Mardiclaw, the “Big Queen” of the Krewe of SkinzNBonez, is definitely a creative force to be reckoned with. Her art is at once folksy, whimsical, mystical and bold. She captures New Orleans’ special relationship with Voodoo and renders it with brazen strokes in fantastic colors. Her images catch your eye and pique your imagination. Mardiclaw’s energy can be felt in the art she produces as well as everything else she touches.
EM: Where are you originally from?
Mardiclaw: I’m originally from Portland, Oregon. I was born and raised there. I started art school at the age of 6 at the Portland Art Museum. From there I went to Seattle and the Seattle Art Institute and then back to Portland. I attended Long Beach State and the University of Oregon. Kinda up and down the West Coast a lot!
EM: How old were you when you started making art? Was it earlier than art school at 6 years old?
Mardiclaw: Yeah, my mom really pushed me. I was her youngest child, the only girl. My mom, who is now 91 years old, was older than my friends’ parents. Her generation didn’t have the opportunities that women have now. She insisted that I never get married ‘til I’d found everything I wanted, and just pushed me really hard because she was living vicariously through me I guess.
EM: Do you have any other artists in your family?
Mardiclaw: My mother is also a painter, but didn’t start (painting) until much later in life. She never really painted when I was a kid. We’re very different artists – my Mom does landscapes and is very good at what she does. Back when I was in Campfire Girls as a kid, she crocheted and did all the craft nights. She’s very crafty, but never actually started painting until she turned about the age I am now.
EM: What led you to be a professional artist as opposed to art being just a hobby?
Mardiclaw: My best friends in high school and grade school now say, “You are the only person I know who wanted to be something and actually became it.” I always wanted to be an artist. Always. Never a doubt in my mind. I’d done a lot of paper mache’ stuff when I lived in Arizona but I didn’t really “break out” until after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. That’s when I really felt the need to express myself, because there was a story that needed to be told.
EM: We have heard that from a lot of artists that Katrina was a big turning point for them as professional artists.
Mardiclaw: Yeah, in November after the storm, these guys who lived down the street from me nailed a huge canvas to a pole that said, “Please don’t steal our dogs from our home”. So I knocked on their door and asked, “What’s that all about?”
“Well, somebody broke into our house and stole our dogs and held them for ransom.” And I go, “Well, somebody’s gonna steal that canvas off of the pole. Can I make you a new sign and you give me the canvas?” So I made them a new sign, and they gave me the canvas. I took it home and painted this skeleton with a saxophone blowing water all over the city with flames coming up. And that’s kinda how it started.
EM: What brought you to New Orleans?
Mardiclaw: I came to Mardi Gras and thought, “Man, this is great! I’m moving here because I can sell art here. I can be creative.” I never got to work on floats and Mardi Gras stuff until I started my own Krewe. Now that I’ve found out what artists get paid to work on floats (not much), I’m not too upset about it.
EM: How would you describe the genre of your art?
Mardiclaw: After Katrina, I called it: post-Katrina de la Muerte. Nowadays I’m like,‘come hell or high water, I’m a NOLA daughter’.
As for the skeleton thing, I’ve been doing that since back in high school, from back when my dad died. Actually in my high school year book there’s a skeleton I did. My dad died in 1990, and I lost 28 friends that one month! I was really depressed. It was AIDS, it was murder, it was drugs, it was cancer. Then one day, I walked into a store and saw some (Mexican) Day of the Dead characters, and I was like, “Why do we here in the states have to be so morbid about it all?” And so, I brought myself out of it by painting it and making it joyful.
I just went to the Day of the Dead in Mexico, and I was in my element! On the last day, everybody’s drinking, the altars are up. There’s nothing like walking into a square with a thousand people dressed as skeletons.
EM: Who’s work inspires you the most?
Mardiclaw: Skeleton-wise I like Posada. I’ve always liked Posada because he was revolutionary. He did woodblock prints, and I did a lot of woodblock printing when I was younger. His work just has very different physical element.
Of course I also like Frida Kahlo. But even more Diego Rivera. I can stare at his stuff for hours and just go into another world. He’s very much like Posada, somebody who’s got something to say.
While at the Detroit Institute of Arts I stayed in the Diego Room for 4 and a half hours, I couldn’t walk away. I thought to myself: “No wonder Rockefeller had a issue, this guy had somethin’ to say!”
EM: What medium do you work in the most.
