Illustrator Marshall Arisman’s depictions of violence have been published in the New York Times, the Nation, and Time. Here, Arisman talks about what got him interested in art, working with color, and the faces in his illustration for the excerpt from Dying to Cross, which appears in this month’s issue of Texas Monthly.
texasmonthly.com: What originally got you interested in art? What inspires you?
Marshall Arisman: We live in a violent world. That is a fact. For me, making art is a mediation between the outside hostile forces and my desires.
texasmonthly.com: What do you want to get across to your audience?
MA: I am interested in an emotional, not intellectual, response from my audience as well as myself.
texasmonthly.com: Does your artwork reflect you as a person? If so, how?
MA: Darkness and light are qualities that we all share. My hope is that my artwork reflects both aspects that coexist within me.
texasmonthly.com: After viewing some of your artwork, I noticed that in several of your pieces you use darker colors. Why?
MA: Much of the work I do for magazines and books revolves around the darker side. The dark colors are simply a reflection of the circumstance. In my fine-art work (monkeys, sacred buffalo, etc.) the colors are different.
texasmonthly.com: What emotional themes does your artwork explore? I saw your work on the cover of a Time magazine that dates back several years. The cover type read, “The Curse of Violent Crime.” Where did the fascination with humans, violence, and spirituality originate?
MA: It is my personal view that light and dark are two sides of a coin, not separate activities. In exploring the dark (violence) I have a better understanding of the light (spirituality).
texasmonthly.com: How did you start doing political drawings for the Nation, Time, and the Op-Ed Page of the New York Times? Why did you decide to do them?
MA: In 1970 a book of my drawings about guns was published by Visual Arts Press. The title was Frozen Images. The subject matter was violence we do to each other, violence we do to ourselves, and violence we do to the environment. The art directors of the Op-Ed Page (the Times), the Nation, and Time saw the book and assigned me articles that related to my already stated interests.
texasmonthly.com: Did Texas Monthly creative director Scott Dadich give you any direction for the artwork that accompanies the book excerpt from Dying to Cross: The Worst Immigrant Tragedy in American History?
MA: Scott Dadich called me and said he had a very tough, emotional text from Dying to Cross: The Worst Immigrant Tragedy in American History. Was I interested in reading the article? I read it, called him, and we discussed what I felt was the right approach to my illustration. Scott was encouraging and supportive. I wanted the illustration to recreate the emotional hell of being locked up in the trailer.
texasmonthly.com: How did you come up with the final artwork? How do you think it helps illustrate this particular tale of illegal smuggling?
MA: Words take longer to connect to in the brain than pictures. Since no cameras were present, it seemed reasonable to try and imagine for a spilt second—for myself and the viewer—what it must have been like in there.
texasmonthly.com; How did you choose the colors? Do they symbolize anything?
MA: It was over 100 degrees inside the truck. I used a red base in the paint to pictorialize the heat.
texasmonthly.com: What are the faces in the painting so haunted by?
MA: Many people in the truck died. The living faces are haunted by their own death or the death of a loved one.