and 9th Avenue, very near Times Square. I had that for three years, so I’m very connected to Times Square since I moved here in 2009. It is a special place, a historical place, a center. I’m from Mexico City, I like the beauty within the crowds, I like the raw of the city, I like where things collide in the city, where all the tensions show up – and that’s where I feel like Times Square represents that – it’s a symbol of our city.
SW: How long did building all these pieces take?
MZ: The three-dimensional pieces take at least two months to make. I wanted to paint everything at the same time, so we waited until the sculptures were ready to go, because the title of my show, Echoing Forms, was about the pieces relating to each other – the flat linear banners relating to the organic sculptures, both sharing the same energy and feeding into each other. There’s a dialogue going on between those two bodies of work.
SW: So you think if you would have painted the 3D ones and then months later painted the banners, there would have been a different look and feel to them?
MZ: Yeah, it’s an energy. It’s a creative moment, and I’m working until three in the morning, and I get back at eight in the morning, and it’s just this energy that it’s feeding. This is very different from how I worked ten to fifteen years ago, where I would plan these large murals and then execute them. I hired eight people to work on this project with me, so I become someone with many hands. I’m moving around and painting like crazy and they’re following me around and finishing up. And that’s all part of the really wonderful energy of Brooklyn, of New York, is all these really young artists helping out, staying up late with me, getting up early.
SW: Your works tend to be seated in very large spaces like the Viacom lobby. What do you like about large spaces?
MZ: That comes from my background as a mural painter. I used to do huge murals – like 75 by 100 feet, or 50 by 40, so I always think large, and I look at a space and I imagine it filled up. It’s kind of like a vision. You just see it. Just think large. Some people paint really small and that’s their thing. I feel like every artist has a natural way of expression that comes with who we are and what comes naturally. For me, this large format comes naturally.
SW: So you talked a little bit about the energy and you mentioned the right brain reaction – is there a certain emotion that you’re trying to evoke from people when they walk into the building and see your designs?
MZ: By making this really large, creative gesture that was honest, I was hoping that the excitement of the creative moment would resonate, because I wanted to connect with everyone on a very creative level.
SW: So what was it like to work with Viacom?
MZ: You have really creative people, visionaries, open-minded people who want to solve problems and are really intelligent. It’s always nice to work with people like that, who are trying to create solutions and figure things out. As an artist, I have to learn to deal with the logistics and the approvals and the signing up as a vendor, but I do see that part as a learning experience. Those things are also important in being an artist who is doing site-specific work in large spaces like this. Creative won’t work unless you have the logistics figured out. Overall, working with Viacom has been a really positive experience and I’ve really enjoyed it. I did new things that I’m excited to keep doing. I feel like there was growth for me and I always appreciate when that happens.
SW: Speaking of Viacom, do you have a favorite Viacom show or one you connected with when you were younger?
MZ: As a teenager growing up in Mexico, MTV was huge in the 90s. That was part of my environment, and the videos, we were always watching. More recently, I have connected more with Comedy Central. I feel like comedy is one of the last things that you really enjoy in another culture or another language because it has so much to do with the culture that you’re making fun of.
SW: What’s your next project?
MZ: I’m working on a project for a large outdoor sculpture, and I just joined a gallery in Mexico City. I’m going to be having a show later this year – that’s partly why I’m here, because we’re preparing and talking and making work in Mexico City, so that’s exciting. And then I have another show coming up in Detroit in 2018.