Island artist wins best in show
Jamestown artist Peter Marcus was the recipient of two awards earlier this month at the Newport Art Museum’s annual juried exhibition for its members. Not only was Marcus awarded best in show, he was the recipient of the museum’s top award, which earned him a future solo exhibition at the gallery.
Marcus grew up in Brooklyn and knew from an early age he wanted to be an artist. His mother took him to art classes at the Brooklyn Museum when he was 7 years old, and he began making jewelry at the age of 12. In high school he took all of the art classes that were available, and following graduation, he enrolled at Parsons School of Design in New York where he studied industrial design.
After some time working in industrial design, Marcus decided he wanted to pursue fine arts so he enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he earned his master’s degree in printmaking. He took a job teaching at Stout University in Wisconsin, but after two years, he decided to seek warmer climes, moving to St. Louis where he began teaching at Washington University. He taught there for 32 years. Marcus has had a summerhouse in Jamestown since 1972, and moved here full time four years ago.
According to museum curator Nancy Grinnell, there were 339 submissions for inclusion in the show. From those hopefuls, 90 were chosen to be in the show by guest jurors Virginia Freyermuth of Rhode Island College and Nancy Friese of Rhode Island School of Design.
“We reviewed many high-quality pieces that were submitted, and we chose a smaller selection to fit the space available,” the jurors said.
Marcus was studying sculpture in graduate school when he decided to change his focus to printmaking because all of his friends were printmakers. It turned out to be a good decision. He learned all the processes of printmaking. He has been using a process called collagraph for many years. He used to build his own printmaking presses, but in 1993 he collaborated with a machine shop in St. Louis. The large press they created had the capability of printing work that was 5 feet by 10 feet.
“I discovered new materials to use as the base of the plates,” Marcus said. “I had always used masonite. Now I’m using a material called sintra, which is a thin sheet of plastic. It’s a fabulous material to use for what I do.”
Marcus began doing images based on architecture when he got the new press. The work that Marcus submitted for the Newport Art Museum’s show this year was based on a house in St. Louis that he photographed. The image is Marcus’ interpretation of one of the archetypal old buildings in St. Louis that features a turret in the front. The series is entitled “Grand Center” because the buildings that are portrayed are located in the city’s art district, which bears that name.
“I had done a lot of color in my career,” he said. “Then when I got the new press, I stuck to black and white for a very long time. I slowly wanted to incorporate color back into my work. The photography became the color part of my work.”
Marcus said he tries to keep changing his approach so he stays interested. He tries to give himself new problems to solve so that his attention remains viable. He initially used small pencil drawings, but later digital photography took the place of the sketches. The photographs became the inspiration for his work and are incorporated into his pieces.
Marcus has also created a highly regarded series of prints of Jamestown’s Horsehead, the shinglestyle farmhouse on Highland Drive that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
“I’m always looking for new structures to hang my mark on,” he said. “Horsehead is one of the most beautiful structures and locations that I’ve ever seen.”
Marcus asked permission to photograph the home, and then he created a series of four large and 20 small pieces based on the structure.
Marcus was out of town when the museum awards were announced and he got word via text message from a friend who was at the ceremony. He summed up his reaction in one word: “Whoopee!”
“It was amazing,” he says. “I never expected it.”
The prospect of a solo exhibition at the museum is exciting for Marcus. He says he is really looking forward to it because the ultimate goal of every artist is to have a museum show.
“The Newport Art Museum is a wonderful place to show. It has great spaces. Moving my studio here 3 1/2 years ago, very few people knew who I was or what my work looked like. This gives me great exposure and great prestige. It’s a wonderful award and I’m really excited about it.”
Commenting on the “Grand Center,” the jurors said, “The work has monumental scale and exhibits high energy. The texture and materials are used in an innovative construction. There is a powerful merging of digital images, traditional collagraphs and collage elements.”