Humans of Speed School: Andrew Marsh on Art as Therapy

May 1, 2017

Phoenix House Courtyard designed by Andrew Marsh

The assistant director at the Conn Center for Renewable Research since 2010, Andrew Marsh is for all intents and purposes a translator. An artist, for the last 25 years Marsh has translated his own emotions into sculpted works that serve as an embodiment of his mood.

A musician himself, Marsh performed and roadied for musicians ranging from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Killing Joke, working on lighting and sound in the 90’s. But art was his passion and he sought a way to incorporate music into his artwork and vice versa, which led to performances that included metal work with live musical accompaniment.

“The performances kind of grew out of that, sort of frenetic urgency that runs through my personality. Basically, it started out, I built an iron foundry and was performing with that. How do you collaborate with people as a visual artist? It’s not that common. My grad thesis was Devil’s Night Iron Works and then sited it at Sculpture Trails outside of Bloomington. Some of the other parts of my work had to kind of involve so that I could figure out how to do with that,” says Marsh.

He got his start in the art world working with metal and welding, a grueling and physical art form that took its toll on him in 2003 while working at the City Museum constructing the monstrosity, a playground pastiche of welded areas that spans several stories on the exterior of the museum.

“I got hurt while I was there. Injured my back pretty badly. I was in a wheelchair for a year. I rehabilitated out of that, and moved to Louisville to work as a technical writer at the Brown Center. Writing was something I was always interested in and good at doing. Just coming at things in a different way than physicians and researchers,” says Marsh.

Working at the Brown Center for 5 years allowed Marsh an opportunity to slow down to give his body the time to heal. It was during that time that Marsh recontextualized his art, refocusing from metal to other forms, which ultimately came to include wood. Featuring elements of brutalism and futurism, there is a performative quality to his works of art that serve as a visual therapy.

He explains, “I was at the cancer center for 5 years, but that gave me the chance to slow down the impact on my body. I was still making work, but at a much slower, much smaller scale. Continued to work on cast iron things. Making really strange pain trophy sculptures. I still have chronic injuries. I kept making these little effigies. Kind of the same idea as what punk rock does. They were all paper and plastic patterns. They were these beautiful explosive kinds of displays. Those were the first performance molds that I was doing.”

Around 2010, Marsh’s recovery was such that he began to feel some comfort again. In winter of 2009, Louisville experienced an ice storm that damaged a variety of trees in the area, including in Marsh’s yard. Here he saw opportunity to work with a new form. Working with a tree service, Marsh cleaned up the damage and proceeded to request new wood to work with. They accepted.

Artist Andrew Marsh. (C) 2017 lucky 7 artsphoto by Ira“I taught myself to carve. I didn’t really care for it; I was into welding. But I was like, here is a bunch of wood, and I’ve got a chainsaw. So, I could torture a piece of wood in a couple of hours and then take a week to recover from it. I burnt the first like 20.”

Now in the Conn Center, Marsh finds fortune in balancing his art with his professional life. He says, “One of the things that I appreciate about Dr. Sunkara and Dean Usher is that they appreciate that strangeness. These concerns as an artist have grown in parallel to the work that I do at the Conn Center. It just so happens that as an artist, that I’m really concerned with some of the efficiency aspects of our culture. It gets to be a little bit more of a position.”

He continues, “It comes from a DIY aesthetic and mentality. My dad was a house builder and pioneer himself. They made it okay to find ways to express that were different than the status quo. To find ways to field the outrage. That’s still very much a part of me. A lot of that comes through in the sculpture that I do. They’re tortured. They rot. They seethe. That’s entirely the point.”

You can view his art in front of the Phoenix House directly adjacent to Ernst Hall.