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Interview & Portrait by Flannery Silva

Marisa Takal is an actress who plays the role of herself. Her costumes are often monochromatic: red slippers, red pleated skirt to the ankle, red spaghetti strap tank, and a red bomber. When she walks down the street she winks at painted rocks and rehearses her spy role-play. Her curtain is hiked up. She sets the table for her close-knit characters and thereʼs always a bowl and spoon for someone new. Her warmth is undeniable.

Marisa makes the prettiest mess. Her tool bag is a bootleg purse and her tools are a natural glitter. Her works are sun kissed and muddy and stained. The world she creates is complicated and carefree. She mends things with her thread of intuition. Marisaʼs feelings are facts and her renderings of them are complex and challenging. Iʼm so lucky to behold them.

Below is an excerpt from a long conversation:

I was explaining your, “My Closet” book to Bry earlier and gushing about the material – cause the pages are laminated with tape, right?
And I was like it just reminds me – it just feels like the process is so satisfying.
Totally. Itʼs this satisfying feeling of finishing the piece, putting the final stamp on it. So it gives it this finished quality and also itʼs satisfying because I donʼt have to think about anything for those seconds that Iʼm laminating, itʼs meditative in that way. Thatʼs why I started laminating a bunch of drawings, too. They were just on newsprint, and I thought that they were going to decay anyways. So by laminating I was sort of saving this seemingly delicate paper so it was more tactile or something could spill on it and it wouldnʼt ruin it. That was a cool idea to me.

Various books and collages

Yeah Iʼve always been obsessed with lamination. I think it started in elementary school, when the worksheets that the teachers made would be laminated and the way they would touch them and hand them out. And I would play “School” in my living room and everything had to be laminated. Something about holding it. But I love your makeshift style of it.
What do you think thatʼs about though, loving – because I do too and even, I was looking at the A Neighbor Cooking menus and how those were all laminated, which felt appropriate because it was a restaurant. But I loved that lamination process. It made it feel final and real, which is why I think when we were young we loved the laminated worksheets and school stuff – “This is what people use in real life” sort of feeling. Thatʼs how I feel when I put the tape over the drawings. It creates this funny legitimate finished feel.
Or even like the plastic for overhead projectors, ya know?
Right. The transparencies. Something about that quality – that plastic-y. So yeah I wanted to recreate this feeling but not have it be as polished as real lamination so it would still have a hand done look.
Do you think a lot of that has to do with what you have available? More so with the paper works and drawings – kind of this inherent, natural flow of seeing what you have and then putting it together? They have that naive, childlike quality but I feel like thatʼs just…thatʼs just imagination.[laughter]Youʼre so good at using your imagination.

Excerpt from, “My Closet,” a sculptural book

In a way that I really envy. Because when I make something itʼs very much a direct reference, or looking at something that already exists and then filtering it through my, ya know – tweaked thing. But you really go from your mind to the page.
Yeah totally. Which can be really hard because when thereʼs a lull in interest or inspiration and Iʼm not seeing any connections between anything it feels like, well, what am I doing? But then it can be easy because itʼs organic and since itʼs, “My little world,” they are my rules so thereʼs obviously freedom in that.
But thereʼs totally decisions being made. It seems like you have to birth this thing and then spend some time with it.
Right, like I have to have this explosion thing happen and then go from there, take a lot away and then add more.
The paintings have become so much more abstract. It feels like this maturity.
Thatʼs what someone said at my opening – she was like, “Itʼs rare that I like colorful abstraction.” And in my mind Iʼm like okay cool, but theyʼre not though, thereʼs totally decipherable images in all of these paintings. Thatʼs really clear to me. But then when I was looking at them again after a little while of not, I realized that to anyone else they can be totally abstract. Iʼm interested in that. When Iʼm making them I get totally absorbed in their narrative and what Iʼm depicting, it seems so obvious to me what is happening in them. But when I have space from them I see that like, no it is NOT obvious this is a landscape of me spying on someone in my car. And yes, even if youʼre really looking hard at the painting it can be really difficult to see that. But at the same time I want them to be approachable. Also, I think I just got too sick of painting “things,” cause those stood for too much. Where now I’d rather have this weird shape that’s in a couple of different paintings, stand for something more open ended. Where it could be an apple, or a music note, or a pumpkin, or a head. So there are more questions and uncertainties, which is how I feel when Iʼm making the work.

