An Interview with Robyn Marshall
By Alyssa Laube
About: Robyn Marshall is a multi-talented artist who’s goal is “to bring beauty to the disturbing and awareness to the misunderstood.” She was raised in Ottawa, Ontario and now lives with her family in Chilliwack, British Columbia. As a full-time artist and stay-at-home mom, her life’s focus is on her children and business, Robyn Byrd Design.
You seem to like to focus on darker subjects and to give them exposure. What about the “unusual, hidden, and forgotten” interests you and inspires you to create art?
I’ve always preferred and been drawn the the unusual, darker things in life. I was an inner city missionary for over 3 years. I think you have to have a heart for the hidden and forgotten in order to help the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes etc.
It’s that same heart that I use to create my art. To create things out of the normal, not cookie-cutter, but things that take you a second to think. It’s similar to how I so wished people would take a second to think and care about the homeless.
These words also evoke thoughts of political and social issues. Is that something you
involve yourself in as an artist?
As a missionary I was extremely involved. It’s what drove me to try and get people to be more aware and help the helpless. As an artist, I’ve donated paintings and help raise money for charities.
If you wanted to dig even deeper, you could say that my “PS-Portraits and Silhouettes” collection is a derivative of this. Where some of the paintings have no faces, or a majority of their eyes are closed. I think I was so drawn to paint this series because it best reflects society’s response to the homeless and helpless. The face is what draws you in and helps you read people, so if a person in a painting has no face or it’s just their silhouette, are they still a person? These are some of the questions I hope people have when viewing this series.
Are there any political/social events that have had an impact on you recently, creatively or otherwise?
The 2010 Olympics had a big impact on me. It broke my heart to see our province pour so much time and money into the event when I know how all of that money could help the less fortunate.
I find, as a whole society, we have forgotten about the people next door to us. It’s easier to have empathy for the orphan babies of Africa or the survivors of major natural disasters as apposed to the people on Main and Hastings Street. We have a prejudice which leads us to believe that, because they are homeless, they somehow chose to be; That they are accepting this lifestyle and don’t want it to change.
Are you with any philanthropic foundations or companies?
I was a missionary with YWAM “Youth With A Mission” and I served with them here in Vancouver, Tijuana, and Atalanta, Georgia.
You aim to “takes society’s conventions and turn(s) them upside down.” Do you do this simply to cause controversy, to cause the audience to question themselves, etc.?
I do it to challenge people; To cause people to think for themselves and to question the everyday status quo.
How do you go about doing the above?
I think that I accomplish that simply by being a young, female artist who prefers to paint skulls instead of pretty landscapes.
Are the ideas conveyed by your artwork necessarily and consistently your own individual opinion, or do you like to expand on foreign opinions and concepts?
I think it’s a bit of both. My opinions and outlooks on life have been majorly moulded and formed by worldly concepts. I try not to live by “western” ideals and concepts where it’s every man for himself and to do anything for the all-mighty dollar. I’ve learned and been exposed to too much about the world as a whole to remain sheltered and naive. I hope my art reflects that.
How have your experiences in life formed your identity as an artist today?
My life has been so diverse in itself. From being a hairdresser in Ottawa, to a missionary in Atlanta and now a full-time artist in British Columbia, I’ve never settled on one way of living. This is directly represented in my art. Not one style is the same. Not one medium is the same. My collection of work varies just like my life has.
What began your interest with medical texts? How did you indulge that interest?
I was obsessed with Leonardo DaVinci growing up. My earliest memories are of reading about how he would rob graves and use the cadavers as references for his drawings. He drastically changed medicine of that day by being able to provide illustrations of how the human body works.
Because of this, at age of 8 or 9, all I wanted to do when I grew up was illustrate medical textbooks. So, as an adult, I decided to live a form of this dream by drawing oversized medical illustrations.
How long does it take you to complete an average “medical” piece?
This all depends on my children. Being a stay-at-home mom and artist means finding a balance between drawing and raising my children. Ideally, each one takes about a week – about 20-25 hours of work total.
I draw them on pieces of paper hung on my kitchen wall. My days are often spent drawing while my children play with Play-Doh at the kitchen table.
Now that you are creating them, what do you find is your favourite thing about it?
I love everything about them. The sheer fact that I am living an almost 20 year-old dream from when I was a little girl is amazing. That, and the size. I love working in these large scales. I’ve had to develop different techniques and I love every second of it.
Each type of art you do must be drastically different. How do you use these forms to create different feelings? Which is your favourite right now?
Yes they are all quite different. I love the soft tones and values of watercolour. They provide a sense of vulnerability that I find appealing. My large scale medical illustrations are bold and “in your face”. They call for your attention. They force you to address them.These two rotate between my favourite styles, depending on my feelings that day.
You were raised in Ottowa, Ontario. How did the culture there affect your development, personally and artistically?
I think that growing up in such a culturally diverse city helped shape my outlook on the world as well as my art. I was exposed to so many amazing varieties of arts and cultures, it’s hard to not have it affect you.
Could you tell the story of how you began working with large-scale acrylics?
It was a high school art project. I built, stretched and painted my first 5 foot painting and I fell in love. I continued with them for many years. I liked how it involved my whole body, how it was therapeutic to be able to whirl my arms around freely.
There is a reoccurring appearance of skulls and bone in your work. What is the meaning behind them to you, and why do focus on it in your work?
I’ve always been drawn to skulls and things that are macabre. I like the reminder that death is close, so live for the day. Fulfill your dreams today and don’t wait. We don’t know how long we have and tomorrow may never come. It’s a reminder to live without regret and to seize the day.
What is your goal as an artist, in the present and future?
My goal is just to continue to draw and paint and put my art out there. By doing so, I have since been published in a collaborative art book, and now i’m able to be featured in this event. If people like what I do and it resonates with them, great! I don’t make art for other people or with the thought of “will this sell?”. I paint what moves me in that time and stay true to myself.
To learn more about Robyn and Robyn Byrd Design, visit http://www.robynbyrddesign.com/