We had the good fortune of connecting with Marta Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Marta, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
I think a healthy work life balance is essential for anyone, especially people working in creative fields and cultivating careers that are not necessarily making them a living. I feel like I have only recently become better about this. After graduating from grad school at the University of Texas-Austin in 2018, I adjuncted for a semester, and then went on to complete a 10-week residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado. At that point, I finally moved to Brooklyn, a place I had been visiting and longing to live in since I was a teenager. In the wake of COVID I think I have had more control over this balance, because both of my jobs (I work in museums) furloughed me last March. This led to a complicated period of time where I found myself and other artist friends feeling pressured to “make the most” of our “extra free time,” while still battling the anxieties inherent in losing work, navigating unemployment benefits, on top of the average amount of pandemic-related stresses. This in itself caused a delicate balance of being kind to oneself, learning to manage some inevitable guilt, and also feeling eternally grateful. I’m really into astrology, and I have both my moon and ascendant sign placements in Libra, which is the sign of balance (its symbol is the scale, though its visual symbol on the chart looks more like a tiny landscape) Libras do not want to rock the boat, and they thrive off of harmony and beauty. These are helpful qualities for an artist, for the most part, but sometimes it is good to take a stand. Socially, I see myself oscillating between going to lots of galleries and bopping around, and becoming more of a studio hermit, lost in my newest playlist. Artistically, I see balance as a way of gauging a piece’s success, in the way that I think contrast provides more clarity. I believe in having very detailed areas of paintings, alongside more gestural, flattened shapes. I think the two bring out the best in each other. I also believe that the world is full of false dichotomies, and that we should really be exploring the gray area just as much as its polar opposites.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I come from a family of artists. My mother is a painter and my father is a photographer. My sister makes sculpture and fiber arts, specializing in extremely detailed weavings, beadwork, and metal work. I cannot imagine it any other way, but I definitely see this as a head-start. We spent many family roadtrips visiting art museums all over the country. I got to where I am now mostly by working hard and being open to forming genuine, supportive friendships with other makers. My main goal is to continue painting and live comfortably. I have had many great mentors over the years, starting with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Artist in Residence program, which brings a different artist to Knoxville every semester. The AIRs live near campus, have a studio in the building alongside the college students, and teach painting and drawing classes as well as a graduate seminar. Through this program I was able to work with Michael Berryhill, EJ Hauser, and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. These AIRs also gave students a very real sneak peek of what life after school is sometimes like for an artist. I don’t think that being an artist is easy, because no one else is going to force you to make your work. You have to really believe in yourself and have a really strong urge, or even need, to create. And you have to learn what fuels your creative energy and how to work hard but also learn when and how to take breaks. It’s important to find people you can listen to, but more than that, you have to trust yourself and your own intuition.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would probably take them to Central Park, and the Met, and show them the reservoir across from the Jewish Museum (where I work) on Fifth Ave. I would also want to show them Prospect Park, and make sure they spent time in Brooklyn and not just Manhattan. I just finished reading Billie Holiday’s memoir “Lady Sings the Blues,” and it’s made me curious to check out jazz clubs like Fat Cat and Minton’s Playhouse. I also think no trip to NYC is complete without walking around Chinatown, stopping in a Chinese bakery for an egg tart, going to Vanessa’s Dumplings for sesame pancakes and bubble tea, or getting dim sum.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to shoutout to my friend, the curator and writer Gilles Heno-Coe, my mother VIckie Kallies Lee, fellow artists Brooke Frank, Anika Steppe, Mark McQueen, and Leeanne Maxey, the Fire Island Artist Residency, and last but definitely not least, my supportive and musically-talented partner Kaitlynn Pelletier.
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