Two “crates”

I remember when you were making the paintings that had such a strong motif of like – these are the coffee cups, these are the muscles, these are the silhouette figures – that acted as these kind of stamps. I still feel that environment when I look at your new work, but yeah that idea of what challenges you or whatʼs easy seems on par with those choices.
Yeah. I guess that’s the word, is that it felt too easy. Which maybe is the challenge, that itʼs really hard to make a good painting using representational things. So maybe the abstraction is taking the easier route. But itʼs still so challenging, which is what I enjoy about working this way too—itʼs not really a choice for me. I think I’ll return to more representational work in the future . But I donʼt want to paint coffee cups anymore because I think more like, “This is a symbol for feeling anxious, or starting your day, or a conversation – whatever,” and then instead of depicting the coffee cup, I want to approach the painting actually feeling those feelings.
I feel like your “B-sides” are doing that, like your drawings on paper and your demented diorama style. It all feels like youʼre playing, you know? Itʼs special, you seem to create so instinctively and it looks like youʼre having so much fun fucking around. Youʼre so prolific with those works.
Yeah this stuff is so much more fun to make. Those raisin people, I made four in two days. And that’s where I was like – up til 2AM working on them. I strive to feel that way all the time. So when Iʼm making paintings and I’m like, “Ugh it’s 9PM? I guess I’ll stop.” I set myself up for disappointment. But the paintings become so mentally and physically taxing. And that’s why I like taking a break to work on this stuff, that feels more tactile and less precious. And then from there I’ll take images that I see from the drawings and little collages and use them in the paintings.
The paintings are like your masterpieces.
But I want to consider all of the stuff I make my masterpieces, too. And a lot of the time I feel like the shit I make that isnʼt painting can be so much better. Or I feel I can better express myself. There’s a freedom.

“Road to My Sisterʼs House, Passed the Spider House (Pistachio),”

Yeah the sensibility feels different. Itʼs so much louder. The paintings are loud too but theyʼre almost censored a little bit.
Right! I think because I can get scared. I donʼt know what Iʼm scared of. I mean, the materials I use in my paintings are expensive and seemingly precious, which is something Iʼm always conflicted about. I used to have a lot more hesitations when making paintings. But the other day, I impulsively painted a rainbow on this painting that Iʼm working on now, which seems so ridiculous to do..or this “no no,” this unwritten rule in like, sophistication or something—the push and pull. But I just needed to see what would it would do to the painting, where it would get me. I like to fuck them up intentionally to combat my fear of fucking it up.
Itʼs all very cryptic, too. You totally have a persona. I think it comes out especially with the writing. Every caption, or title, or blurb that pours out of you is so weighted. Youʼre able to poetically tweak your heavy shit into your playful language.
Yeah titling the paintings is the most fun. Itʼs my favorite to make them really long or make words up that aren’t real and make them rhyme. It adds to the narrative of the work, or confuses it at the same time.
Because to put a word on a painting seems daunting. Like is that word going to be timeless enough?
Right. Like I’m looking at this painting that says, “My Closet.” which is meant to function formally, it just takes up space, itʼs an image that holds meaning to me but within the painting doesnʼt have so much weight. I have that stencil above my closet and everyone always makes fun of me. Like, “Oh, your closet?” Where it’s this ownership thing. Like it’s already my painting, my closet too? You can read into it, but that’s why I like to do the more hidden graff-style words, they don’t have as much weight, or are open to more interpretation.

“Soho NYC: My Second Favorite Piece of Paper,” purse diorama

What do you think was going on when you were writing more? The poems that are in, “Watching You Eat An Imperial Roll, I Was So Alome,” were all written over the course of like a year?
I think it was just like a summer. I was on a roll from having that blog with Keke and Hannah, and we would write a lot of poetry and send it back and forth so it was kind of this cool, supportive flow. And then I was also living alone, and didnʼt have that many friends in LA yet and had just gotten out of a relationship and was craving new intimacies. I was living this totally new life.
Yeah you seemed so hungry.
Yeah I was down. Because an entire year had gone by of living in New York and not having any friends. Just going to work, sometimes seeing my sister and then going to New Jersey to see my mom. So when I started living in LA, I was experiencing so many new things, friends, neighbors – I was fantasizing a lot and making up these imaginary scenarios.
Thereʼs really waves of when itʼs flowing out and waves of more, “notes-to-self,” like these shorter paragraphs or thoughts. Which feel more diaristic. I love how linked the words are to the works. And seeing you read your writing, itʼs very much a performance. Like when you read the, “Nuts” poem, it was like stand up comedy.
Totally. Yeah I really want to perform more.
I feel like some painters hide behind their paintings. But you have so many layers of reveal.
Yeah I want it to all be at the same level as the paintings. Because I donʼt feel like Iʼm just a painter. Itʼs just another outlet, similar to these other things that I make.
Like if you died – and we were like, “Yes, Marisa the Painter.” And then we opened up this vault of all this stuff – it would be the greatest gift.
(laughter) Thatʼs how I feel where Iʼm like, “Read all of these things! Youʼll get it!”
There are so many clues.
I like that idea of someone caring enough to investigate and put the clues together. Thatʼs what I would want someone to take away – like, “This is the thing she wrote to go along with all of these paintings. What world is happening? What characters are being portrayed?” Thereʼs so much awful shit happening in the world right now, making work feels arbitrary, but also so important. Iʼm figuring out how to address it all. But I think I am going to make more of those raisin people (laughter). Thatʼs my temporary way out. :)