By Monica Morones
Multi-media artist Marnie L. Navarro (also known as MLN17 in the art world) is not a one dimensional artist, she basically does it all! Painting, screen printing, furniture design, DJ and video, are some of the many medias she dabbles in. With an extensive educational background and impressive resume, Marnie continues to set the standard high for artists everywhere. She is a great example of a well-rounded artist and someone many can look up to.
MM: How old are you and where are you from?
MN: I’m 35 – Cali born and raised; I consider myself to be from the Coachella Valley since I’ve grown up here since the age of 3. I was born in Northern California by accident; literally, my mom went into labor two weeks early while visiting family there.
MM: You do many different types of art! What kind of artist would you classify yourself as?
MN: I’ve made it a point to try everything and anything that has interested me material-wise. I consider myself to be an artist first and foremost – the material is specific to the project/work and does not define me, like, I’m not a “video artist” or a “painter”. I think those kinds of labels can be limiting and self-defeating for artists who want to work in other media. I’m definitely into sculpture, painting, printmaking, photography, drawing, furniture design, video and sound work, pretty much everything with the exception of pottery. ((laughter)) I have absolutely no interest in throwing pots; I’ve done it and it doesn’t hold my interest even though I appreciate pottery and ceramics, as a traditional art and as functional objects.
MM: What is your favorite type of art to do?
MN: At this point, I am working in a multi-disciplinary practice, so the work I am interested in making runs the gamut from large oil paintings, public projects, to performance, and everything in between. The content is driven by my personal responses to the world around me…the things I see day to day, the stories in the news, local and global issues surrounding culture – sometimes it’s about the joy of simply being alive and enjoying the physicality of making it. I’ve been participating in some community projects for several years now, mainly with Raices Cultura and S.C.R.A.P. Gallery, and find that these types of projects draw me in…I love to make work specifically for the community. It’s another component to my practice. I don’t think enough communities have access to art and meaningful creative projects that they can engage with. So I am always open to do this kind of work and the community interaction is probably my favorite part about it; it’s important in a different way from a gallery art show or a museum exhibition.
MM: How did your path to art begin?
MN: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid – whenever I could be in an art class, there I was. Middle school, high school – art, art, art. Thankfully there was art funding along with great art teachers! I worry for our future generations in general, but I think it’s a particular type of disservice to children to deprive them of access to art education and self-expression. After A.P. art in high school, I knew I wanted to pursue art as my path so I started taking art classes at College of the Desert and ended up carrying two majors, one in Art, the other in Psychology. From C.O.D., I transferred to Cal State.
MM: What would you describe as your style?
MN: I don’t know that a particular visual style defines me – that feels like an antiquated paradigm to me. The work I make is, at this point, definitely political; I’m currently doing research on governmental structures and power dynamics. This type of content is what informs my work. I’m also very contented to work on different projects that are not visually or materially related, for example, right now I’m working on a series of video works, a public art project, developing a political performance piece, and also have an ongoing series of small watercolors ((laughter)). I’m most interested in work that opens up dialogue between people or communicates in some way; it’s really an overarching interest in projects that examine human behavior and motivation.
MM: You recently had an art gallery in downtown Palm Springs called LIFEWORK. What is it like to own your own art gallery?
MN: LIFEWORK is an incredible aspect of my art practice and represents my commitment to the arts and to other artists. Owning my own gallery certainly came with its own challenges – I learned everything from the ground up; from construction build outs, to the business side of leases, insurance, contracts with vendors and artists, installations, you name it – I hit the ground running. It costs a lot of money to open and run a gallery and it takes up all your time, which actually was one of my least favorite things about having the brick and mortar space. LIFEWORK opened in 2011 at the onset of the art season and set out to be the premiere gallery for emerging artists in Palm Springs – no one else has done that. We had fantastic shows and supported many great artists during that time. I was so busy working full-time and managing the gallery that at the end of the day, very little time was left for my own art. Upon realizing that, I had to reevaluate my life goals. I knew that I loved meeting new artists and wanted to keep having shows, but did not want to be tied down to a physical gallery space so the idea of a pop up gallery formed as a perfect solution. After deciding that I was going to apply for graduate school, I closed down the physical gallery space and opened a private studio in August 2013. We had our first LA pop up show several months later. Our current pop up schedule consists of a group show, “The Company We Keep” opening in January 2015 at the Marks Art Center on the C.O.D. campus and another slated for mid-September 2015 at SPACE Gallery in Pomona. Planning is underway for another in LA and I’d like to keep it to 4 pop ups a year, one each quarter. The idea really is just to keep finding young artists who are pursuing art at a deeper level, to support them along the way on their path, and also to provide a legit platform to show their work. These exhibitions are geared toward enriching the community with exposure to high quality thought-provoking work from artists who truly love what they do, while building a supportive network within the arts community, here and afar. I also foresee another physical gallery space in LIFEWORK’s future.
