This essay is a part of the exhibition catalogue for the 2021 show My Screen Time featuring the painted works of Marisa Stratton.
I met Marisa Stratton in my Open Drawing Studio in Fall 2017. Marisa was quiet but very serious, very focused with an eye and hand that were intimately enjoined. In fall 2018, Marisa enrolled in my freshman Drawing Studio Course at Virginia Commonwealth University; her growth and dedication were remarkable. Her joy for making was infectious; she was (and is) a true leader. By the end of the school year, Marisa produced some of the most impressive drawings that I have seen in any of my classes in fourteen years teaching at VCU.
Fast forward 4 years, and everything I have shared while remaining true has multiplied tenfold, while she has impacted multiple departments with an astonishing amount of compelling and intelligent work along with being a wonderful human being. The result of Marisa’s efforts has forged an undeniable demand for her work to be shown now, and I have the extreme honor and pleasure of curating Marisa’s most recent work into an exhibition at Shockoe Artspace.
This solo exhibition titled My Screen Time brings together over 80, 6.5″ by 3.5″ oil paintings on wood panels. These works, having been produced over the last year and a half, are a careful examination of the image of close friends and acquaintances of Marisa caught on Instagram. In considering the works, I am reminded of Retablos, better known as “laminas,” which were small paintings used at home altars to venerate seemingly endless amounts of Saints.
There is an indirect connection here, perhaps not an intended one by the artist, but one that calls upon a history of activating our bodies to precious images that would seem to possess power of some kind. I can’t help but think about “self-veneration” in the pictures daily posted on Instagram, and how Marisa, by curating and painting these intimately hand-holdable paintings, is enfleshing the “self-veneration” with an ennobled affirmation through the process and careful handling of paint during a time of pandemic and isolation. Moreover, it is as if by painting these images, it is to say, “self-veneration” might not be enough; perhaps we need to be affirmed outside of ourselves?
These vibrant works of shifting pallets and paint handling unflatten the screen through lush and luminous physicality while retaining the right amounts of image. It is as if the paintings come out from behind the screen/”alter” to inhabit “our” space a fresh over and against “my space,” inviting us to reconnect with our haptic-self, our actual ontological station, a station that demands and or requires intimate “in-time” and space relationships.
In this collection, these carefully crafted portraits are made in the image of a momentary decision by someone behind the screen; Marisa’s work shows someone is watching on the other side of that screen. More importantly, this show is an expression of love for all of the people painted and implies a kind of love that extends past the number displayed. It would seem we long to be made in the image of something and or someone, that veneration of an image by itself might not be enough; otherwise, why would we post new photos every day? Here in the slowed-down effects of straightforward painting, we glimpse an image of ourselves that alludes to more than a mere numerical increase. This catalog is an invitation to consider this work in time, and over time, it is also a celebration of a remarkable artist launching into a promising future.