^ Marika Thunder, Lindsay #5: big, 2020, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Public Access NYC.
OTP Short-Forms: Marika Thunder
An interview with the New York-based painter.
Child-like intuition, embracing imperfection and re-discovering "The Book of Lindsay Lohan".
Working inside a new contemporary mode of photo-realistic painting, twenty two-year old New Yorker Marika Thunder is quickly developing a uniquely stylised perspective. Her most recent paintings feel both psychologically weighty and strangely nostalgic as they reproduce the hard-flash, red-eye aesthetics of 2000s digital photography, combining them with the mug-shot/screenshot sensibilities of internet pop culture.
For the artist’s debut solo exhibition at Public Access Gallery, Thunder presented ten large-scale oil paintings of collages that she originally produced as a child. Composed entirely of cut-out press pictures of Lindsay Lohan, the paintings in Dress Up My Lindsay faithfully reproduce the artist’s childhood visual language, complete with accidental smudges, visibly taped seams and patchy sections of “white-out” correctional fluid.
Layered in their exploration of representation and perception, these paintings are just as engaging for their exploration of the ever-shifting material properties of popular media as they are for their reflections on the artist’s own autobiographical development. Dealing with such disparate subjects as Thunder’s childhood expectations for adult femininity, the co-ercive internalisation of tabloid misogyny and the effect of adolescent turbulence on our retrospective understanding of childhood, the paintings in Dress Up My Lindsay are hard to read and rich to consider.
OTP What are your earliest memories of Lindsay Lohan?
MT It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which one was “first”, but what I’m most inclined to answer is probably from the pages of a magazine.
It could have been one of those teenybopper mags or just a regular celebrity tabloid one. That or maybe her movie Freaky Friday or Mean Girls. I really liked the style her character in Freaky Friday had.
^ Marika Thunder, Lindsay #7, 2020, oil on board. Courtesy of the artist and Public Access NYC.
OTP Could you tell me a little bit about where the collages originally came from?
MT The collages I actually made myself when I was about eight to nine years old.
As a child I remember how much I loved looking through tabloid magazines. My mom would buy us a magazine after she picked me up from school as a treat and together we read them on the subway on the way home.
I would then find the pictures of Lindsay and cut them out and glue/tape them into this book my mom gave me that we called, “The Book of Lindsay Lohan.” I would number the pages, put a checkmark next to the collage, and also write a word or two in cursive above the image with black Sharpie to give it some sort of context, haha.
If I made any spelling errors I would dump white out over any mistakes. I tried to make it as official and perfect looking as I could but the renderings of a child naturally always lead the end result to come out rather abstract. Now as an adult artist that’s exactly the result I’m chasing.
OTP What was it like starting this creative dialogue with yourself over time? How did the images change as they were collaged and then as you painted them do you think?
MT When I made the collages I had no idea into what they would inspire over a decade later. About 13 years passed between making the collages until I painted them and of course a lot has happened during that time.
While I would like to say art was consistent throughout, I definitely had a few chaotic years where I lost touch with it, but otherwise my life always revolved creative expression. This Lindsay series symbolizes my quest to rebuilding not just my relationship to art but also myself.
Trying to find out who I really am is what lead me to rediscover the book in the first place. I went through old childhood books, photo albums, and drawings- that my parents so lovingly kept- when I came across them. I began the series about half a year after I moved back to NYC summer of 2019. That’s when I became really serious again about painting.
In fact, the first Lindsay painting- “Lindsay #1: Rockstar”- was my first ever oil painting. After that I couldn’t stay away and spent pretty much everyday practicing.
I intended for these paintings of my collages to be photorealistic but some of the natural limitations of my skill set sort of caused this stylization that I decided to embrace. It was like allowing myself to be a kid again, being free, because before, I couldn’t allow myself to be proud of something unless I thought it was perfect.
^ Marika Thunder, Lindsay #1: Best Rockstar, 2020, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Public Access NYC.
OTP Do you think Lindsay Lohan’s generation of "celebrity" is significantly different to contemporary influencer-culture?
MT Yes! Super, super different for many reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is lifestyle. I feel that now with influencer culture we see every single detail and decision influencers make because of how heavily documented they are on their social media platforms.
Of course before social media too though celebrities’ personal lives were always being invaded by paparazzi and up for public discrimination, but I feel like they had somewhat more autonomy in their day-to-day lives and decision making.
Like now a celebrity will post on their Instagram or Twitter stories daily, multiple times a day, about every single thing they do or buy, which is mostly because of the sponsoring and rabid nature of capitalism.
While the public’s scurrilous responses to celebrities is nothing new and forever constant, it’s increased exponentially as a result of their diminishing privacy - hence creating “cancel culture”.
OTP Do you have a particular interest in tabloid journalism compared to other forms of popular media?
MT To be completely honest, my interest in journalism doesn’t extend much past flipping through magazines and enjoying the stimulation of the colorful pages - just passive consumption of information.
That is until I decide to grab a pair of scissors and do something weird with it, haha. Also I did love the quizzes and stuff that teeny bopper magazines had. Very entertaining.
^ Marika Thunder, Lindsay #3: Dress Up My Lindsay, 2020, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Public Access NYC.
OTP How do you feel about the idea of this being your first solo show? Did you feel a lot of pressure / need to deliberate about the subject matter for the work?
MT When I first heard from Leo that he would like to show my work at his gallery I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement.
I would say every single day after there was this constant sentiment of gratitude, especially when I was working in the studio. It truly was one of the most special times ever. It felt so reassuring as an artist, and it was one of the magical experiences where you feel that all the hard work-- blood, sweat and tears-- has finally paid off.
It reminded me too of how important it is to set goals for yourself so it feels like you’re working towards something bigger, a greater sense of purpose than just materialistic and instant sources of gratification. Sorry if this is turning into a motivational speech, but I really do feel that way.
OTP How do you think being in New York has effected your work and your attitude towards it?
MT It’s been a key part of my development as an artist actually. Because I was born and raised here it feels like home. It’s where I feel most acknowledged and understood by others, and well adjusted.
The constant movement of people and ideas provides a space for creative types to thrive, seek inspiration, and collaborate. The culture is just very special. I know that after a while the city can be exhausting, but for early adulthood I intend on staying here to build a life and community of other like-minded people.
At times it can be overwhelming and ironically even isolating, but learn how to dance with it. New York really is like a living breathing creature.
^ Marika Thunder, Lindsay #9, 2020, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Public Access NYC.
OTP How do you see the exhibition's accompanying publication "The Red Book" as relating to the paintings included in the show?
MT So The Red Book includes photographs of both my Lindsay paintings as well as the collages from the Lindsay Lohan scrapbook I created at nine years old. These collages inspired the paintings - seven out of the ten paintings are direct references to specific collages.
The other three paintings also include references to doodles and sketches from a childhood notebook, and images from a CD booklet I saved from one of Lindsay Lohan’s albums “A Little More Personal,” that I listened to as a child.
OTP What sort of role does humour play in your work?
MT There’s not necessarily a clear role for it, but there’s an aspect of humor in the fact that I, as an adult, am trying to recreate a child’s naturally intuitive creative ability.
I think with any long practiced skill we can get caught up focusing on the linear progress of development and forget that sometimes “unlearning” the rules and relying on intuition is also important. But don’t get me wrong, I am definitely a strong believer of the “you need to know the rules before you can break them” mindset.
I think there is some humour in the way that at 8-9 years old I was unknowingly tackling/ presenting/ facing/ dissecting/ a tough subject that I didn't have a complete understanding of.
But intentionally no, I didn’t necessarily intend to have this body of work be a humorous one. Conceptually these pieces symbolize a serious issue, because as a child I was internalizing this tabloid standard that society and the media puts upon women.
OTP Do you see these paintings as being spiritual?
MT I think all artwork is spiritual, meaning that when someone is creating something original I believe it comes from a high plane of existence- a transcendental dimension. I believe every person has access to this metaphysical region, because it’s where the soul transcends from.
If this is too esoteric I completely understand, I REALLY don’t want to sound New Age-y or whatever, but I would say that this philosophy is what helped me find purpose in life.
Upon first glance this specific body of work is dealing with very sublunary subjects like pop-culture, body image, exploitation of children, etc. But on a deeper more conceptual level I wanted to investigate subjects such as innocence, the human psyche, and the idiom, “sacrificial lamb”.
It's why I named my zine “The Red Book.” It’s definitely an homage to Carl Jung and his focus on esoteric psychology and the philosophical, spiritual side of human psychology. His “Red Book” dives into all that and includes an incredible collection of his paintings, mostly of things he sees in his dreams.
^ Marika Thunder, Lindsay #8, 2020, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Public Access NYC.
OTP What has your experience of the show’s reception been like?
MT So far I have been blessed with nothing but very positive responses. It’s really the first time ever that my work has reached an audience of this magnitude, and because of social media not only am I able to see people engaging with my works but then personally interact with them too.
It is such a wonderful feeling, but it goes without saying that sometimes a sudden increase in attention postulates a new unfamiliar area to navigate. Of course it feels amazing initially, but to be completely transparent it also brought up a new source of anxiety.
I guess that’s the irony of me doing a series on someone like Lindsay who also received a lot of sudden attention at a young age, obviously I’m nowhere near the same level, but it really had me sympathize with her even more than I already did.
OTP What was the significance for you of having your first solo show at Leo Fitzpatrick’s gallery?
MT Public Access Gallery is a fairly new establishment so I actually hadn’t heard of it until Leo reached out to me. As mentioned before, I was beyond elated to receive an offer as big as having a solo show, and it was one of the happiest moments in my life.
But what made me feel especially connected to Leo’s gallery mission was when he told me his intent behind starting his own gallery. He wanted to build a bridge between the artworld and young aspiring artists in the city.
The concept behind Public Access is so punk rock because not only does it provide smaller artists and other unrecognized talent a space to show their work, but also showcases the iconic era of the 90s - early 2000s counter-culture of NYC, like Mark Gonzales. Really anything that just gets kids off their phones and out into the world I am a fan of.
^ Marika Thunder pictured with Leo Fitzpatrick at the opening of Dress Up My Lindsay. Courtesy of the artist and Public Access NYC.
Born in 1998 in New York City, Marika Thunder has previously attended Delaware Community College and Austin Community College and currently lives and works in New York City. In Autumn 2021 she will begin her BFA at Hunter College.
Dress Up My Lindsay, the artist's debut solo exhibition took place at Public Access Gallery from 6 March - 11 April 2021. A limited edition artist zine entitled: The Red Book was produced to accompany the exhibition. Thunder has also recently collabroated with Innen Zines (Zurich) to produce NEW YORK + TEXAS, a 22-page publication featuring new paintings and works on paper.
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