Marla Morris on Overcoming Obstacles with Art

Marla Morris with her artwork at the opening reception of RENEWAL: Works About Hope

By Marsha Mack, Fresh A.I.R. Gallery director

Marla Morris is a Columbus-based emerging, disabled yet handicapable artist in recovery. A survivor of childhood trauma, and despite major depressive disorder, she has overcome chronic homelessness in her lifetime. Marla is inspired by simplistic beauty, frequently creating portraits that highlight warm, rich skin tones, championing the fact that black and brown is beautiful. Her exhibition The Heart of the Matter opens at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery on April 19.

Marsha: Marla, can you tell us about yourself, your background and how you came to develop your artistic practice?
Marla: I am a lifelong native of Columbus. Like most, during the lockdown of Covid-19, I spent more time indoors.  My particular habit was to consume YouTube content. One creator I followed was a coloring enthusiast who happened to mention diamond painting. I ordered a lightpad as suggested and asked for diamond paintings of butterflies on my Christmas wish list. I didn’t complete my first until February, but ever since I started, I’ve been hooked on the craft. When I learned about creating custom diamond art, I fell even deeper in love with bringing the images that resonate with me to life on the canvas. Diamond art is a form of mindfulness. I zen out whenever I’m sitting at my easel. I’m in another world.

Marsha: What themes, ideas or imagery will you feature in your upcoming exhibition with at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery?
Marla: I tend to gravitate towards portraits featuring Black people, men and women alike. I’m particularly drawn to the hats, jewelry and hairstyles like twists, braids and locks that represent my culture. I have some futuristic diamond paintings as well. Gallery participants will immediately realize that I like to play with vibrant colors and definitely bling. The underlying themes are of hope, stunning yet simplistic beauty and resilience.

Marsha: Can you talk about the role or art and art therapy in your life and in your recovery?
Marla: I lost my father in January 2019 and my mother in December 2020. Those compound familial losses in rapid succession were almost crippling. In my grief, I began to lean into my creative side. I began to write and diamond paint. Art for me is like air. I need it. I crave it. I went to visit a cousin out of state and took a small diamond painting with me.

On the day of my first group exhibit, I had not diamond painted all day. I felt so out of sorts. It’s truly a passion. When I am creating art, I feel very capable and my physical and mental limitations seem to melt away.

Marsha: How do you define success within your own artistic practice? How do you know when a piece is really working?
Marla: I get a special satisfaction in the completion of a diamond painting. I love seeing the amazement in people’s faces when they look at my piece and it dawns on them they’re taking in mosaic art that was carefully placed bit by bit onto a canvas. My daughters are my toughest critics. I live for their thumbs up stamp of approval.

Marsha: What do you like do when you’re not in the studio? What are your hobbies or interests outside of your art?
Marla: When I’m not at the easel diamond painting, I’m working on writing my true crime fiction novels. I’ve started a new series in honor of my mother who graduated from Columbus State, when it was called Columbus Technical institute, with an Associate’s degree in criminology. In fact, readers can order my book Her Dream, His Nightmare on Amazon.

I also like to travel and hope to one day go on a Mediterranean cruise.

Marsha: What do you hope viewers take away from this exhibition? Do you have any advice for people struggling with mental illness?
Marla: I want the viewers to feel the calm, joy and peace my images portray. I want the stigma of mental illness to go away. If your physical body is able to malfunction, then it’s only natural that your mental well-being can be compromised at times as well. Having the courage to address mental illness is the first step to getting onto the path of recovery.

Marla Morris will have her exhibition The Heart of the Matter on display at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery’s flagship location from April 19 – June 21, 2024. Join us for the artist reception on Friday, April 19, from 5-7 p.m. The Fresh A.I.R. Gallery flagship location is inside Southeast Healthcare, at 131 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43215. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.


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