Collage artist Philomena Marano tells a story that is both timeless and personal
SRQ Review | September 2021
In Visual Arts
Philomena Marano’s older cousin, Nora, used to drag her to their little corner of Bensonhurst as if she were some circus curiosity. âPhyllis,â as Nora called her, âdraw a horse,â and she would. With a bottle in one hand and a pencil in the other, baby Marano crafted not a crude assemblage of shapes unrelated to a real horse, but a sketch of identifiable proportions that told a story. That same steady hand continued to pick up pens, pencils, markers and paintbrushes throughout after-school art classes, Manhattan magnet schools, and the illustrious Pratt Institute (where she campaigned for be the very first, she says proudly in her Brooklynese).
She then worked with Robert Indiana – yes, that Robert Indiana – helping him produce the prints that defined quite a pop art movement alongside product portraits of Warhol, American flags by Johns, and pop montages by Rosenquist. . It was around this time that Marano picked up the two most important tools that would come to define his career. The first was the notion that no object was too common or mundane to be creatively rendered. The second: an X-Acto knife.
âRobert was talking about getting in the car with his mother and looking at all the road signs,â Marano explains, âand he called themâ road literature â. his own life and turned to the mythical, whimsical and distinctly American temple of entertainment known as Coney Island. Like many children in New York City, Marano grew up in bumper cars, roller coasters, spooky houses, snow cones, and ice cream. She grew up in love with colorful signage, fluttering banners, and the danger of parachute jumping. âThere were archetypes embedded in the culture there,â Marano says, âshe really had her own mythology. When she finally put all of these elements and tools together, she created Shooting Gallery # 2. Crafted from hand-cut paper, it depicts a carnival shooting range from the inside out, rendering all of its gears and moving parts in the brilliant screen-printed colors of the Color-aid paper range.
The tiny human figure is made of five individually cut layers of paper. With surgical precision, Marano uses tweezers to affix a delicate paper cut.
While the piece captures his precision and attention to detail, his later works, like the American Dream-Land series, will gain in complexity and depth. Its process begins with a drawing. âEven if I cut paper, drawing is the root of everything,â says Marano, âeverything depends so much on the lines, whether it’s a pencil or a knife.” She draws her image on vellum paper with a pencil, which becomes what she calls her âmaster tracingâ. From there, she carefully traces the layers and colors of the room, starting with the background and slowly moving to the foreground, taking into account shadows, texture and color along the way. . Using the main path, Marano cuts each whirlwind of a cloud or roller coaster farm with the X-Acto knife, comparing it to the path to make sure each piece fits properly.
The full extent of this complex and tedious process takes center stage in I Hear the Brooklyn Bridge Singing, which is a view from the bridge’s central walkway. The texture of the steel cable in the foreground is distinguished by its careful depiction of the cable braids. As the eye dives into the background through the arch, the trusses and windows of buildings stand out as particularly tedious objects with which she captures the depth of perspective in the scene.
In âI Hear the Brooklyn Bridge Singingâ, Marano pushes collage beyond two dimensions with depth and perspective.
Since moving to Sarasota in March 2017, she continues to celebrate the legendary iconography of Coney Island, but has added a new wrinkle to her. At a recent investigative collage exhibition at Ringling College, Marano showcased works that depict The Nerveless Nocks, a family of Sarasota circus artists who travel with their motorcycles across the country. âIt has a kind of excitement and mystery very similar to some of the Coney Island rides that I remember,â says Marano. In Vortex of Doom, Marano portrays a high-flying act seen from the ground, with blue skies and large white clouds in the background. In a sense, it captures the entirety of its approach. It’s a scene of fantasy and majesty, danger and fun, rich colors and harsh lines, captured with love, thoroughness and with childish wonder on paper.
A large balsa wood wheel is equipped with an electric motor that allows it to turn.