What we thought we knew about marbling and what we actually know about marbling are two very different things.
"Spanish marblers dance. American marblers breakdance," says Jenniffer Collier as we sit among her latest exhibition, Ornaments, at Six Shooter Coffee on Waterloo Road. "The way [Americans] infuse our energies on the surface is like a cowboy or a cowgirl trying to fight for their survival in the Wild West. I think it's totally different how we approach things. There are some American marblers who I've seen so far, like Peggy Skycraft, who does these beautiful traditionals, and her colors can be hypersensitive; but she made a career out of making the most beautiful book paper that you've ever seen in your life."
We learned about an elite group of marblers that Collier is highly motivated to be a part of.
"There are around 12, more or less, master marblers that meet in Turkey every year or two and share their discoveries and talk about the history of marbling and recipes and secrets and stuff," she says. "And by secrets I mean certain effects and how to work them out."
The techniques and recipes are tightly guarded by these masters and the history is meaty and captivating, the kind of story one can get lost in.
"The history goes back to 12th century Japan with suminagashi, meaning ink floating on water," Collier explains. "And through the trade routes it had migrated to Turkey around the 1300s to 1400s. There's a whole rich history of Turkish marbling and specific designs that are part of that, but it also became a way for the Turkish to embed designs and stories into their work and manuscripts. So it turned into not just ink on water, but drawing on water."
We talk about the prints in the coffee shop mezzanine, and we discover that they are on wood panel.
"Once I figured out that marbling is monoprinting — and if you know anything about printmaking, you can monoprint on anything — I realized how to prepare the surface to receive the marble print. By having practice as a painter, I have a ton of surfaces hanging around and it was like, 'Oh, it sticks!'"
That eureka moment was beneficial to the artist.
Collier's marbling artworks have double, triple and sometimes quadruple passing. They are rich, ethereal and mysterious. "Tripple Marbled Abstract" wears a sort of ghost-like plasma that lingers over the swirls of color with great depth. We sail throughout the black holes and surf the spectrum in this artwork, which is deceivingly small, but has the effect of being a hundred times its actual size. Kitty-corner from this piece is "Tripple Marble Turquoise Abstract." It bears the same stature and is also captured on a wood panel. The layers of bright and dark colors are wild and involved.
Then there are the three works hanging on the lower level of the shop, toward the entrance. "The Flame," "Scalloped Flame" and "Winged Nonpareil," all on paper, were part of a series called Modern Marbles.
"I did a show in Panama City, Florida, and those refer to specific designs in the history of marbling, from Turkey to now," she says. "These are the only ones I have left that are framed from this series, but I have over a thousand prints that are all one of a kind at home, so if I want to do more shows, I can, but I really love the process."
Collier became interested in the medium when she finally took a class at the Morgan Conservatory in 2015. "I think I'm interested in it because that type of swirling and fluid breakup of multiple colors was happening in my painting practice." She'd always been interested in the traditional method and how to do it. When she found how quick the process was, she was hooked. "Once I learned it happens in less than two minutes, instead of being forced over hours, I felt like this is magical and I wanted to know more about this magic. There are a few times in life when you know you are in the right place at the right time; that was one of them. So there was that light bulb that went off and I had to start something. A lot of these are really just chance. You have to let go of perfection to some extent."
We ask about the marbled wood panel titled "Floating," a piece that, by Collier's admission, has a Japanese aquatic feel to it. It looks like it was augmented with hand painting.
"The Indo red that I use on this piece also has marble dust in it," she says. "It's something that I use in my painting practice. I embed marble dust in the paint, so the marbling wasn't solid in those areas. So I had to figure out some sort of way to soften the design, so I just masked it off and used my own mediums. When the wave of light hits the paint, it absorbs the UV quality. When it refracts, you see that positive color."