Portrait of a creative space: The studio of Marianne Desmarais and Jack Niven

In 2004, Marianne Desmarais and Jack Niven shared a studio in Alberta, Canada. They were both participating in a visual arts residency program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Jack was an action painter at the time, and liked to splatter paint like Jackson Pollock. Marianne, on the other hand, had earned a degree in architecture and used more deliberate, controlled brushstrokes. Inevitably, Jack’s dribbles found their way onto Marianne’s drawings. This led to conflict, which led to drinks and long discussions about art, which, eventually, led to marriage. The couple now share a studio and a home.

Marianne, Jack and their daughter, Fern, live on Algiers Point in a traditional New Orleans shotgun double. For their studio, Marianne designed a camelback. It has high ceilings with fans and skylights, windows overlooking the backyard and the river, a long desk with spaces for all three artists, shared tables and several large walls to try out new pieces. The pieces include formed concrete sculptures, circular collage made from old flooring tiles, three dimensional renderings formed with geometric shapes, blueprints, t-shirt designs and bumper stickers.  

While I photographed the studio, the three of them played a game of exquisite corpse, a collaborative venture involving pictures or words. After the game, they all went back to their own individual projects. When I asked them about working together in the same space, they admitted that “wall space is at a premium when you share.” They also acknowledged that “working together allows for lots and lots of feedback. And, it’s fun.”    

“Our work is very different,” said Marianne, “but over the years, we’ve come together.”

They certainly have – in more ways than one!

Marianne currently has a show at the CAC. She also has a show in April at Cole Pratt Gallery on Magazine Street. To learn more about her and her work, go to www.marianne-desmarais.com

Photos and collage by: Folwell Dunbar

Jack Niven is represented by Staple Goods Gallery. His next show, “Footings,” opens February 10th. For more information on Jack, go to www.jackniven.com




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