Visually Speaking: Marlo Val

Anna Horsnell

Dandelion seeds, pea tendrils, barbed wire, calf eyelashes, spiderwebs, rusting metal. These were the things that first drew the wonder of an inquisitive young girl growing up on a farm north of Regina. She imagined becoming a mad scientist or inventor, but a strong creative urge would win out. Now an artist, Marlo Val remains fascinated with the textures of nature as she creates intricately constructed sculptures and jewelry in her Bear River studio.

Her journey began with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and interestingly one thing led to another. “I see texture and pattern in everything,” she explains, “I find the subtle meditative and engaging. It may also be partly due to years of looking through the microscope in biology labs and seeing patterns emerge at every level of magnification. There was an unexpected beauty at every layer. The world is endlessly fascinating at the cosmic and the microscopic levels.” She soon found herself creating retail and gallery spaces in Regina to promote other artists as well as her own art. Twenty-five years passed by until eventually the desire for a quiet place to concentrate on her artwork brought her to Bear River in 2017.

Val’s work draws you in close, surprising you with tiny details and combinations of materials. There is both fragility and strength, distinction and cohesion. “My impulse is to put extremely contrasting textures together and find a surprisingly harmonious result. A oneness.” She continues, “I want to express the transience of the material world—to connote the cycle of materials returning to energy. By using materials (often lots of them!) and enveloping space with them or layering them or using translucency, I am implying something beyond the material. All that is most important is invisible: life force, love, the sacred, etc. I refer to the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi in the sense of natural cycles of deterioration, decay, and transience as well as the beauty of imperfections. Imperfections are what grab and hold our interest.”

Moving to Nova Scotia expanded Val’s creative process to include several prehistoric textile and basketry techniques such as twining, coiling, finger braiding, net-making, and cordage-making. Her studio reveals years of foraged supplies, from rusty nails and date pits to tree bark, Pyrex glass and seed pods. “Often my process is assemblage-based, where I have created many elements and then I see which ones want to play together and where do I have to make new elements to unify the grouping. My palette has been natural tones, whites, creams, tans, browns, greys, and blacks, for the last twenty-plus years. My materials have been metals (copper, brass, bronze, silver, stainless steel, steel, aluminum), woods, fibres, man-made construction materials, stone, beeswax, and found objects, too. I enjoy honouring and elevating seemingly non-precious materials. Much of my copper and other supplies are salvaged.”

Val poses a fantastical wish, “visual tactility can be an ecstatic experience. If I could, I would weave air, lava, and moonlight.” When asked what that might look like, she smiles. “It would look like a gigantic luminous spiderweb spun by a Hindu Goddess. Maybe we could even walk on the threads…”

See Marlo Val’s sculpture and jewellery on her website at marloval.ca and Instagram at marlo.val.

Photo: Play Well With Each Other by Marlo Val (9″H x 10″W x 2″ D)