Margie Neuhaus is a New York City based artist who combines the disciplines of science, nature and art. Her work celebrates the beauty of ecological structures and biological systems www.margieneuhaus.com. Yes, it sounds like science, but it’s art to the core. Margie explains it all in our chat below…
MICHAEL: Hi Margie! Your work is fantastic. I love the organic yet eternal nature of it. It seems like you're creating something that has no beginning or end like nature itself. What's inspiring you to create such work?
MARGIE: Thanks. Your use of the word eternal is an interesting observation. I think of the pieces as a section of a system, so they feel like there is more to them than what we can see. I'm inspired by flora and fauna, I look at plants, how they grow and respond to external conditions and microscopic images of plants, biological systems and underwater animals. I do try to create the feeling that it starts and ends beyond what we can see. I think it is about capturing a sense of mystery and what it is like to study a subject to understand it, yet realizing that we cannot see and understand it completely.
MICHAEL: I love the fact that you've applied this concept to every medium and venue. Is this something you knew you'd do starting out? Where did you get the idea for this?
MARGIE: It evolved. Architectural structural systems, then boats and then the skeletal systems inspired my earlier work. This brought in the organic and I began to reference a more personal history obliquely. Some works embodied both a structural order and entropy. I began using medical images of the body, x-rays and MRI and then reading scientific publications and using other scientific and microscopic imagery. After a time, I wanted to bring in an energy of renewal. I walk in nature and visit public gardens often. At some point, I began to notice the sculptural structures of flowers and plants and began to make sculptures inspired by them. I was also able to view microscopic images of plants.
MICHAEL: Is it important to you that the average viewer recognize let alone understand the relationship between art and science that you create in your work? In short, do they have to "get it"?
MARGIE: I hope the pieces have a specific essence or visual quality and encourage viewers to become aware of or notice similarities between man- made and natural systems. I'm also interested in them having a quality of vibrant luminosity, a sense of searching within established patterns that have moments of unpredictability. There isn't a need to have a detailed knowledge of the relationship between the scientific concepts and the art, just an understanding that there is an inherent mystery in systems, sometimes paradoxical in nature, which can create a sense of wonder when shown in a certain way. Whether it's discordant or elegant formally, what the work tries to evoke through light, color, material, line, and texture is about visual metaphor of some interior logic in a physical space.
MICHAEL: Your work is also obviously environmentally strong. Is there an environmental message or is that simply left to interpretation?
MARGIE: I am personally concerned about the environment, but it is not something I intentionally bring to the work.
MICHAEL: Your work looks like it comes from a concentrated, meditative, perhaps even spiritual state of being. Where are you emotionally, intellectually and spiritually while you're working? Do you have to have peace and quiet?
MARGIE: My work comes from a place that is hard to define or articulate. I try to get at the essence of a thought or feeling or relationship between things and translate that state of mind into a physical object. I think about how one element joins another, for example, whether something is a tenuous or solid connection or if it is pierced, threaded or riveted. This includes the materials chosen, their light and texture qualities, scale and form and all the connections these things allow one to make. They might be fleeting or multi-layered, have an element of loneliness, yearning or the sublime. I might consider if the structure is controlled or chaotic. Physically handling the materials and sketching are things I often do when I start a project. It is a more spontaneous way to create forms that echo an inner state. Intellectually, there is always problem solving. How can I make these pieces convey what I am after? I do this by assembling different combinations, by trial and error, by taking a step back and asking myself questions. The line between the intuitive and the intellectual is always shifting for me. I might question an intuitive decision, embrace a formal one or vice versa. I think I’m trying to guide a kind of inevitable accident. I can’t turn it off and on. Sometimes I have to wait. I work on a few pieces at the same time, so that if I'm unsure what to do next, I work on a different piece. I’m not sure I’d define it as a spiritual place, but I hope the work encourages contemplation and I do try to show things that strive for a small bit of harmony in spite of or maybe because of strife and adversity.
MICHAEL: Your photography seems to capture the ordinary and even perhaps the beauty of erosion. I see moments of seemingly nothingness amid something. Is that what you see?
MARGIE: The way that I think about the photographs is that they record an absence and show the traces of those who lived there. The fragments and residue as well as the broken objects, faucets, windows, walls and rooms are evidence of the past. The emptiness still has so much life. It is the light and the traces that give it the something amid the nothingness you noticed. I recorded the sunlight as it moved through the house. The sequencing of the photographs goes from concrete objects to somewhat abstract and onto more minimal images of light on surfaces and eventually outside to twilight.
The photos also show how if one stops caring for a structure, it succumbs to the natural elements. I am drawn to the beauty of the erosion; the textures of the peeling paint, the ice build-up, dust, rust stains, the bugs and mold. These are indications of nature's power and are visually beautiful. The house is at a precarious point. It may be able to be repaired or it may fall beyond mending. The vessel that held so much life is breaking down from the natural elements, I see the erosion as a parallel to a body as it ages and as an indication of the natural process of life.
MICHAEL: Does it matter to you that observers have the same understanding of your work that you do? You clearly have a message, but what if others aren't on the same page?
MARGIE: I do hope that viewers share some of my insights. People can understand the work on different levels. Some might be able to articulate it and others might respond to the feeling or essence of a piece. When I exhibit the work or have people visit the studio, I find it is interesting to watch how they physically respond to the work, see what they look at first, learn what they are drawn to, hear what they think about and see in the work. If their comments resonate with me, that may inform my future work consciously or subconsciously. But if it doesn't make sense to me I let it go. People bring their life experiences to the work and their individual vision, so I don't expect them to see things exactly as I do.
MICHAEL: Finally Margie, where do you want to go with your work and why is art so important to you?
MARGIE: I plan to continue to explore the dynamic relationship between various systems and the idea of systems in general and the frictions and intricacies inherent in them. I'd like to integrate different forms, structures, materials and layering techniques to open up those possibilities. Currently I'm making collages, drawings and working on sculptures. I am exploring grids, architectural references, translucent layering and organic structures. In all these things, I'd like to capture a certain visual phenomena with a certain color of emotion, to preserve the fleeting moment that sparked a feeling. It is a bit of a search within to express that illusive sensation. Often times, when I see something that catches my eye, it brings about a thought and a desire to make an artwork. Creating art enables me to perceive things and make connections, to transform and merge the exterior and interior worlds. It allows me to combine observations with the interior sparks they ignite.
MICHAEL: More power to you. Thanks Margie.
MARGIE: Thanks for your interest in my work, your thoughtful observations and questions.
Check out Margie’s work at www.margieneuhaus.com.