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Artist Marischa Slusarski blazed an extraordinary path to make her dream come true
By Bridgette M. Redman
When one is called to be an artist, it does not matter what obstacles to overcome or prejudices to overcome. An artist finds a way to create what he is meant to create and to become the artist he is meant to be.
Marina del Rey resident Marischa Slusarski knew from an early age that she wanted to be an artist. It didn’t matter that she came from a second-generation immigrant family and was raised by strict, religious parents in a small Denver suburb with no access to museums or other art forms. .
âI was really, really curious about art, drawing and painting from a young age, but I had no foundation to support or nurture that curiosity,â Slusarski said. âMy parents didn’t understand and we didn’t have access to contemporary art galleries, fine art or museums. They wanted me to paint pictures of the Rocky Mountains and the landscapes.
Instead, Slusarski drew half-human, half-rabbit creatures; biomorphic figures and things that made her parents believe she was crazy.
When she went to a small state college, she was not allowed to major in art because she had to find a job. However, between her journalism classes, she haunted the arts department, creating as often as she could.
Some evenings she spent in printing houses.
âI had to forge my own course,â Slusarski said. “I was my own north star.”
Once she left college, Slusarski got a series of what she called “gold brick jobs” to support her painting. She took jobs without supervision where no one knew what she was doing.
âI would paint all night, then go to my office and fall asleep on the floor,â Slusarski said. âI stuck it to the man for the right to be an artist. I was so determined to be a full time artist.
Along the way, she did things like working as a body painter in a Hollywood nightclub. She painted the women dancing on the lighted cubes as well as the patrons of the nightclubs. She made turkeys with a rice cooker and a steamer and sold them for $ 5 each to top up her tips.
Her first real show was at the food court in the Santa Monica Mall.
âIt was really weird,â Slusarski said. âMy painting could be interpreted as somewhat disturbing. You would be sitting there with your whole family eating a hot dog on a stick and looking at those weird paintings.
An influential person in the art world – and who later became a great champion of her work – approached Slusarski and the first thing she asked him was if she had been abused as a child.
Orders launched next artistic phase
Soon things started to take off for Slusarski’s artistic career. She caught the attention of people in the film industry who bought her art. She was picked up by a gallery and a friend began to act as a consultant for European art.
âI was doing the hybrid job,â Slusarski said. âThey were representative animal portraits that were half human and half animal. They were amalgams, deformed and conjoined.
She was able to quit her gold bricklaying jobs as the commissions started to pour in.
âThere were a lot of TV actors and famous people who wanted me to portray their special family dynamics as animals,â Slusarski said. âA child would like to be a parrot or a puma. A TV actor wanted me to describe him as half a tiger. I painted him like a tiger fish, it was really weird.
Sometimes his clients got oddly specific. A woman asked Slusarski to paint her husband as a Chippendale beef cake with a wolf’s head, sitting in front of a lake while reading a book and catching a fly at the same time.
âThese commissions were really tough,â Slusarski said.
Full-time artist life also came with adventures. Slusarski has traveled the world looking for places to create. She described how she once got on a plane to Bangkok with no money. She had a friend there who had a big gallery and he was named Artist of the Year by a Bangkok magazine. She moved in with him and continued to paint.
Once back home, Slusarski was able to break into the Venice art scene by renting a studio in the Franklin Building. Instead of the rent, she gave them one painting a year. She did it for nine years and it became her stepping stone on the Venice art scene.
At that time, there were very few women or BIPOC artists on the scene – and those who often found themselves in danger from men who wanted to assault them. Slusarski bonded with the other women.
âWe ruled Father Kinney – we just ruled him,â Slusarski said. âFather Kinney is great now, but it used to be the wild and wild west. We moved forward while navigating the art world. All of Venice had this nervous feeling. It was this incredible community atmosphere. We didn’t feel less than the male artist. It really was a very fertile time to be an artist.
