Mixed Media Message

Marlena Asher hopes to inspire healing and action with her works of transformational art.
Marlena Asher

Mixed media artist Marlena Asher lives and creates by a distinctly New Orleans philosophy: “We are all here on earth for a very short time, and in that short time we need to do everything we can, in our own individual ways, to make life better for all,” she says.

Asher creates works of transformational art (a genre which, at best, has a nebulous description) with New Orleans artifacts, paint, canvas and any other objects her heart desires.

“My work enables me to express what’s most important to my life, in general and at that particular moment,” Asher says. “The medium allows you to be absolutely expressive … to creatively pull from your heart, soul and mind.”

There aren’t many defining physical characteristics of transformational art pieces; rather, the genre is defined by its philosophy. Transformational art pieces are created, in large part, to help the artist heal, spiritually or physically. (Think “catharsis on canvas.”)

Sharing her personal take on the genre, Asher explains: “Transformational art is a process by which the artist connects with the beholder through the work of art and motivates the beholder to further connect emotionally to the subject matter of the piece.”

In addition to being a successful conveyance of ideas and feelings, Asher hopes her artwork will inspire sympathy in, and action from, others. “If the beholder is moved by a piece of my work focused on Katrina,” she says, “they might want to go out and donate time or service or money to a Katrina-related organization.”
Although she is a native of Ohio, Asher’s connection to New Orleans is strong because of family ties. Now, having built a family of her own –– son, Eli J., known as E.J.; husband, Eli S.; and a terrier named Lego ––that connection brought her back to New Orleans.

“I’m intrigued by the past, and my fondest childhood memories are from New Orleans,” she says, “where my mom was born and where I spent a great deal of time as a child.”

This reverence for the past appears in her art in other many ways. Asher seeks out and includes in her pieces materials such as Civil War-era metal roof shingles and antique tin ceiling tiles, which she describes as “old, beautiful and ornate, just like New Orleans.”

Many of Asher’s creations exemplify repurposing (the “reuse” in “reuse and recycle”), including a few personal favorites. The first piece, New Orleans Rising, hangs in the headquarters of the Make It Right foundation in New Orleans.

Another favorite, Jazz and Heritage, is a tribute to New Orleans’ music and musicians. The piece features text that reads, “Mighty waters cannot extinguish the love and rivers cannot wash it away,” drawn from the Bible’s Song of Songs and referring to the buoyancy of New Orleans’ culture and spirit. This piece hangs in Wynton Marsalis’ home in New York, Asher says.

Of her art, Asher says, “It allows me to communicate my messages through a very personal creative process, to draw on my most meaningful memories and choose the materials that will best communicate my story.”

In keeping with her goal of transforming lives through art, Asher says she recently partnered with River of Hope, a Minnesota-based grass-roots organization working to improve post-Katrina New Orleans.

Asher plans to offer a children’s art program at the River of Hope Mental Health Resource Center in the Ninth Ward, which she hopes will “enhance to the post-Katrina healing process” by giving children an outlet to express feelings of loss.

Categories: Artist Profile, Theatre + Art