BY JASON CAMPBELL
I met with Marisa Bruno (pronounced like Mah-ree-sa) on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon. So warm, in fact, that I ordered iced coffee after literally racing to our appointment. Marisa is a recent graduate of SUNY Fredonia and is motivated by the challenge to succeed in the art world. The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity that has opened her eyes to all sorts of exciting possibilities, and proves that her hard work is paying off.
It seems as though all young people are force-fed the notion that you have to go to college. While many career paths do require a degree, others simply require training, practice, and less formal learning environments. Marisa always knew she would be an artist, and if she went to college it would be to study art. Judging by her status as an ascending painter it was an education well worth the expense. Bolstered by professors Rey and Bonilla, Marisa was provided a solid foundation of not only sound technique, but also of basic business principles. It was common practice for Marisa and her classmates to work on their artwork until all hours of the night and to also have to prepare business card designs, cover letters, resumes, price lists, etc. Artists have to know how to apply their varied skill sets to: get into shows, to get jobs, to get into graduate programs, and to make money. I was so happy to hear that so much emphasis was placed on real world situations. I would think that students in all disciplines should be required to participate in similar exercises to hone basic writing and person-to-person skills.
Marisa’s interpersonal skills were further refined as a teacher’s assistant in Fredonia. She was afforded the opportunity to talk to a visiting group of high school students and implored them to follow their hearts. ‘If art is your calling then simply do it. Don’t let family or friends talk you out of it. Keep working toward what you want be as an artist.’ When Marisa was a young teen her confidence level was somewhere in the range of the Marianas Trench. That may be a bit exaggerated, but the point stands. Yet, to see Marisa’s work and to talk with her now, I would not have guessed that she had to learn confidence. Many teenagers are awkward in their own right, but highly skilled and very young artists can definitely lean towards the pretentious. Marisa impresses me as a bright, earnest, and sensitive young woman who may not realize how talented she really is.
Marisa’s sensitivity is on full display in her series of paintings titled “splintered”. Life is based on relationships – some are chosen by us (friends) and some are chosen for us (family). How these relationships unfold affect us in many different ways, both positively and negatively. Either way, our actions affect those around us and vice versa. This series of work is centered on the appearances of stress. What does stress look like? At times, stress can disguise itself as someone perfectly in control of everything. Externally, this person may appear to be running like a clock, while she is fraying at the seams on the inside. This is the main gist of “splintered”. Each person is depicted twice: once as a straightforward portrait and then as someone no longer able to maintain the facade of control. The difference in the two studies is striking. At first glance they don’t even seem to be the same person – they reminded me of the old anti drug PSA “this is your brain…this is your brain on drugs”. Her series can also be viewed as how you think you appear contrasted with how others perceive you.
Lately, Marisa has been working on large abstract pieces to learn how to expand her capabilities with paint. It is a whole new ballgame trying to make a complete composition without a real starting point. While working on figures and portraits Marisa has a real sense of what she wants the finished work to be. Every piece evolves through the creative process, but there is still a mental image as the goal. In her abstract works, Marisa likes to simply apply paint. She may use a palette knife or the edge of a board to add or remove paint, a la Gerhard Richter.These pieces are about texture, space, and color, and they eliminate any type of representation of a person or place. Marisa loves the buttery texture of oil paint and is enjoying trying new ways to experiment with it. What she does not enjoy is the toxicity of the materials, not only the paints themselves, but also the additives (oils and thinners) and the finishing varnishes. All of these contain potentially harmful toxins that require proper ventilation and common safety measures.
Marisa credits Amy Vena with introducing her into the local art scene. I believe Amy helped her get into the Sonnenberg Art Show this past summer, where she was able to meet all sorts of artists and craftspeople. Marisa described the Rochester scene as “bigger than she expected it to be” and full of “destinations” such as Hungerford, Artisan Works, Roco, etc. Her advice on getting acquainted with local artists is as simple as saying hello. This goes back to gaining her confidence as well since her younger self wouldn’t have dared to introduce herself as a fellow artist. Marisa feels that art is about connections, not only to other creators but to buyers as well. Art should make you feel something, or remember something. Art should be an experience based on those connections to one’s own life. That experience may differ from what the artist intended and that’s okay, if not more successful. By talking to artists, viewers, and buyers, artists can find out how people really react to their work and that of others. Art is a dialogue that can take many different forms and elicits an entire range of emotions and reactions.
Art is not perfect. Many times an idea simply doesn’t work. Some days paint doesn’t fall where it should and doesn’t blend the way we want it to. “Trash happens” is how Marisa worded it. Some failures are not based on bad luck or bad technique – some are caused by doubt. When an artist lacks experience the great unknown can be crippling. The fear kills spontaneity and artists becomes hyper critical of their work. This rigid approach then becomes routine and the work suffers. Marisa embraces the challenge of experimenting and accepts the fact that not every attempt is “successful” – unless of course you learn from that trial and garner that knowledge. We spoke of Bob Ross and how we both loved his belief that “there are no mistakes in painting, just happy accidents”. That approach is so freeing in its deflection of stress. Art teachers like to use all sorts of negative ways to put Mr. Ross down and some of that criticism Marisa and I can agree with. Art can take on the air of elitism and Ross was the antithesis of all pretentiousness.
As for Marisa’s future it seems anything is possible. She comes from a family of small business people, including her mother who runs a specialty bakery in Penfield and one on the west side of the city. Marisa works there part-time where she gets a first-hand look at the work involved in running a business and the connections you get to make with the public. Marisa sees herself owning her own business someday but is unsure in what capacity. She is constantly inspired by other artists and their successes, and is excited to see what lies ahead. When you see her at the bakery or at her next art show, be sure to say hello.