2010-04-28 / News

Island artist succeeds in making the mundane original

By Stacy Jones

Artist Peter Marcus, a longtime art professor at Washington University in St. Louis, will soon call Jamestown his full-time home. Marcus and his family have owned a house in the West Ferry neighborhood for many years. Photo by Jeff McDonough Artist Peter Marcus, a longtime art professor at Washington University in St. Louis, will soon call Jamestown his full-time home. Marcus and his family have owned a house in the West Ferry neighborhood for many years. Photo by Jeff McDonough Peter Marcus has been an art professor at Washington University in St. Louis for 32 years.

But he’s been an artist for even longer.

Now, if all goes as planned, Marcus will open his new art studio and gallery this summer in the West Ferry neighborhood where he and his family have maintained a house since the 1970s.

“I’ve added a studio to the back of my garage,” said Marcus, who specializes in large-scale prints. “The basement will have the printing press and the first floor will be the work area.”

Marcus’ prints are large – typically 5 feet by 10 feet – and are constructed through a non-toxic, collagraph process printed in intaglio style, which, according to Marcus, is much like painting.

Collagraphy is a printmaking process in which materials are applied to a rigid substrate (such as cardboard or wood). The word is derived from the Greek word “koll” or “kollo,” meaning glue and graph, and the activity of drawing. The plate can be intaglio inked, inked with a roller or paintbrush, or with some combination thereof.

Ink or pigment is applied to the resulting collage, and the board is used to print onto paper or another material, using either a printing press or various hand tools. The resulting print is called a collagraph.

With an industrial design degree from Parsons School of Design in New York and a master’s degree in printmaking from Brooklyn College, Marcus knows a thing or two about the creative process.

But he also knows the diffi- culty of living solely for and off of one’s creations.

“If you’re an artist and making a living doing it, that’s great,” he said. “Given the opportunity, I would have preferred to just make my art, but it’s hard to make it. Teaching gave me the best of both worlds.”

Although he’s an artist at heart, Marcus took great pride and joy in “making artists out of the students.”

His philosophy toward the creation of art – whether his own or someone else’s – is somewhat anti-establishment.

“Look at art, see what’s been done throughout history, and then try to avoid it,” he said.

This approach is especially vital in the printmaking field since, said Marcus, “You are competing with paintings and sculptures for visual impact.”

“It’s all about image. When you are dealing with very mundane subjects like architecture, the questions always is, ‘How do you make it your own? How do you make it an original?’”

Marcus must have figured out that conundrum.

His work is displayed in museums throughout the country, including the Brooklyn Museum, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and galleries at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

After decades of success in creating architecture-based prints, Marcus is venturing into a new area: Portraits.

The change is a welcome one.

“I explored as much as I could,” he said. “It became a little too easy.”

But the change is also risky, he said.

“So far, when I’ve changed images, it usually works out,” he said. He’s already shown a couple of his prints based on portraits and he is satisfied with the response, he said.

Another change is his place of residence. According to Marcus, on his first visit to Jamestown in 1972 to visit his in-laws, “I went, ‘Holy moly, this is a great place. We’ve got to get a house here.’”

After 42 years in St. Louis, Marcus – who is in the process of moving the contents of his 10-year-old gallery, the Bruno David Gallery, to Jamestown – is eager to move back to the East Coast, where he will live in his West Ferry home full time and sell his home in St. Louis.

“My kids would kill me if I sold this house,” said Marcus of his Jamestown home.

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