For Phoenix visual artist Carrie Marill, creating is like child’s play. And that isn’t taking anything away from her seriousness or the quality of her practice. She sees her artwork and its creation as an act of rebellion—advanced playing—which falls in line with what many people think when it comes to making compelling art. There is this sense that the inner artist is a child that needs to frolic in order to create something evocative, something new. Marill’s pieces play with geometry; they play with the notion of technology and its seeming invisible hand; they play with human touch and its flaws. She has shown her work throughout the U.S. in California, New York, Seattle, Dallas, Miami and Arizona, and her work is in the collections of Todd Oldham, Angela Missoni, Megan Mullally, Donna and Howard Stone and Disney, to name a few.
“I’ve always been drawn to craft and to folk art,” Marill says. “It’s an art form that has been utilized in the day to day. It’s not always polished or finished like fine art. I love a messy garden full of plants all over the place, but I also love order and geometry. I see the beauty in both of those things. I want to weave them together and see what they look like—where the tension of the human hand meets the machine world, which is always trying to make things perfect.”
Marill’s upcoming show, “Here’s the Thing,” opening May 5 at Phoenix General, will showcase her jewelry and more functional art pieces. Marill originally collaborated with the owners of Phoenix General, Joshua Hahn and Kenny Barrett, at their former GROWop location in Roosevelt Row, where she painted a mural for the building. She also collaborated with Tara Logsdon, who helped reformat some of her paintings into handkerchiefs and scarves. Marill’s show will also present posters and stickers. “My aim was to make art in a form that everyone can afford,” Marill says, “because having a way for everyone to access art is important no matter how much money they have.”
Mariel connected strongly with Logsdon, who she feels shares a certain sensibility. They can “go dark” in similar ways and enjoy discovering found art pieces and looking for inspiration in abandoned buildings and urban decay. As Marill puts it, Logsdon and she have a sort of “Sanford and Son” dynamic.
Escapism & Killing Idols
Marill was raised in Alameda, California. Her parents divorced when she was young, which made her living situation a bit chaotic. As a means of escape, Marill gravitated toward sports. She was passionate about swimming and gymnastics—anything to help take her out of her head.
Though her parents weren’t artists themselves (they both worked in the medical field), they made sure to take Carrie and her brother to museums often. When Marill was around eight years old, she had her first experience with the transfixing nature of art. At the Oakland Art Museum she saw a Robert Bechtle painting that got her wheels turning. She couldn’t believe that the human hand could render something so lifelike. Her parents were always supportive of her various art projects, and she feels that her father’s strong work ethic has stuck with her as an artist.
One year for Christmas, she made her father an assemblage sculpture, which was supposed to be a family portrait of sorts. “I remember my father being like ‘What the f*ck is this?’ He didn’t get it.” Marill cited this experience when asked about the first time she was proud of an art piece. For many people, becoming an adult is a process of becoming estranged from their parents. Marill was also greatly inspired by the burgeoning punk scene around her, which helped enforce her playful, rebellious attitude and may serve to explain her father’s seemingly confused response to her art. This was actually an affirmation—she’d killed her idols.
Surfing & Art School
Throughout high school, Marill ventured to the beaches of Santa Cruz to surf with her friends. She didn’t get very good grades, but was determined to do anything to move out of the house. Her determination paid off and she was accepted to San Diego State University, where she tried several different majors for a couple of years. Most of the pursuits were arts-related but not quite an art major, which she avoided because she felt an art degree wasn’t practical. After two years of trying to avoid the inevitable, she dropped out. Eventually she resurfaced at San Francisco State University and majored in painting. While at San Francisco State she met her husband, Matthew Moore, who is an artist, as well.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Marill attended Cornell University for her MFA in painting. “Cornell has a small arts program,” Marill says. “You’re up to your own devices and drive to make it worthwhile there. You don’t get a lot of faculty time. I took advantage of that and cranked out work. You go there and spend all day in the studio. That’s exactly what I needed—two years to just focus on my art. It helped inspire me to develop a consistent work ethic. Even if an idea doesn’t pan out—keep working.”
One of her favorite professors was Carl Ostendarp, who created biomorphic paintings. “I liked the way he taught,” Marill says. “He played music really loud so people would get out of their heads and not take it too seriously. He was a totally quintessential curmudgeon teacher. I would say ‘You’re such a good teacher,’ and he would say ‘That doesn’t mean I don’t like it.’”
After graduating from Cornell in 2004, Marill and her husband moved to Arizona and she began showing her work. One of Marill’s main inspirations is Jean Arp (1886-1966), a German abstract artist known primarily for sculpture. She was fascinated by how Arp’s works could exist as sort of sculptural paintings but with a kind of awkwardness as they hung in galleries. Her work borrows from that tradition.
For her latest show, Imbalance, at Lisa Sette Gallery (January 2017), Marill decided to explore crystal structures to focus her attention. “Crystal structures have a quality to them that are nature’s digital expressions; they are a perfect bridge between the natural and digital world,” says Marill. “Utilizing my hand drawings of the crystal structures, Rhino3D software, handmade egg tempera paint, various wood species and a CNC router, I bring both the organic and inorganic together.”
Much of Marill’s art has been shown with Lisa Sette, whom she met at the “New American City” art show at Arizona State University in 2006-07. Their relationship has been mutually supportive, and Marill feels that Sette is the best, most professional gallery owner she’s worked with.
With regard to her process, Marill is drawn to things that fascinate her and give her room to play. “Typically I find something that I’m interested in,” says Marill. “For instance, there was a show of Persian miniatures and Japanese skull paintings that I liked because of the contradictions. I like to bring things together and see those friction points—take two different genres of work and see how they mix together. It’s the little punk in me that wants to see how things rub up against each other.”
A couple of years ago, Marill had some cancerous cells removed from her head, which led her to get back into surfing and meditating. She feels that being in the ocean and meditating have helped her process as an artist and have given her more patience in general with her pieces. There’s a calmness and peace of mind that envelops her when she consistently practices both.
Recently she designed a surfboard for the company Album in San Clemente, California. An image of the surfboard is posted on her Instagram (@punkwasp), which helps chronicle her creative process and gives a timeline to her wanderings as an artist. She is currently working on a mural for Palomino Library in Scottsdale. For inspiration, she went into the desert and decided to use the first animal that came out at her as the key element of the piece. Fittingly for Arizona, a cactus wren appeared, making its awkward, squawking noises, and she knew it would be perfect for the mural, which will be visible to students at Desert Mountain High School from their second-floor hallway.
Marill’s children have been a great motivation for her. In them she sees a lot of herself and the reasons why she makes art in the first place. “When I watch them make work, it’s so rad,” Marill says. “They don’t give a shit about their decisions. They are really good. I keep my kids’ drawings and sometimes I want to copy them. I’m hoping I can keep that sense of freedom. It’s just this thing I do; it’s who I am in the world. I live the art and the art is me. My kids don’t stay in the lines at all. I have that punk-ass personality, too,” Marill says. “When I’m told not to do something, I’m going to do it anyway.”
B/W headshot: Tim Lanterman
“De Colores” 2011 acrylic on linen 44”x58,” 2011 courtesy Lisa Sette Gallery
“Deer Feeding” 2011-gouache on paper 9″x12″ collection-of-Angela-Missoni
Design for Album Surfboards
“Modern Interior” 2008 acrylic-on-linen 20″x24″courtesy Lisa Sette Gallery