Smoke and flame spew from two freshly discharged handguns, the heat tempered by the ice-cold stare of the woman wielding them. Dressed in a short skirt—revealing scant few inches of garter belt, with equally short hair tightly bound by a chic, Parisian hat—she remains unharmed by her unseen assailant. It isn’t her first shoot-out, evidenced by the words “Gun Moll” emblazoned in brazen typeface beside her face. It’s a familiar image for anyone acquainted with the Roaring Twenties and the decades that followed before giving way to the seemingly sanitary 1950s. For Marlowe, the pulp motifs aren’t mere acquaintances but family heirlooms.
“Well, it’s funny because my father wrote for the pulps,” he shares. “After he passed away, I found a box full of all old magazines with his name in them as the writer. He never told me about it! He’d write for all these crime magazines, really lurid stories about murders, gangs and spies. I was like, ‘This is my father?’ That became my inspiration. It was cool to find out your parent had this other life, but not in a bad way. I saw all these photographs of my father with Walter Winchell, so he was with some well-known people on the fringes of the good part of society. It was ‘shabby-chic’ before it was a term.”
Throughout the past two years, Marlowe has been creating large-scale collages inspired by his late father’s sequestered writing. Populated by an array of criminals, cowboys, flappers, and scantily-dressed damsels, his collages capture garish action, framed against abstracted compositions. Following in the footsteps of Richard Hamilton, Roy Liechtenstein and the ubiquitous Andy Warhol, Marlowe transforms low-brow into high-art, beginning with his very first exhibition, “Neo+Stalgia,” at New Elements Gallery.
Even without knowing about his father’s literary exploits, Marlowe’s creative drive came from his mother’s creative leanings. Her life as a painter and interior designer encouraged Marlowe to pursue a career in the arts. After graduating from Ohio University, he bounced around New York City, working as a graphic designer for an armada of high-profile clients.
“My whole life I’ve been in the graphics field,” he recalls. “I basically started out designing book-jackets, typefaces, logos, and any other kind of commercial art. I was doing that as a career for a number of years. Then I went into advertising, so I was doing really commercial work.”
Despite endless commissions, Marlowe eventually grew weary of using his talents exclusively for paying clients. Rather than taking on new customers, he decided to pay attention to his own needs. It was his first step toward entering the world of fine art.
“The issue with [commercial art] is obviously you’re doing things to please other people,” he explains. “After I used the advertising career up, I decided I wanted to do more things that sprang from my own brain, where I was the client. So, I got away from the commercial aspect and into the more artistic end of graphics.”
His long and accomplished career perfectly eased his transition from full-time designer to full-time artist. With years of experience under his belt, Marlowe approaches the idea of collage armed with a well-trained eye and a knack for composition. While collages often bring to mind endless globs of grey paste and hastily-trimmed magazine pages with curled edges, his collages are slick, stylish and nearly seamless. Rest assured, they’re “nearly seamless” only because Marlowe intended some seams to be seen.
“They’re actually three-dimensional,” he elaborates. “They’re mounted on canvas, so if you look at them from the side, they’re probably a quarter-inch off the canvas. There’s quite a distinct shadow cast on the artwork when light hits it. If you look on the right edges of all the artwork, there’s a black shadow. It’s not a painted shadow, it’s an actual shadow cast by light. Ambient light creates some interesting shadows.”
Sometimes the effect heightens a comic-book quality of Marlowe’s pulp imagery by appearing as a thick black outline. Other times, it draws the eye to small details that might be lost to a quick glance.
Overall, Marlowe uses the technique to help separate specific images from busy backgrounds. Sneering, square-jawed men and gun-toting women effectively leap out from patchwork fields of patterned paper and isolated logos snipped from the pages of cheap magazines, heightened both figuratively and literally by the mounting process.
However, Marlowe uses the technique most strikingly in his “Nature” series. Departing from his pulp subject matter, Marlowe creates a sequence of common compositions characterized by large spaces of soft colors with a raised arrangement of plant-life bursting at the center. The centermost image of each piece is an animal silhouette cut from the vegetation, shining in stark white of the backing board with flickering shadows beneath.
Even though he works in two very distinct styles, Marlowe focuses on a pair of visual cues to create a sense of commonality. His attention to dimension may be understated (and most noticeable seeing a piece in-person), but his color palette is anything but subtle. Both his pulp and nature series exhibit intense colors ranging from hyper-saturated magazine inks to swatches of handmade papers with patterns wavering on the border of psychedelic. The intense colors are another one of Marlowe’s specialties, and show up in every piece with the intention of attracting the eye.
“I call it ‘grabbing the viewer by the lapels,’” he asserts. “Everything I do has that. I don’t work in subtle pastels. Everything is very rich. Walls of offices or people’s houses are usually a very muted color, so I want the work to basically jump off the wall. Everybody has a beige, tan or eggshell-colored wall. These are a splash of color that really jump off the walls. Coupled with the dimensionality, it gives you a double-hit.”
“Neo+Stalgia” opens during August’s Fourth Friday Gallery Walk, Friday the 24, along with music and refreshments. The show remains on display until September 22.