Torn Between Abstract and Realism

When I first came to Atlanta in 1995, I was all set to promote my art. My main focus was to feature my signature style “Plastic Space” which is a form of figurative abstract influenced by Pablo Picasso and cubism. But the reception was like I had hit a brick wall. “I don’t understand this! What is this? Can’t you paint something real? Folks won’t buy abstract stuff like that! Why don’t you paint like….name any local artist that does realism?” Well, that was a surprise and very discouraging to hear right off the bat from local gallery owners. So…I regrouped and began to do more realistic, florals, portraits, figuratives to sell, and they did. Most of my income has been from realistic art. It’s just that when a realistic painting is finished… there is only the narrative to continue the interest. I already knew that realism is great to tell a story, carry emotion, and make strong statements to which the viewer can see and relate. Most viewers in the African American community seem to be more comfortable viewing realism. Look at it, understand it, buy it or move on. I am grateful for my formal training to be able to use realism and yet have the flexibility to use Plastic Space as more of a personal challenge. You know, when I think about it, without my formal training, I would have not had the background training to ever develop my signature style of Plastic Space.


Now in 2015 when I hang a Plastic Space painting the question is again…What’s that? It’s a good thing I was a career teacher and have the patience to explain the image on view. After the explanation of the painting, I get a…OOOO yeah, I see it now! It is a learning process and has slowly gained a following over the years in my own community. For me, it is a far more exciting and complex form of art that realism could ever be. There are so many layers to explore visually that the viewer must stop and stare a while to see all that is going on. I have seen viewers return to look again and claim to see things that they didn’t notice the first time. I love it when that happens.


As an artist, I feel like Indiana Jones on an adventure whenever I begin a new Plastic Space. I have the basic sketch to start but may end up with an altogether different painting. It is like the painting just takes over and begins to dictate where to go and what colors to place. I can be working and not hear the phone I have had my dear husband tell me something and I’m not aware he was in the room. I know it sounds crazy, but some other artists have confirmed this phenomena when they are “in the zone” of a painting. Plastic Space is my “zone” filled with my culture and I love it! Realism sells but Plastic Space has soul!


Marcella is a visual artist that made a leap of faith in 1995 and took an early retirement from a successful elementary teaching career of 27 years. She and her husband moved from California to the Atlanta area to continue as a full time artist. She has a formal education in the arts, and has been a creative visual artist for over 40 years.

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