Mardiclaw: I work in a lot of acrylics. I’ve done oils but prefer acrylics. They’re a lot cheaper and you can seal it and make it look like an oil. I would like to get into oils, but that’s a big investment. Oils sell for higher prices and are more profitable, but I like for my art to be affordable.
EM: How do you differentiate your art from other art out there on the market?
Mardiclaw: I’m really loud and colorful where other artists’ aren’t. I’m not afraid to use color! It’s so loud! I live very colorfully at home, as well.
Plus, my subject matter is contemporary and recognizable. People look at it and go, “Oh, yeah, that’s Divine!” or “Oh, that’s my friend’s dog.” or “That’s so-and-so in the parade.”
You know, I was told for years in school that I’d never be a commercial artist. ’Beg to differ! Telling people they can’t do things is not something a teacher should do. One once told me, “Oh, you have glitter in your painting, that ruined it!” So I asked, “What do you for a living?” “I’m a teacher”. And I go, “Oh, there’s the problem; You’re a teacher, who says I can’t put glitter in paint. I’m from New Orleans. I can do whatever I want!”
EM: What do you think is the most challenging part of being an artist?
Mardiclaw: Learning to let go of stuff you painted that you really like. The other would be: “Oh my God, I can’t finish it! I can’t finish that!” I’ve had pieces sit in the house for two, three years, and then I’ll go back to one and I’ll finish it in like two hours.
EM: Isn’t that a great feeling?
Mardiclaw: Yeah, it is great feeling, but that’s the hurdle artists have sometimes, “I can’t let it go,” or “I can’t finish it”.
EM: Since art is subjective in nature, how do you handle negative criticism? Especially if it hurts deep down in your soul?
Mardiclaw: I’ve had negative things said to me, and I just let it wash over me. I don’t know, I don’t get upset by it.
EM: Has anybody ever said your art was “cliche”?
Mardiclaw: I’ve had people go, “Oh, you’re stealing”.
And I’m like, “Yeah, and you don’t know me.” If you want to talk about where I came up with that (art), then let’s sit and have a conversation. If you’re just going to be negative, I don’t have time for you. The biggest thing I learned in Mexico is,“Better get busy livin’ man!”
Life’s too short. Everything’s a learning experience. Every painting gets better. Every stroke gets better.
EM: How do you come up with, a profitable pricing structure for your art?
Mardiclaw: That took a long time, but I show year around, I’m up year around, so I have this ever evolving tourist trade coming and going. And if stuff starts selling too fast, I go up 5 bucks on everything. And if it’s still selling, I’ll go up another 5 bucks, and then when it gets to a balance, then I stay there. Tourists want something they can put in their suitcase, something that’s affordable, and if it’s too big, they’re not gonna buy it. But that doesn’t keep me from doing big pieces. I prefer to do big pieces.
EM: Could you pick a favorite thing that you’ve done with a favorite piece of art?
Mardiclaw: Yeah, La Guerrera, is what I called it, of a woman with her Day of the Dead horse. One of my best friends bought it before I was even done with it.
EM: What do you think is the coolest piece of advice you’ve ever received about making art?
Mardiclaw: Don’t care about what other people think.
EM: Have people ever asked you for advice?
Mardiclaw: When other artists ask “What do you say when somebody wants a discount?”, I look at them and say, “What do you do for a living?” If, for example, they work on cars, then I’ll say, “So if I ever bring my car to you, do I get a discount? No? Well, then why would I give you one doing what I do?”
But the best advice I have to support other artists is this: if you don’t want to sell it, then overprice it, because it’ll be worth it if you have to. Yeah, if someone is willing to give you a million dollars, then do it…
EM: where can people see more of your art?
Mardiclaw: I’m in both locations of Surrey’s and at Twisted Hair salon. I’ve also been at Velvet Cactus. Crescent City Brew Pub for French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest. I also do Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, I do pretty well there. I wanna gear myself towards more festivals, like 4 a year, that are not here in New Orleans. I’ve also been showing some art markets over in Bay St. Louis (MS). I’m gonna show all my Mexico paintings there.
I’m gonna go back up to Seattle, I think in this next year. My friend Chris Cornell (from Sound Garden) died this year. I really want to do a portrait of him.
EM: So, where is the best bet to find your stuff online?
Mardiclaw: Online, Fine Art America (https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/mardi-claw.html) or just my web page (www.mardiclaw.com) or Facebook. But at this time, of year we’re coming into Mardi Gras all I’m gonna be doing now is paint, paint, paint, paint.