By Mikhail James
Be it through illustration, prints, murals, tattoos, or music, it seems as if Marlee Jennings’ art cannot be confined to simply one medium. Currently in her fourth year at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), where she specializes in Illustration, Marlee has been able to cultivate her own unique and distinct style – a style that, after seeing some of her pieces, shouldn’t be too difficult to make out.
Much of Marlee’s work surrounds the duality of the real and imagined world; drawing inspiration from the monotony and mundane qualities that can so often accompany everyday life, Marlee’s illustrations portray scenes and objects found in the world around us, but merged with a fictitious twist or mythical element. Combining these two themes allows for Marlee’s art to evoke a sense of imagination within the viewer, transporting us to faraway and ethereal lands, all through the catalyst of the “regular” world around us. Marlee’s work helps remind us to see the magic in the ordinary – to look deeper, or simply differently, for the beautiful.
How early did you start creating art, and when did you know it was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
I’m not entirely sure when I started. I really didn’t know it was something I wanted to pursue until I was graduating high school and felt the need to figure out what I was going to do after. Art was the only thing that made sense to me as something to continue exploring, even though it was scary to dive into.
How would you describe your artwork to someone who has never seen or experienced it before?
Hmmm, I guess bright and colourful, featuring odd characters in eclectic environments.
A lot of your art seems to lean towards the fictitious and imaginary. Would you say your work is derived from the real world, or imagined places and things you are trying to bring to life?
I think my art tries to bridge the two. Usually it’s inspired by disenchantment with the real world and trying to imagine different ways for it to look. Sometimes it’s disenchantment, and sometimes it’s to call attention to how magical day to day life can be. I think I flip back and forth between preferring reality and the whimsical. But they overlap sometimes in unexpected ways.
Is there a central message that you try to convey through your art?
I wish I knew what I was trying to say. But I guess if I knew how to say it, I would say it instead of drawing it, so maybe that’s part of the point.
Between the many different forms of creating that you work within (illustrating, printmaking, murals, music), which is your favorite, and why?
Ah, it’s so hard to choose! Each fulfills something different for me. I’ve also started tattooing which has been really interesting. I’m also really interested in natural dyes and pigments, which I’ve just started exploring. I haven’t settled on any favourites yet, but maybe some day!
Being based in Toronto, a diverse city with a unique and emerging art scene, how would say your work is influenced by the people and places you interact with on a daily basis?
I’ve actually just moved to Hamilton, a city just outside of Toronto, to open a feminist tattoo shop and community space with my teacher, Kayla Grant. Toronto was pretty great for meeting people at school and being exposed to a certain way of life. I think it actually inspired the disenchantment that I’ve been working through in my art. There are so many people, rushing around everywhere, all very disconnected from one another. It’s odd to be surrounded by people all the time, but to feel alone. I think my art is often influenced by this. I’m really curious to see how it changes with being in a smaller and more supportive community!
What is the ultimate goal you are trying to accomplish through your work?
I’m not entirely sure. I think I like calling attention to things that are misunderstood or overlooked. If I can make someone feel entertainment, enjoyment, or curiosity then I feel okay about my work.
What can we be expecting from Marlee in the future?
Well, if I survive my thesis at OCADU, then hopefully more tattoos, murals and illustrations!