Painter jumped across the planet
Slusarski’s international adventures were not yet over. She moved to East London with a photographer she had met in Bangkok. They settled on Brick Lane, turning one of the bedrooms in his apartment into a studio. They began to create large-scale photographs that became dioramas with filters, canvas, scaffolding and populated with taxidermies and carved cave figures.
âWe made them live in forests with sci-fi vegetables that we got from the Bangladeshi market,â Slusarski said. âAnything we could find, we would take a picture of it. “
It was a tough city for an artist, Slusarski said, both as an American and as someone with no master’s in art. Eventually, she was able to open a gallery in the basement of a hair salon. This lasted until she was kicked out of the country because she came and went too much from London and had never had a green card.
At the end of 2015, Slusarski and her husband traveled to Bhutan for a month. This time both had work permits and she was working with the artist community there, giving them talks.
âIt was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,â Slusarski said. âIt had been closed to the public for a long time. Himalayan Buddhists live there and actually believe in flying tigers and mythical beasts. “
She continued to travel and make art. She has had shows in Asia, Europe and cities in the United States.
âI have never stopped challenging the traditional limits of being an artist,â Slusarski said.
Her resume is peppered with eclectic work she’s done throughout her journey – from designing children’s toys to producing production design for a horror movie at an abandoned Ohio amusement park, to volunteering to teach art to teens with mental health issues.
Adapting during the pandemic
Slusarski met her husband, Ricardo Angelo Mestres III, while selling art in Hollywood while running a large studio. However, when his daughter died of a brain tumor at the age of 48, he quit and returned to medical school to become an emergency doctor.
Now in his 60s, he hasn’t signed up for a pandemic, Slusarski said. They were both afraid that he would die or bring him home and die. She got very discouraged and stayed all day watching Netflix and eating the same can of flavor soup.
Slusarski realized that she had to find a job. She was invited to teach in a visual arts lab through Zoom and began dating women who made textile and abstract work using digital tools. It made her wonder what kept her from doing abstract work, something that had long been a dream to her.
âI don’t want to keep repeating myself,â Slusarski said. âI don’t want to reproduce. I don’t want to build my brand. I don’t want to be famous. I want to be seen. Why not during the pandemic, when I teach this course and have ideas, to do what I always wanted to do? Do what I was curious to do?
She began to experiment with different tools, creating shapes that looked like centipedes running under the deep sea. She would put them on glossy paper, then glue them on canvas. She took out a few abstract paintings from the storage she had created and started using digital and analog methods to create layered paintings. One of his works had 37 layers.
âI wanted to do it all,â Slusarski said. âSpray paint, air compressor – there was no judgment or egos involved. I had plenty of time and a single occupancy studio, so I didn’t have to worry about COVID-19. I just played with painting on a lot of canvases. I went crazy while doing these paintings.
She said everyone needs to understand what they really want to do during this time and recognize that a lot of people are going through a very difficult time.
âA lot of artists did really depressing political work and I wanted to do crazy, super colorful, super iridescent, almost holographic work,â Slusarski said. âThey have sparkling layers that draw you in. If you look at my painting, there are these high working layers that come and go in layers. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to treat myself or I would just lay back and eat split pea soup and watch Netflix.
The future is foggy – but it will include art
Slusarski’s studio is located in El Segundo and she continues to be influenced by what she calls “the wacky village that was Venice”. While she can’t predict what her future art will look like, she plans to linger in abstract work for a while.
âI didn’t saturate the process,â Slusarski said. ” I do not get enough. I didn’t start doing orders of abstract wolves sitting in chairs catching flies. I am able to do what I want to do and if I am able to do it,
I will continue to do these paintings. I know right now I’m really excited and having a blast.
It is a message that she transmits to the young artists that she has mentored and taught.
âI think in the end I wouldn’t have done anything different,â Slusarski said. âWe all become the artist we are meant to be. I don’t know if I would like to live if I couldn’t do art.