Originally featured in issue 16 of Create! Magazine
Marc Scheff is an award-winning New York City artist known for his unique dimensional conceptual portraits in layers of resin.
How did you get involved in art and how did you get to this point in your art career?
I’m not unusual in a sense that I’ve always been interested in art. I always attribute my start to the pharmaceutical industry because my dad is a pediatrician and my mom was pursuing her Master’s degree and I would often go in to work with my dad. He would let me hang around his office and there were loads of pens and pads and things with pharmaceutical charts. I would use all those materials to sit and draw all day when my dad was working. So thanks to Big Pharma!
Eventually, I pursued a career in the tech industry, but was taking art classes after work when I was in San Francisco. I loved it and soon I was taking classes every night and every weekend.
At one point, I was very lucky to have a boss that laid me off and encouraged me to follow my interest in art making. The severance packages I received from being laid off ended up being a down payment for art school!
How did you make the decision to pursue your art? What went into making this decision?
I’m very lucky that I can make the decisions about what opportunities to pursue and which ones to move on from. I feel fortunate that my wife supported my decision to leave my day job.
I still have other gigs like teaching, running a gallery, and freelancing.
What advice would you give artist who wants to take the leap and become self-employed?
The first question I ask someone who wants to become self-employed is “are you sure you want to do that?” The freelance life is not for everyone. There is a lot of uncertainty and you have to be ok with not knowing where the next gig will come from. If you have a job that you enjoy that supports your art practice you want to be very careful when considering this transition.
People may assume that I stay at home and paint all the time, but that’s not me. I do lots of other things. I still have other gigs like teaching, running an art gallery, and freelancing. I have a safety net because of the other creative work and the fact that my wife has a second income really allows for me to take these risks.
I also enjoy having multiple projects to focus on. If a painting isn’t going well I can work on a blog post or something else. I love the idea of productive procrastination. I’ll start a painting, walk away from it and I’ll still be working on it in the back of my head while doing something else.
What has your art been about lately?
The art that we make has to come from our perspective. We can’t paint from someone else’s experiences.
When I first started working with resin, I was looking to get in touch with an emotional quality. Unlike illustration, the work isn’t about narrative, so I have to achieve this with basic color and composition.
Using the reference photos that I take, I look for an image that gives me that “gut punch”. I may take a few hundred pictures to get that one moment that I’m after.
The challenge for me right now is celebrating the voices of the members of our society that may have been traditionally misrepresented, not to tell the story from their perspective in a way that celebrates them. Traditionally I’ve painted a lot of women. I’m working on a bigger scale to share the strength and the struggle that women face in our world and expand those ideas in order to tell more layers of the story.
Using resin, there is a physical layering that relates to the emotional layering of that experience. It’s a very tricky thing to share these stories in a way that’s authentic to me and respectful to the individuals I’m painting about. I don’t want to mansplain in my work. I have to come from my perspective and use my work to share how much I admire the stories without any desire to own them or be a part of them.
What’s coming up next for you?
I'll be at Superfine Fair DC in October and will be in a two-person show with Abend Gallery in the Scope Fair during Basel week in Miami!