MM: What are the biggest challenges you face as an artist and running a business?
MN: The business aspect of art can be tricky. You have to be very self-motivated, first and foremost. Capital is the second most important thing ((laughter)). Just to open the doors, you’ve got to sign a lease, which binds you financially for an extended period of time, a business license, business insurance, inspections, utility deposits – I mean you even have to buy fire extinguishers! Not to mention the websites, design work, printed media, flyers, opening receptions, event permits, exhibition fixtures, and the cost of rent. The third most important thing is finding time for your own work. It’s a very delicate balance and it is difficult to juggle these types of demands successfully, along with whatever life throws at you.
MM: You graduated with two degrees from California State San Bernardino, one in Psychology in 2008, and another in Studio Art in 2011 and you went to an art MFA program in New York this past summer! Tell me about New York.
MN: I was accepted into the Art Practice MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It’s an interdisciplinary program, meaning it doesn’t force an artist to pick and choose between what they love – in the program you are encouraged to utilize any and all material and content in your work, if you so choose. For me, SVA is one of the most revolutionary and boundary pushing institutions in our country. SVA has prided itself on supporting and protecting the artistic voice while remaining cutting-edge and supporting the artist with full access to realize any form of creative expression. It is the school I have always dreamed of attending, actually, so I’m truly living the dream right now, it’s a perfect fit. As a low residency program, it allows me to maintain a home base here and go back and forth between New York, as needed. The summer was intense – it was a perfect mix of work and play! The program structure itself is rigorous and is basically full-time Monday – Friday, and when you are not in a class or seminar, you’re in the studio working. We had visiting artists every week and our critiques were led by some of the biggest names in the art world. Artist Carrie Mae Weems and curator Chrissy Iles, for example…I mean I had a critique by Vito Acconci for goodness sakes! It’s a top-notch program with renowned faculty and incredible facilities. I work hard and I like to play hard, too, so I definitely took full advantage of my time there – clubbing until sunrise, hitting museums and shows, and getting to know my cohort, who are now my friends…we’re a close knit group already – SVA MFA AP16 up in here! I made some really great projects while I was there, some of which are featured here. This experience is shifting my work in tremendous ways.
MM: How do you juggle school, work, and being an artist?
MN: I told myself that I would quit my full-time job if I got accepted to SVA. So that eliminates the 9 to 5 problem from the equation. Schoolwork and artwork require a balance…some days the scale tips more in the reading/writing direction and other days, I work on art non-stop. Most days, I do a mix of both. It’s give and take, but it has to be somewhat of a balanced structure at the end of the day for me.
MM: How do you feel about the art scene in the Coachella Valley?
MN: The art scene has definitely grown in the Valley from what it was 10+ years ago – it truly was a cultural desert then – somewhat void of anything interesting to do. Luckily, I’ve traveled a lot in my life and this has contributed to and informed my point of view on the arts and culture, in general. We do truly have a world-class art museum in our backyard with a fantastic permanent collection of work, though. And there are lots of commercial art galleries. Is it New York or Los Angeles? Definitely not and it will never be that. But I’ve grown up here and have seen more progress in the last 5-8 years than ever before. That’s a positive thing. Is it all my taste? Certainly not. ((laughter)) But everyone is doing what interests them, hopefully, and that is what really matters. Undeniably, there are always going to be different levels of making work, developing projects, creating, and of course technique and overall quality. Nearly half of people who consider themselves to be “artists” today will not be making work 5 years from now – with LIFEWORK, we are only looking for those artists who have already passed this point and will continue working because it’s what they love, no matter what. So if you love it, you just have to keep doing it. The same thing with establishing a vibrant art scene, if it is valued, the local governing body, businesses, and the community in general, will place more emphasis on it, working together to develop a strong support system that provides opportunities for artists and enriches the community with meaningful projects.
MM: What do you think we can do as a community to improve it?
MN: I would like to see the cities that comprise the Coachella Valley provide more funding for art projects and public art works – those types of improvements. We have moved toward that direction but we aren’t quite there yet. I think that a city shows where it stands on arts enrichment by how much they invest, or don’t invest, in art for the local populace, especially for young people. So it would be nice to see like-minded people collaborate on more community-based projects because at the end of the day, it’s all about collective engagement and uplifting the future generations. Art is a way to do that.
MM: What are your art goals and plans once you finish your Master’s program?
MN: It’s a fairly unwritten chapter at the moment that’s about two years away. The most important thing is to focus on my program and develop my work, while continuing with LIFEWORK.
MM: Where can we see your work?
MN: Some of my work will be included in the pop up group show at the Marks Art Center. The LIFEWORK website and online store (www.LIFEWORKGALLERY.com) are being updated – once that is complete, there will be portfolio links for all of our represented artists, myself included. I have a private Facebook page but can be reached via the LIFEWORK profiles on Facebook and Instagram. I often post what I’m working on to both of those platforms.