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OIL PORTRAITS THAT TELL YOUR STORY
Even though you’ve been painting your entire life, you focused solely on your art four years ago; what led to this decision?
Ever since I can remember, as a little girl, I was told that I could not make a living being an artist. I loved to paint faces more than anything else, so I became a makeup artist! Each face became my canvas as I plowed through my career. Still in my 30's, I became the owner of several makeup and skin care salons, with 70 employees, in upscale Maryland malls. I loved my business but the big, beautiful art studio I had built in my home never got used for many years. (Now, lol, you can barely walk into it!!)
Who or what has been your greatest influence that contributed to your current artistic style?
My style sort of started on my own since I was so young when my mom began painting with me. She was a fabulous artist and so talented with her use of paint, but our styles were totally different. I had so much fun painting and learning from my mom. As I grew up, I gravitated to Monet, Degas, Manet and all Impressionistic artists....and later, I really loved Bonnard’s style.
You belong to numerous charities and donate your artworks; was there a particular life experience that urged you to follow such a path?
I think truthfully what inspired me was my own very healthy, handsome and smart son and how his life has always been so wonderful. While I was always so proud of him and he has worked very hard to achieve and earn all of his accomplishments, he had opportunities his entire life that many children will never have. When I heard of the Sandy Hook shootings, I could not fathom how any mom could bare this kind of pain and I just began painting one of the children who I saw on a magazine cover, until I just found myself painting all of those who lost their lives.
As I watched the ads for Shriners Hospital for Children, I got in touch with the director and he continues to send me photos of actual patients and I have now created 15 paintings for them and am always working on more to ship out. When I see these unfortunate situations of precious children with smiles on their faces, I feel compelled to do something, no matter how small. Now I’m working on some of the Parkland students. I pray that my son, now a doctor, will be able to save as many lives as he possibly can and continue the path to giving.
You are a noted commissioned portrait artist. Did you always know that this is something you would like to achieve as an artist or did something inspire this decision?
First drawing and then painting faces were always my favorites to create. I just was not as interested in painting nature for example, unless there was a beach or beautiful landscape behind my subjects. When I was in my teens, I would do portraits of my family members. Soon I’d be painting portraits of my boy friends. One recently got in touch with me and showed me a drawing I had made of him over 45 years ago that he was still holding on to, during each of his six moves. That made me very happy!
What is the most memorable experience you’ve had as a commissioned portrait artist?
Wow, that’s a difficult question. In the last 4 years I have created over 500 portraits. Some were more challenging than others, but I loved working out those challenges. If I have to choose the most memorable one, it would be one that I created for another artist, Stephen Ritchie, a wonderful abstract artist. It’s such an honor when another artist commissions me. He contacted me through my website, asking me to create 2 pieces, inspired by the same photo, one for his old college roommate’s family and one for him personally. He explained that his dear friend was in very bad condition from Lou Gehrigs disease and that these paintings would be very important to him. Below is a link to one of the paintings and one of his review.
Has your creative practice changed over the years? If so, how is your first body of work different than your current body of work?
While my style remains lose, I notice I am getting more and more detailed as the years go by. I continually try to hone my skills and paint almost ever single day. I still do not measure, using only my eyes to strive for the best proportions, likeness, colors and details, and I love the process of figuring it all out.
You’ve mentioned that you attempt to truly understand the essence of your subjects while painting in a loose, freestyle. How do you achieve this?
I do try to get a feel for my clients and to find out who are the people in their lives that I will be painting. After many conversations, as I go through the painting process, they often share information they believe may be pertinent. But more importantly I look through my subjects’ eyes, just like we do with all new people we meet every day…and somehow, through the painting process, I feel on some level I know them and according to my collectors, it comes out in the final piece.
Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome while following your path as an artist?
I would not call it an obstacle but just like in every profession, sometimes it can be difficult to be our true selves and follow our authentic hearts. When I came on to the juried art show circuit, I quickly realized that I was the only artist NOT selling anything. I only bring examples to acquire new commissions of original family oil paintings. Sometimes, I bring a beach scene or two, but as soon as a collector knows that he or she can have something custom, a personal commission from me is usually what they go for.
Looking back to your artistic journey, is there anything that you would have done differently?
LOL, I probably would not have believed all of the nonsense about artists not being able to earn a living. But really, I would not change a thing….I had a fantastic and very supportive husband, a healthy, happy child, a wonderful career as a business owner and I helped a lot of people get started in the careers of their choice….all the while I continued to paint! I was truly blessed.
Being someone with such experience in the art world, do you have any piece of advice to give to the young, aspiring artists out there?
This is what has always heled me. Work harder than anyone else. Get great at your skills, always be kind and loving, never stop practicing, never complain, continue to learn, truly believe in yourself and carve out a part of your day to really work at your dream. That means, turn off your phone and really put your heart into your work, see yourself living the life you want. You just can’t lose when you never give up!
Marlene Kurland places human interaction front and center. From humorous cultural re-imaginings, like Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe snapping a selfie or Scarlett O’Hara getting the right angle on her famous kiss, to snarky takedowns of cell phone culture in the midst of family reunions and dinner outings, people are at least as central to her work as the devices they hold.
Humans are ostensibly social creatures, but seeing Kurland’s figures lined up on the couch, awash in digital light, inhabiting but not engaging with the space around them, one is forced to acknowledge the divide widened by these so-called connective devices. Though her critique is largely light hearted, one piece, titled Oblivious, reads like a warning to do better, to reach out. “I love to create people engaging,” Kurland says, “challenging myself to really feel what is going on between my subjects. Somehow I really get to their hearts.”
Marlene Kurland’s work will be on display at Agora Gallery from May 19 to June 8 as part of the Elemental Realms group exhibition. For purchasing information, visit