Object of the Week: Over the Rainbow by Louis Marak

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Louis Marak was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1942. He was not initially drawn to the arts until his cousin, an artist also named Louis Marak, encouraged him to attend art school. Marak transferred to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1965 and two years later, in 1967, he received his Master of Fine Arts in ceramics from Alfred University. Marak briefly worked at Keuka College before leaving to teach at Humboldt State University in the fall of 1969, where he was an Assistant Professor of Art for thirty-seven years. After he retired from teaching in 2006, Humboldt awarded Marak the title of Emeritus Professor of Art.

Marak’s technique grew from his interest in applying two-dimensional images to three-dimensional forms. He utilizes clay slabs that are cut to the desired size and shape based on paper templates and then assembled into a base form. The clay body is made of a mixture of commercial buff stoneware and traditional porcelain, with added nylon fibers to decrease the risk of the slabs fracturing or distorting. Once the basic form is complete, Marak adds detail in low relief, uses makeshift tools to create texture, and brushes on porcelain slips to apply color. After the work is bisque fired, Marak applies a dark stain that brings out the surface texture and contributes to the graphic line quality that is characteristic of his work.

Over the Rainbow belongs to Marak’s ongoing body of work that seeks to explore the construction of space, both real and illusionary, through optical trickery and forced perspective. While the work itself is a three-dimensional sculpture, Marak manipulates the flat surface of the clay slabs with applied texture and low relief carvings to create dimensionality where there is none. Layered blues and greens combined with dimpled texture result in an iridescent surface that creates the illusion of flowing water, which is starkly contrasted by the mottled shades of brown, pink, and yellow that give the rainbow trout its scaly appearance. Subtle three-dimensional elements, such as the fins of the trout and the floating bobber, pierce the cylinders of water and blur the line between real and imagined space.

Marak’s work is not without humor; in fact, humor is integral to his creative vision. Clever titles that play on his subject matter and seemingly nonsensical combinations of visual elements are intended to confront the audience’s perceptions and expectations of space. Repeated motifs, which include water and fish, are reflective of Marak’s love for Humboldt County and its landscape, but his coyness about their significance adds a layer of intrigue and makes space for endless interpretations of his work.

Over the Rainbow is on view in Beyond the Blue, an exhibition that showcases joyful, humorous, and colorful works from the permanent collection.

-Jaden Dagenais, Curatorial Intern

Image Caption: Louis Marak, Over the Rainbow, 2000, low-fired glazed ceramic, 18 x 22 x 10 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Gift from the Collection of Margaret Pennington, 2020.17.

Sources:

  1. Cathy Ray Pierson, “Louis Marak: Illusionary Sculpture,” in Ceramic Sculpture: Inspiring Techniques, ed. Anderson Turner (Cleveland, OH: The American Ceramic Society, 2009), 113-117.
  2. “Louis Marak,” John Natsoulas Center for the Arts, https://www.natsoulas.com/artist/louis-marak/
  3. “Louis Marak,” Recorded interview at the John Natsoulas Gallery, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7y3roIIojY