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Six of the Best, Part 6

Part 6 of an interview series in which I invite artists to respond to six questions about art, process, and creativity. Today's artist is Canadian painter Donna Marsh, whose beautiful impasto paintings have been like a refreshing eye-rinse for me since I first saw her work on Google Plus. She was also the subject of one my short video Meditations on Art (link).


"Arrow Motors," oil on canvas, 24" x 24"


Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Donna Marsh: I use oil paint on canvas. I like the smell, and it will do anything I want. I like how I can vary the thickness, put colour on top of colour, cut into it to use colours that are underneath. I also watched my mother and sister paint when I was little. I wanted so much to be allowed to use it too. Oil paint was big girl stuff like high heels.

PH: What piece are you currently working on?

DM: I just lost the one I was working on, but that's okay. I saw some things while I was working the paint, and one or two of those things will find their way into a future painting when I need it. I will recognize when I need it because I have seen it. That's why I'm never afraid to waste materials.

Lately, I've been drawn to groups of buildings where a small shape of the sky is evident. And these skies have been thick. This summer, I hope to paint my river. I have biked both sides of the St-Lawrence as far as Quebec City and traveled it by boat as well. I bought a canoe last summer. Though I don't paddle far, I do get to see a big sky and feel held by the water.

Untitled work in progress, 20" x 24"

Sometimes there's a lot of material to work with, but it takes a long time to digest it. There is also great mystery in the suburbs at night. There is just enough light that gets in the trees, and there are beautiful, looming shapes. I would love to bottle some of that.

PH: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

DM: The accidents are getting better and better because I'm thinking about them more.  I also rearranged my studio recently. Having more space to back up and move around did a lot more than I thought it would.

PH: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

DM: I have a sketchbook that travels with me. It's full of motel window views, palm trees when I'm lucky, some BC trees with the ghosts of raindrops sitting on the page. There's sand in some of the drawings.

There is nothing in that book I didn't have in front of my eyes when I drew it. It's like a proof of my existence. I also take a lot of pictures and read them for that quality of fleetingness I am trying to capture in my paintings.

It's hard to paint time.

"Cranes," oil on canvas, 30" x 36"

PH: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

DM: I remember a painting (poster paint on newsprint) I did in kindergarten because I had to defend it. The kid next to me said it wasn't a washing-machine, it was scribble. He pronounced it 'gribble'. I told him it was a washing machine because I said it was a washing-machine.

PH: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

DM: I was born that way. I've done a fair bit of writing over the years. I love literature. Someone once asked me why I couldn't write something 'nice' for a change. Though it was frustrating to have to explain, I told her that I didn't get to choose, it chose me. My job was to get it all down and hope I had enough talent to complete the work. That's the nervous part.

I tried very hard not to be an artist, but ever since I was a child, all I ever wanted was a masterpiece; just one, that would come into being by my own hands and light my world on fire. Nothing could compete with that, no matter how much I tried to convince myself it could.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

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