Q+Art: Digital Artist Cari Marvelli Cultivates Identity Through Imagination and Fantasy
Digital collage artist Cari Marvelli is a woman of many hats. A California native, the self-taught artist got her start by snapping photos of Reno’s punk scene—affectionately dubbed “Skeeno” by insiders. Now a resident of New York’s Hudson Valley, Marvelli repurposes her old photographs into eclectic digital collages that capture the artist’s shifting moods and identities.
The photographs Marvelli uses in her work span the length of not only her artistic career, but her entire life. Looking back at childhood photographs led the artist to discover a new side of herself, one she felt compelled to express through a new medium. “In those early years, life may have appeared normal, but when I take a closer look at the child I was—when the surrounding scene is removed and I am left alone—I begin to recognize the deep insecurity and self-consciousness that has lingered into adulthood,” she writes in her artist statement. Marvelli, like many shy children, redirects her loneliness into a make-believe world, flush with whimsical scenery, mysterious characters, and liberating alter egos.
Centering her work around past selfies, Marvelli uses the flexibility of digital media to define her identity with each new collage. Themes and moods vary just as wildly as human emotion: Some works appear dark and cynical, while others feel silly and lighthearted. In other works, Marvelli confronts the existential crises of aging with equal parts humor and snark. “Sprinkled into these pieces, as a means to decrease my personal dislike for the aging process, is either self-deprecation or lightheartedness, depending on my mood,” she notes.
While her eclectic approach is, on one hand, a product of digital culture, Marvelli’s impulse to recreate herself over and over is shared by a host of starry-eyed daydreamers. Time spent alone is time spent imagining, and Marvelli cultivates her vision with an understanding that personal identity evolves with self-reflection and fantasy.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Cari Marvelli discusses the emerging importance of digital art, expressing emotion from a safe distance, and the joy of getting lost in a good puzzle.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Cari Marvelli: A good book on human anatomy. Also, The Age of Insight by Eric Kandel.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
CM: Man Ray or the Lumiere brothers, or both!
What are you trying to express with your art?
CM: Feelings I cannot express through speech or body language. For me, emotional expression is easier when I can do it from a safe distance.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
CM: In terms of all my creative endeavors, I’ve been working for free my whole life. Not sure if it’s provided much exposure. That’s why I always keep a day job.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
CM: Working on puzzles. I can spend hours on them.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
CM: Not sure if it was my greatest achievement, but it was a piece of work which received some notice. In 2008 I made a short mockumentary film called Man’aise, which was a selection at Mockfest in Hollywood in 2009. I was nominated for Best Director and Best Actress in a drama. I won for the latter.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
CM: Everyone’s a critic; just do what you love.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
CM: I suppose that depends on where you are studying, and with whom. I don’t think an artist needs to go to Yale or CalArts to hone their skills, but some formal training can be useful. I think many artists would benefit from learning more about the business of art.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
CM: I would like to see galleries working with more digital artists. I feel there is still a lot of hesitation by curators to include digital art in exhibitions, unless they are strictly online. Perhaps some still hold the belief that it is not a legitimate art form.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
CM: Baihu’s The Power of Light, Beauty of the Shadow.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
CM: It provided me more time to reflect, which led to more work. Since March of 2020, I have produced more, and have been able to focus more on creative endeavors. Due to social distancing, I spent a lot of time outdoors. I took tons of photos.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
CM: I am combining several experimental video pieces into one large piece. I love the video editing process, even though it can be very tedious and time consuming. My kids gave me a projector for Christmas, and I’d like to be able to put it to good use.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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