Artist Photo by Marianne Barcellona
China Marks began her art career as a sculptor but now she has gravitated to some strange, dreamy half-world between drawing and sewing and poetry; the fabric, the stitching, the colours, the words and the images create an interplay that seems to let her imagination loose in a gorgeously witty explosion of ideas. You look at a Marks “drawing” and automatically your mind goes to Marc Chagall or Heironymous Bosch; the world of her picture-scapes is busy and populous with little plots (for want of a better word) — whimsical, anarchic. And everything is in some state of metamorphosis; her birdfeeder takes on human features, her birds turn part-human, everyone talks (the birds talk in, what? — I asked Marks and she wrote back: “It’s calligraphic Japanese writing, which when I found it felt very birdish, somewhere between a chirp and a scratch scratch scratch. Though I don’t know what it means, I took care to keep it right-side up. And I’m sure someone will tell me what it means soon enough.” I like that word “birdish.” Even the words, the message, are in a state of flux and play; the words themselves become images. Marks’s media are fabric and thread — you can see pictures of her sewing machine on her web site. Wonderful to have her here.
I buy patterned and printed fabrics all the time, whatever appeals to me, usually no more than a yard of any one fabric, sometimes just half a yard, to use in my work. People also give me pieces of fabric that they think I might be able to use, and sometimes I do. Two or three months months ago, an old friend arrived at my studio with a souvenir tea towel of “Irish linen,” brightly printed with an unlikely assortment of birds at a bird feeder, wonderful, right up my alley! At the time, I was working on a one-of-a-kind ten-page book as well as a drawing associated with the book, but in mid-September, after I’d finished that, I started cutting up the tea towel, which proved to be very difficult to work with, fraying even at a glance, but worth all the trouble. Deciding to use the bird feeder whole, as a kind of weird head talking a blue streak, of course, was just the beginning of it.
Photo by D. James Dee
China Marks was born and educated in Kansas City, MO, earning a BFA in Sculpture from the Kansas City Art Institute. A Fulbright-Hayes fellowship took her Katmandu, Nepal, where she spent sixteen months constructing a major installation out of local materials. On her return to the United States, she was awarded a graduate fellowship by the Danforth Foundation. In 1976, having received an MFA in Sculpture from Washington University in St. Louis, China moved east to make art. She has received numerous grants and awards, including three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Mid-Atlantic Arts fellowship, two George Sugarman Foundation grants, and two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships, most recently in 2011, when she was also named a Gregory Millard Fellow. Since 1999 China Marks has lived and worked in Long Island City, a block and a half from the East River. Her work is shown in galleries and museums in the United States and Europe.