Kanika Marshall describes her art as “the infusing of tribal colors with exotic clay sculptures, textiles, glass, leather, stone and metal.” But the work of Marshall is definitely much more than the sum of its parts. She feels a strong allegiance to her past, and believes that much of her work is directly linked to ancient artists of yesteryear. And what ancestors passed on to her spiritually, she passes on to us artistically, through a prolific body of work. Marshall’s work has been seen everywhere, including the Crocker Art Museum.
Many of your art pieces are dominated by unusually strong, vibrant colors. Is there any particular significance to those color choices? Also, many of your colors seem different from anything I’ve seen before.
Well, first I have to say I like working with strong solid colors. I don’t work with any pastel colors. I like natural colors, like that of red clay, something that is natural and earthy. Something that complements the other colors and makes them pop. I create a lot of my own original ethnic colors that are used in my tiles, my clay-tile sculptures and clay masks, which are based on old traditional tribal colors from Africa, Ethiopia, Asia, Australia and other places.
Do you have a clear idea of what your next piece is going to look like when you first start to work on it?
No, I usually don’t have any idea. If I’m working with clay, I’ll start with a 25-pound block of red clay, because it’s sold to me that way, and I may cut it or roll it, poke it to see what I see. I look at the clay to see if it tells me something. It can start off as a mask, a plate, a figure, but I’m never sure at first. I look at it and ask myself, “What do I see? What art lies within this piece of clay?” As an artist, I believe your goal is to bring out the art within. I ask myself, “What is the energy and the spirit of the clay?” I may even ask other people what do they see in this raw piece of clay. … Sometimes I’m inspired by what others see.
Talk about the spiritual aspect of the art you create. Do you feel the influence of past artists?
Yes, I feel that the ancestors are lovingly guiding my hands and working through my fingers to help me create each one-of-a-kind art piece. I also believe that each sculpture holds a special personal significance and has its own positive spirit and personality. Sometimes the draping of authentic African fabric, leather and beadwork over the clay sculptures is almost a spiritual experience for me.
Until recently, your main work has been traditional and contemporary hand-carved art, painted with ethnic colors, but lately I notice that you have branched out into artworks made out of metal materials. What led you in this direction?
In the last year or so, I’ve been trying to branch out into making more garden art, so people can enhance their garden sanctuaries. Wanting to create some kinetic/moving sculptures was the main impetus for coming up with the Kinetic Diva and Garden Nymph series of sculptures that can be used in the garden, yard, house or the office. After creating the basic piece out of metal, I add clay, glass and other fun outdoor elements that will turn, twist, bounce as it moves in the wind and sparkles in the sun. Most of the garden art pieces celebrate the interplay between humans the environment.
You seem to have strong female figures with obvious feminine charms. What do they symbolize or represent?
Many of my ethnic goddess sculptures are meant to bring a positive energy to wherever you place them. I try to bring the spirit of cooperation, interconnection, nurturing and working together to solve problems as part of the theme to these very individualized pieces.
Do you think making art is for everyone?
I think it can be. I encourage everyone to at least try clay. If at first you don’t know what to do with it, try to play with it. Throw it, slam it, pound it into some kind of shape. It can be a lot of fun and can bring a lot of pleasure. If it’s not for you, try some other kind of hobby. You’re never too old to get started.