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Crystal Marie: The Special Occasion You Have Been Waiting For

Crystal Marie's Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.

Giving new life to what has been broken and cast out is something Chicago-based artist Crystal Marie is drawn to. 

It's about seeing worth in what has been deemed worthless and finding beauty in the mundane or bringing in new life to forgotten objects. The action of discovery and self-worth in old materials by creating new art is a process that can be therapeutic and healing.

As a mixed media assemblage artist, Crystal Marie repurposes pieces of wood, found objects, metal, and stained papers into vessels, sculptures and panels. The layers of weathered, worn and reborn, show respect for what has been discarded, what can be renewed and made whole through art. 

Regardless of the media she uses, Crystal Marie seeks to create a dialogue around the issue of self-worth and the perception of human value through these reclaimed resources. 

With an established career as a professional artist, gallery representation and a published book, Crystal Marie has widely exhibited her work and was a recipient of the 2018 Ram Artist Fellowship. 

Crystal Marie’s art process is instinctive. It's about being open to the voice inside, trusting the one that can guide creative decisions and bring about a much richer work of art. 

Crystal Marie artwork

Why Art?

Explaining why visual art has such an important role in her life, Crystal says, “Art is a very personal expression of who we are as human beings. There's just something I'm compelled to do when I see things on the ground or salvage materials. I'm compelled to piece them together and find some kind of way to repurpose them." 

“When I first started creating, there was something visceral inside of me that would respond every time I saw a collage or somebody else's artwork. It was just a compulsion. I was already a collector. I was already gathering materials, old books and ephemera and objects and things that caught my attention. I just had no sense really, of why I was collecting the things I was collecting, until I discovered the mixed media world of collage and assemblage. 

Once I started working in those mediums, I discovered that it was a place for me; I could really tap into that meditative feeling. I've never been one to be able to just sit still and get the benefits of meditation but in the studio, I very much can.”


Inside The Studio… And Out

Crystal Marie speaks about how her early journey as an artist almost never got started because of self-doubt and belief that not having any formal art qualifications meant she wasn’t credible enough to win an artist fellowship award. After a pep talk from a fellow artist, she put together a last-minute submission and received a fellowship that included an experimental solo show. 

“The messages that get in our heads block us and prevent us,” says Crystal. “That is a message I impart to my students when I teach and write. I’m passionate about it because I struggle with it like everyone else. 

I like to say; As it is in life, it is in the studio. All of those things we're dealing with in life are those things that we believe about ourselves. The thoughts don't check themselves at the studio door and allow us to come in and work and be uninhibited by our insecurities. In the case of the fellowship, it was highlighted for me that I actually listened to the wrong message inside.”

All Crystal Marie’s work is metaphorical. She uses collage and caustic wax as part of her studio practice, using things she has salvaged and found. She often repurposes old works of her own into new ones as well. She also believes found objects carry energy with them, from the original owner. “For me, the original essence of the person who had or owned those objects comes with it. And as artists, we are able to honour these people’s stories, whether we know them or not.”Crystal Marie artwork

The Special Occasion You’ve Been Waiting For

Crystal speaks in her courses and written works about how artists tend to save special things and never use them. 

“I am passionate about talking to participants in my workshops about how the messages we carry into the studio and into our artistic process very much have to do with the messages we pick up throughout our lives.

We're conditioned by culture or family systems to believe certain things about ourselves. We are in a culture, especially as women, where we save things for a special occasion, like china or candlesticks. Many of us have been benefactors of our grandmother's or our parents' estate and received items we are not going to use. Sometimes, those things come out of the closet at an estate sale, and they've never really been used. 

We get these messages about how things are supposed to be for a special occasion and then there's never an occasion that is special enough to use them. It's the same thing when we have specific items or pieces of paper that we really love and we can see being used in a work of art someday. But then we don't give ourselves permission to use them!” 

As Crystal explains, “It can all boil down to thinking that we are not worthy. We are not good enough to use that special item that we wanted to, that we got so excited about. Because what if we ruin it? What if we finally give ourselves permission to use that thing, and it doesn't turn out the way? We get caught up in that need for it to be perfect.”

Crystal Marie artwork

Crystal encourages her students to give themselves permission:

“We elevate something like a piece of paper to a status that’s more important than we are as human beings. But the creating part is what’s important; giving yourself permission to just get in there and try. You might surprise yourself and come up with something that you really do love. And the experience may be what becomes so valuable.

Often we do not feel worthy of the materials that we have gathered, but you are the special occasion you have been waiting for!”

Crystal’s final advice for artists and students encourages them to silence their inner critics, “We need to talk to ourselves like we are our own best friend, ask ourselves what we are afraid of and let ourselves know it’s going to be ok, even if the work is not a masterpiece. The voice you need to listen to isn’t the one telling you you’re not qualified or that it has to be perfect when it’s done, it’s the one that says, ‘Gosh, I’d like to try that.’”


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