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Interviews With The Fantastic
I was at Carolina Beach, scarfing down local strip-mall doughnuts from Wake-N-Bake, when I
stumbled across an article in their alt-weekly about "Marlowe," a collage artist inspired by the
pulps who had an exhibition coming up in downtown Wilmington. I really liked that article's
description of the family connection, because most of what I know about the pulps I learned from
my older brother, who was a fan and a collector. The Shadow and Doc Savage were his
favorites. Right now I'm reading Philip Jose Farmer's Wold-Newton "biography," Doc Savage:
His Apocalyptic Life, so the article kind of rang a bell for me personally, on top of my ongoing
obsession with models of cultural evolution. My wife and I were both a bit sunburned, so we abandoned the beach and went downtown. I
stopped by the gallery, New Elements. Even though the show wasn't due to open until several
days after our return to Greensboro, the owner, Miriam Oehrlein, graciously showed me all the
Marlowe canvases she had stored in her basement. They're big, poster-sized, and the digital
thumbnails on her webpage really don't do them justice. The patterned and textured papers that
make up the backgrounds could be just as interesting as the foreground images. I pestered Ms. Oehrlein to send the artist my contact info, and here we are, conversing online.
InterGalactic Interview With "Marlowe"
by Randall Hayes
I was at Carolina Beach, scarfing down local strip-mall doughnuts from Wake-N-Bake, when I stumbled across an article in their alt-weekly about "Marlowe," a collage artist inspired by the pulps who had an exhibition coming up in downtown Wilmington. I really liked that article's description of the family connection, because most of what I know about the pulps I learned from my older brother, who was a fan and a collector. The Shadow and Doc Savage were his favorites. Right now I'm reading Philip Jose Farmer's Wold-Newton "biography," Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, so the article kind of rang a bell for me personally, on top of my ongoing obsession with models of cultural evolution.
My wife and I were both a bit sunburned, so we abandoned the beach and went downtown. I stopped by the gallery, New Elements. Even though the show wasn't due to open until several days after our return to Greensboro, the owner, Miriam Oehrlein, graciously showed me all the Marlowe canvases she had stored in her basement. They're big, poster-sized, and the digital thumbnails on her webpage really don't do them justice. The patterned and textured papers that make up the backgrounds could be just as interesting as the foreground images.
I pestered Ms. Oehrlein to send the artist my contact info, and here we are, conversing online. Enjoy.
Hayes: The article I read said that your father wrote for the pulps. Which ones? Many authors, like Robert E Howard or Manly Wade Wellman, wrote for multiple genres. Did your dad specialize? Did he write any SF?
Marlowe: My dad wrote for many, including EXPOSE DETECTIVE and TRUE CRIME.
Hayes: Do you have a listing of his stories? A lot of fans have a sort of collecting or completist personality.
Marlowe: Here are some stories my dad wrote:
"Crime is My Beat," True Detective Magazine
"The Spinster Murderess," Detective Magazine
"The Murdered Playboy," Line Up Detective magazine.
Hayes: So no SF then, but your canvases go across genres: crime, romance, SF. Were you a reader of the pulps, or is it just the family connection and the art that appeal to you?
Marlowe: No SF, but I got a taste for the pulp genre through the crime stories. I felt that for a broad appeal to the art-buying public, just crime would be too narrow, so I crossed over to SF, Adventure, Action and Fantasy. The subject matter was ripe for over the top situations, outlandish color schemes and exaggerated poses by the people in them.
Hayes: You were a commercial artist for a long time. What's the standard in that industry, now and when you worked there? Is it still work for hire? Do you own any rights to your previous commercial work? That's been the trend in the comics industry, for creators to sell specific rights in a more strategic way.
Marlowe: I did so much, different kinds of commercial graphics. As a free-lance illustrator for magazines, I got a flat fee for the art and retained ownership but allowed electronic rights. I also designed greeting cards and would get a fee plus royalties and gave exclusive rights for 1 year. After that I could re-sell. For book jacket design, it was always a flat fee but I retained ownership of art.
Hayes: It sounds like you were either a more sophisticated professional, or you were working in a less exploitive part of the industry. Fine art has a tradition of "found objects," and "outsider artists," etc. Because I'm a comics nerd primarily, and because he just died recently, I wanted to get your take on the feud between Russ Heath and Roy Lichtenstein.
