Abstract explosions of color

There was a time when artist Tamara Marke was afraid of color. Only grays, blacks and tans filled her canvases. Then, one day, she pushed beyond.

"I did one painting where I forced myself to use every color I had," Marke says. "I got over that really quick."

It's hard to imagine her fear when one views the elegant abstract explosions of orange, blue, red and gold that now fill the painter's work.

"I love the fact that they're so messy," says artist Tiphanie Windsor-Perez of Marke's paintings. "Nobody sets a mood like that. That's a beautiful quality. I never really see that much abstract work that really gets me. It stirs up emotions."

Marke publicly arrived on the Orlando art scene with her recent exhibit, "Baby Like Ham Bones and Dirty Little Construction," at the Wilfong-Remieres Gallery. The name of the show reflects the painter's own wry sense of humor, which is also on display in the titles of her often incandescent work: The black brush strokes that wind through the rust and whiteness of "Scatter of Remarks" are Marke's visual play on words. The "remarks" are the impressions and scribblings scattered on the canvas.

Because her father worked for the USDA Forestry Service, the 26-year-old Marke spent much of her childhood bouncing around the South. And even though Marke left her native Northern California 16 years ago, it's easy to picture her as part of the hippie era. In her trademark spectacles, the lanky Marke has a retro look that matches the Nag Champa fragrance she exudes. Within her paintings themselves, one can almost smell the incense she loves to burn. So it makes sense that this free spirit doesn't hold a 9-to-5 job to support her art. Instead she favors the life of a free-lance stagehand and seamstress, often working the gospel shows that travel through town.

Marke's spirit wasn't always so free to exercise itself. The Seventh-day Adventist Church schools of her youth placed tight restrictions on what she could and couldn't draw or paint. But when Marke attended an art class at Seminole Community College under the instruction of John Caputo, it could be said that she was born again.

"I got to SCC, and here's this little short, bald guy, [with] this absolutely liberal, do-whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-do [attitude] ... and I can remember my first class ... I actually started crying with exhilaration ... I just started painting and realized what I could do."

What Marke can do also includes sculpture and printmaking. In one series of 12 ink prints, each monoprint exerts its individual personality; the untitled sixth of the dozen, for example, unravels color across the canvas like some mad, anarchic sunrise. "I had a gigantic work table and I was the only one in the room ... I just started inking stuff up ... I was just kind of surprising myself." The artist worked until she ran out of ink.

Marke's unconventional approach to her work is also evident in her creative use of tools. When etching, for example, she'll grab a safety pin, a stick or paper clip (she's not "a big consumer") to scrape away the surface. For her sculpture, she'll find "motors, refrigerators, anything and just rip it up, take it apart -- save all the screws to use again, and clean what needs to be cleaned so the pieces have longevity to them."

But the sense of play she brings to her work is probably most evident in her crayoning. An expedition to the dollar store for the cheap, ultrawaxy kind results in productive adventure: "You can melt those things, you can paint with 'em, you can mix thinner with 'em -- they're great."

No wonder the painter describes her work as "fun." But ask her what school of art she belongs to and she hedges. "My mom calls it DaDa; I haven't found any sort of genre ... 'cause piece to piece, everything's just so different, and I love that I can work that way."

The prolific artist is hoping to display her work at an upcoming show in Atlanta. (At her recent Wilfong-Remieres exhibition, the gallery was completely filled but Marke says she still had 48 more pieces waiting at home.) Marke's work also will be on display for one week at Art Space in Thornton Park, beginning with a reception at 7:30 p.m Thursday, Aug. 8. Then she immediately moves over to Dante's, where she'll gain more exposure through September.

One thing's for sure: The deep, rich colors that make Marke's abstracts glow are imprinting themselves on the area's collective memory, causing one to yearn to see more.

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