Interviewed by Gabriella Alziari
“I made a conscious decision to leave a successful and lucrative business career in order to do what I love… Generally there is no place I would rather be than my studio.”
Marie Bourget was born in Santa Monica, California. After a successful career in high-tech she followed her true passion for art to Paris where she received her BA degree in Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design (Ecole Parsons). Upon her return to the US she began an in-depth exploration of patterns- especially those of the Islamic world which still fascinate and preoccupy her time.
Tell us about yourself and your artwork.
Being a visual artist I would much rather have my work speak for itself than talk about it, however I will tell you that I’m a second generation Californian born in Santa Monica. I spent eight years in Paris, France during which time I went to art school at Parsons. This experience influenced my point of view about form and content and began to shape my work into something much richer than if I’d just rented a studio and started painting. Having an international experience influenced my ideas about the world and later informed my Islamic series.
Most of my work shows my near obsession with patterns though I am equally obsessed by chance. I like to have a certain amount of randomness in my work so I have several set of dice I use when I want to take an undirected course. I do this as a kind of artistic practice.
How did your journey as an artist begin?
My childhood dream was to be a fashion designer. When I started at art school in Paris each of the various disciplines presented their programs. Opening his presentation, the Dean of Fine Arts said only one thing, “If you don’t know what fine arts means then this is not the discipline for you”. I wasn’t exactly sure what the fine arts were but I was nonetheless intrigued. And here I am now, a painter.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I have more inspiration than time. Sometimes I’m inspired just by looking out the window of my studio in San Francisco onto Mission Street. Of course, my Islamic Works Series was inspired by current events— specifically the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq.
What is your favorite medium to work with? Why?
Sand paper is probably the most essential media I use. I would be lost without it. Because my work depends on many layers and ends with a very smooth surface I paint primarily on wood panels or other hard surfaces where I can sand as I paint. I’ll use just about any water-based media at hand including acrylic paint, graphite, colored pencils, charcoal, adhered paper and water colors.
Describe your creative process.
I have only a general idea of what I’ll paint before I get started. Any sketching I do ends up being a part of the finished project, even if the work goes in a completely different direction. Sometimes I’ll draw and redraw the same image numerous times; even with purely geometric designs there are several iterations. My work depends on the repeated application and removal of paint. The residue and traces remaining from earlier applications are an integral part of each work.
Can you tell us about your use of color?
I feel that color is made to be put through its paces! I either use a hundred colors or very few. I love reading about color and trying out unusual combinations. I’m interested in the absence of and subtlety of color combinations or the saturation of many colors and their interactions.
In your Islamic Works project, you incorporated Whitman’s poetry and translated it into Iraqi. Can you tell us more about this process?
One of the most insidious aspects of war is the dehumanization of the enemy, especially when we know nothing of the culture or history of our perceived opponent. In a plea for tolerance I used the combination of Islamic design and Arabic script (specifically excerpts of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass translated into Iraqi) in a series of paintings. The inclusion of these excerpts as Arabic script was important to me on both a personal and an artistic level.
I wanted Whitman’s poetry for this project because of his iconic status as an American poet who was also a celebrated unifier and embracer of cultures and customs. It took me almost two years to finally track down a copy of a translation but it was such an integral part of this work that I didn’t start painting until I found it.
What was the most significant thing that you learned from your Botanicals project?
Botanical shapes— flowers, leaves, vines— are some of the first things we draw as children. We often learn how to draw these items from copying other pictures and do this without looking at the actual subject at hand. It was important to me to relearn these designs by looking at plants with intent, not copying them, but understanding them and then reinterpreting them.
How has being an artist influenced your life?
It’s the fulfillment of dream. I made a conscious decision to leave a successful and lucrative business career in order to do what I love. Now painting is my job and I have the same disciplined work ethic that I had in my earlier career. I set out creative challenges and tasks which inspire me to create new bodies of work. Generally there is no place I would rather be than my studio.
Do you find that your surroundings inform your work?
I titled one of my paintings We Breathe the Air that is in Front of our Face. It paraphrases a quote I read long ago and could never forget. So, yes, my surroundings inform my work. In what way I am not quite sure, but I can guarantee you that if I were back in Paris my work would be different that it is today.
Is it challenging to be a woman in your field? If so, how have you overcome previous challenges?
I find that I am not that sensitive to this issue (even though I very proudly call myself a feminist). My work is my work and it has been shaped by all that I have experienced. The fact that we live in a male dominated society certainly has its influences but it’s not something that overtly challenges me.
Are you working on anything currently?
Amongst other things I’m working on a series of prints for the al-Mutanabbi Street project. It is a project commemorating the 2007 bombing of the historic center of Bagdad book-selling. It’s a challenging project for me, because I am not a print maker and need not only to learn a new skill, but also to look at my process from the opposite direction— no sandpaper allowed! It’s also exciting to be invited to be a part of this wonderful project that promotes the very thing that my Islamic Series is about.