I went to an art opening recently at the Visual Art Center in Richmond featuring the work of Megan Marlatt: Substitutions for a Game Never Played. One of 11 children, Marlatt grew up in a household where money was tight and her mother preoccupied. Left to her own devices, Marlatt made up games with what was at hand entertaining herself and also building self-reliance, a rich imagination, creativity and a childlike wonder about the world. All is on display at this exhibition, which features Marlatt’s toy series and her most recent work which is kind of a hybrid of her earlier scientific drawings and the toys. Also on view are her capgrossos (giant heads) that she has been toiling on ever since she returned from a residency with Ventura and Hosta, master artisans of capgrossos, at their studio in Navata, Spain.
Made out of papier-mâché that has been pressed into a plaster mold, capgrossos are a vital part of the Spanish folk art tradition, traditionally made for carnivals and parades. Marlatt decided she wanted to make a giant head of herself and than paint a self-portrait of herself in the nude wearing the head. As with all ideas, the original concept changed over time. When she next mentioned the project to me it had expanded to include several heads—all different iterations of herself—with the intention of having people wear them at some kind of art happening. I was a little skeptical, but knowing Marlatt I trusted her even if I couldn’t visualize it myself.
At the art opening, Marlatt went capgrosso-less but she had recruited a number of friends to wear all the heads. There was Marlatt as the Devil, Marlatt as a man, Marlatt Black, Marlatt Asian, Marlatt as Janus. The gallery was full and the remarkable thing was that for all their artifice and scale, from across the room it took you a minute to see they weren’t real people. This happened again and again. There must have been some kind of delay in the eye/brain connection as you tried to resolve the scene. The other remarkable thing was that everyone in the gallery was grinning, which was a lovely thing to see. My respect and admiration for Marlatt deepened because she knew from the get-go that this project would be successful. She saw the potential when others could not.
Also included in the show is the marvelous video shot by Marlatt’s husband (the acclaimed filmmaker, Richard Robinson) of Marlatt wearing the straight self-portrait head. She’s not nude, but has on a bizarre fleshy robe. Caruso is crooning in the background. It's wacky and wonderful and pure Marlatt. Here’s the link: