An Interview by Silver Webb and Laila Alamiri
The cover artist for Volume 4 “Stardust,” Marlyn Daggett is an irrepressible bright light, taller than most, inhabiting her Funk Zone studio in a t-shirt, corset, and jeans. She bounces around with violet hair and blue eyes, showing us paintings of wedding cakes, women with bunny ears, and other colorful curiosities. Then she dims the lights and turns on a UV light, and her paintings start to dance and glow, some strange beauty born of experimentation. Outside there is a train going by, hipsters walking by with their ice tea, and Marlyn seems perfectly at home in a warehouse space, ready to speak with Laila and I about her improbable path to being a full-time artist.
Silver: Mary Beckmann, your maternal grandmother, was born in 1915 and lived on Folgers, wit, and joie de vivre! How did she influence you as an artist?
Marlyn: [Laughing] She didn’t. She never liked my artwork or understood why I never had a real job. She just didn’t understand fine art, let’s say. Not that I paint fine art. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t paint a red barn. I never did paint her a red barn. I painted many other barns, abstract barns, but never a red one. She was always wondering when I was going to get a real job. But she was my best friend.
Silver: So, who in your family would you say was an influence or encourager of you becoming an artist?
Marlyn: Nobody! I barely made it out of high school. I couldn’t stand high school, it just wasn’t my thing. But then I went to junior college, and I loved it and got straight A’s as a business major. I got my A.A. in business, but it was the 80s, during Reaganomics, and I decided in my heart I wasn’t truly a business person. So I got into UCSB and asked myself, What is the easiest major? The easiest in my mind was art, even though I’d never done it before. I got to my first class 20 minutes early, even earlier than the teacher, and the first question she asked was “How many people haven’t painted before?” I was the only one who raised my hand. The only reason I stayed in art was I met my future ex-husband the second day of university. My parents always said go to college to get married. He was getting his Master’s in sculpting. That was a good incentive to keep going in the art department. We’d get these assignments like “paint only in black and white,” and I’d get my art supplies, and not go to class a lot, but I’d get inspired somehow and I’d paint nonstop. The teachers liked that I produced a lot, so they gave me a key to go in at night and paint. After a while, they teach you the fundamentals, and they give you better assignments. So as soon as I got free reign, I really enjoyed being an art major.
Silver: At what point did you decide to make a living at art?
Marlyn: That’s not until recently. I was doing websites for a living with art on the side and then I found my Funk Zone art studio space. I’ve been here about 8 years but wasn’t in the art scene and I’d go to the art openings, but my art stuff was in storage. So I’d work at my day job 9-5 and commute at night to my art studio in Ventura. Then I realized I wanted to do art more and more. And as a sort of fluke, I ended up getting this studio in the Funk Zone all to myself. I was designing websites for a living, but I started selling a lot of art, and thought maybe this was a sign.
Laila: You’re originally from Santa Barbara and have occupied a funk zone studio for a while now. With the emergence of the Funk Zone, how have you seen Santa Barbara’s creative energy transform and/or expand?
Marlyn: I’m grateful to be part of the LCCCA, La Cumbre Center for Creative Arts. At first I was skeptical because 24 strong personalities trying to fit into one space sounds intriguing but a bit chaotic. But it turned out to be a great experience, not only because it expanded my horizons, but the different energies worked to my advantage. It broke me out of my mold of being linear. I usually start by sectioning off the canvas into sections. But I did a project where I collaborated with other artists, had them sign an 8x6 canvas, then I smeared it and transformed it, and that was an amazing experience. There were so many curves in that painting that my mind was blown. It really broke me out of my pattern of how I paint and I look forward to what I do from Here. The Funk Zone is changing and I could see how LCCCA could add to that feel and make the entire city more of an art destination, not just one art zone. We want to incorporate all of Santa Barbara to be creative.
Laila: Many of your paintings contain layers and messages not visible to the naked eye. The paintings transform under ultraviolet light revealing layers and hidden messages. The unknown or hidden element seem like a secret signature of sorts. What is the significance behind these messages or paintings within the paintings? What inspired the hidden layers?
Marlyn: Everyday life occurrences and song lyrics that pertain to how I’m feeling at the moment. So I lay them down as the foundation of the painting. And the song lyrics may be precisely how I feel and it also forms the mood or feeling. It’s better than staring at a blank canvas, and I like that it’s not too blatant.
Marlyn's artwork graces the cover of Vol. 4 "Stardust," available on Amazon
Laila: Some of your painting are larger than life. How does working at a larger scale feel?
Marlyn: It is my exact wingspan. I can touch the top of an 8 foot painting, and the canvas is as wide as my arms. So it feels natural. It changed my life. I’ve been doing large paintings for a year. That is why I got the large space at La Cumbre, where I can paint five of the large ones at a time. But here in the Funk zone, I’m working with the UV transparent pigment.
I like to paint about monumental events in people’s lives. Birthdays, events where there’s a lot of expectation, weddings. I’d paint brides all the time in college. I kept going with it. The brides will still pop in my paintings, and I don’t even realize they’re there until someone mentions it.
Silver: How do you hope people will interact with or feel about your art when they look at it?
Marlyn: I hope it brings out some kind of feelings and emotions. When you listen to a song or eat food that brings back memories or brings emotions, that’s good. Everybody sees different things in my paintings, and it might be even better than what I see. I used to say this means this or that, but I stopped because it was better to ask “what does it mean to you?” And some people are very detailed in their answers. Sometimes people just like the happy colors mixed with dark messages.
Silver: You have a figure that appears more than once, a tall column of a woman in a burlesque outfit, smoking a cigarette, with ears. How is she an important figure?
Marlyn: I ended up in the Bay Area, newly divorced, and I found the Burning Man crowd. I’d never gone to warehouse parties before that, and pretty soon I was way into the San Francisco Burning Man scene. I wouldn’t even leave the house until midnight and then I’d go to warehouses, where everyone was dressed in bunny outfits, the annual Bunny Jam in SF, from playboy bunny to mascot bunnies. Anything you could think of that pertained to bunnies in these old huge buildings, you could look down several levels and see bunnies everywhere. People like to get out of their everyday hum drum. It makes life fun.
Laila: What ideas do you have for the future?
Marlyn: I’d like to branch out into Los Angeles, and bring the L.A. feeling to SB. Be painting more and more and concentrate on the business side, as dull as that is. I can’t just paint. Now that I have other people who are relying on me, now I realize I have to get my own business together. The business side really is important. Not that my work will turn commercial. It’s nice to have a community now at LCCCA. There are power in numbers in this case.
Laila: Thank you for speaking with us today!
Marlyn Daggett is an American 6’3” female artist who produces bold and provocative oil paintings while listening to music and wearing corsets in her Nothing’s Shocking studio in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone! She received her BA in Studio Art from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1989. Marlyn has a distinctive and recognizable style of abstract expressionism. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Diebenkorn, Manuel Neri and Squeak Carnwath’s work uniquely influence her paintings. She combines figures, symbols, icons and text in vivid oil paintings. Instrumental in her work are the representations of birthday cake, brides, and obscured or nude figures. These are sometimes inscribed or gouged to reveal traces and layered images. The results are powerful, moving monochromatic textural works.
Laila Alamiri is a photographer, installation artist, and art collector who has devoted her adult life to working for arts non-profit organizations and museums. She launched Glenn Dallas Gallery in November 2018 with start-up funds from selling her grandfather’s home. His name was Glenn Dallas Frazier.
Silver Webb is the editrix of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. She is a food writer for Food & Home and various websites. Her debut novel, The Pale, is forthcoming.