marcia soderman

Marcia Soderman, Fire Distillation No. 9, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 48 in. x 36 in.

How would you describe the work that you do?

I would describe my work as abstractions and abstracted landscapes that are visual metaphors for states of mind/emotions. . . . [They] refer to the natural elements, not literally to fire, air, water, but act as symbolic states of mind. Part of the [reference to] fire is outrage, as it relates to all the social/political/environmental problems we face today. But fire for me is also passion, determination, inner spirit. . . . In other words, you don’t give up. . . . It can also purge dead brush, like wildfires that make room for new growth. So fire can be both positive and negative.

Are there ways in which you intend your work to challenge the viewer?

Marcia Soderman, Solar Distillation No. 6, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 48 in. x 36 in.

I hope viewers will experience my work with engagement rather than superficiality. Either it speaks to them or it doesn’t. I’d like viewers to think deeply about my work, but more importantly, I hope that it will stimulate them to think about greater issues like climate change, violence and feminism. Women have long been the caretakers of the environment.

Is there something you are currently working on that you are particularly excited about?

Marcia Soderman, Falling Water No. 3, 2016,  acrylic on canvas, 48 in. x 36 in.

I am excited about the idea of incorporating additional modalities like sound and photography along with my painting, which is a new direction for me. My question becomes, “Does it enhance the viewer’s experience?”

What have been the greatest challenges to your art career and how do you navigate them?

Part of it is just developing yourself as an artist. It takes a long time. . . . One of the challenges is learning to put your work out there, in spite of any self‐doubt you may have. When I was in school it was very much a male dominated field, so it was hard to get in. . . . Also, my family encouraged me to be an artist, but to become a K‐12 teacher, and I didn’t want to do that. So I went to graduate school and ended up getting degrees in art history. I feel that what I learned really enhanced my whole life as a painter. . . . But, once you are labeled an art historian . . . people don’t want to take you seriously as a visual artist, as a painter. . . . In the end, I had to stop teaching art history to focus on my painting, which has been a lot more fulfilling. . . . But I always incorporate art history in my private teaching and mentoring. Being an artist isn’t an easy field!

What advice has influenced you or your art making?

My work tends to be abstract. I was greatly influenced by the first generation of women abstract expressionists, such as Helen Frankenthaler. I had an undergraduate professor who said to look at the work of artists like Lee Krasner who said, “Don’t take no for an answer.” So don’t give up. Sometimes it’s painful but you just have to develop a tough skin and still put yourself out there, . . . you just have to dig deep down and believe in yourself. Keep that fire!

In your opinion, how is being a woman artist in 2015 different from what it might have been like one, two, three or even four decades ago?

I think there are a lot more opportunities in organizations like WARM and the WCA, but there’s still a long way to go. The more than 90 attacks on abortion clinics since 1995 are proof that women’s rights continue to be under fire. Protecting human rights, as well as protecting the earth, is each generation’s duty. It’s an ongoing process that each generation has to re‐learn to improve the cultural fabric and fight climate change.

Does personal history work its way into your practice? How might who you are be reflected in your current work?

I don’t know how one cannot be embedded in one’s work. When I’m working with my protégées, I can tell when a painting seems felt . . . if it feels authentic. That’s vague but true. Some artists try to be very objective and avoid putting their emotions into their art, but I have to.  

In the studio

How do you identify yourself as a feminist artist?

While there are many different positions within feminist thought, in my opinion the feminist role is to help raise awareness, create peace and positive energy in the world, and to use your artistic expression as a vehicle for doing so. My work is a form of eco‐feminism, in its concern for the environment, and comes out of humanist feminism, based on the simple idea of respect for the rights of all people as equals. . . . Feminist artists support one another, rather than simply competing against one another in this very challenging field. In the process of guiding students and being supportive of other artists in their artistic growth, your own work evolves too. And in that way, women have been nurturers of society. I’m not anti‐male or separatist. There are many wonderful male feminists, such as Howard Oransky, Eric Baudry and my husband, Matthew Olson, to name a few! It’s much more about liberating and nurturing all people and the earth.

Marcia Soderman








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