You mentioned that your pulp sources were often not copyrighted, so this is not meant as a legalistic gotcha, but as an honest question about your process. Do you credit painters in your blurbs alongside the canvases? Do you want them anonymous and mysterious?
Marlowe: Lichtenstein seems to have used art that was done by a known living artist . . . but I don't know what was in his head or how he was influenced. I wish I knew some of the old artists' names but a lot were anonymously done and not credited . . . . That's the sad part of that art era--hopefully I can bring back some of that glory, even for unknown artists. But I create original scenes and situations around those images that are my own concoction from handmade papers, craft paper, and some original graphics typical to the period.
Hayes: Miriam at the gallery told me a little bit about the way you digitally manipulate these old pulp covers, but she didn't go into a lot of detail. Could you describe that process?
Marlowe: I take an old image and print it out on watercolor paper and hand color certain areas to make them vivid--change colors, add highlights.
Hayes: Do you hand-scan original covers, or do you find the images in a database somewhere? How do you choose the color schemes? Are you adapting the original artist, or do you start over again with a whole new palette?
Marlowe: I scan from original magazines I've collected. When enlarging them, the crude dot patterns from cheap printing techniques gives a coarse texture that looks very gritty and appropriate to the time and subject matter. The color schemes I make up to fit the situation. Garish color for crime and SF, softer, lighter color for romance.
Hayes: Tell us something about the collage aspect. These canvases are slightly 3d, right?
Marlowe: All the art is collaged. Hand cutting all pieces and then mounting them 1/4" off the canvas to create a natural cast shadow. This dimensionality allows the shadow to "move" throughout the day, depending on the angle of the sun coming into a window . . . kind of organic.
Some of the papers that I use are hand-made papers I get from a company in India with a U.S. distributor.
Hayes: I noticed that at least one of your covers has text peeking through, as though the cover was torn. Is that from the same magazine? Is it thematically related? Is it one of your father's stories that you snuck in there? Or did you just want the look of a chunk of newsprint there?
Marlowe: The text peeking thru is from the same magazine--the yellowed paper and old typefaces are typical to the time period. No, they were not from my dad's magazines. These are much older.
Hayes: So if I'm reading you right, you're combining characters from different covers. Like the woman, and the purple alien seahorse, and the sword wielder all came from different places?
Marlowe: Yes, I put different characters into different scenes, making sure they work together. I really am making a new story line with different graphics from different magazines.
Hayes: Do you buy them from collectors, or scavenge yard sales, or prowl used bookstores? Are there specific types of images that you are looking for, or does luck play a big part?
Marlowe: I get my stuff from antique shops, used book stores, flea markets, etc. Some online. I've collected an archive for many years and have lots of stuff from all over.
Hayes: Do you only sell the big canvases, or do you do digital versions as well?
Marlowe: Yes, I really only do the big canvases. I don't do any digital versions.
Hayes: How could readers of the magazine find your stuff if they wanted to buy it? Do you take commissions?
Marlowe: I can only sell my work thru New Elements Gallery here in Wilmington.
As far as promotion, I have a Facebook page:
I also do mailers of my work to art buyers and decorators. I do commissions as well--am doing one right now on Hawaii of the 1930s!!!
Hayes: Is there anything else you'd like for readers to know? Can they contact you through the FB page to geek out, or are you more the reclusive artist type? Should I refer to you only as "Marlowe?" What's the genesis of the name, anyway?
Marlowe: Facebook is fine--I'm not reclusive.
Marlowe is my middle name. My mom was a film buff and loved B noir movies. One of her favorite actors was a grade C actor named Hugh Marlowe (Earth vs the Flying Saucers) so she named me after him and I took it as my art name.
Hayes: Back to family. I think that's a good place to end it. Thanks so much for your time.
Author's Note: The majority of Marlowe's current collages were destroyed during Hurricane Florence. The electronic copies above and in the New Elements catalog are all that remain. They were partially insured, but their loss was still a personal and financial blow to the artist. Hopefully there will be new ones in the future.
Randall Hayes, your two-fisted pulp neuroscientist, also writes PlotBot, the monthly IGMS column on science in SF.
The exhibit, "NeoStalgia," runs through 9/22/18. You can see other thumbnails in their catalog.
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