October 17, 2000
by Michael Smith
A prize-winning turkey drawing in his first year at Mobile's Woodcock Elementary School gave flight to Fred Marchman's art career. He took private art lessons locally from Jane and John Shaw before finishing at Murphy High School and going on to receive a BFA at Alabama in painting and sculpture and an MFA at Tulane, majoring in sculpture and minoring in the art of India and Southeast Asia.
Marchman then went to Ecuador with the Peace Corps where he helped local artisans with the design and production of tin and woven products; he also taught clay and tin sculpture at the university. While in South America, Fred began collecting folk art, which focused his attention on cultural icons and idols, i.e., spiritual items, which lead him to the use of symbolism in his own work.
After returning to the States and living and working on both the East and West coasts as well as the "frozen North," Fred moved back to Mobile. Since returning, he has been involved with three different artist cooperatives: the Contemporary Artists Consortium, the Seven Artists Gallery in Spring Hill, and Cathedral Square Gallery. While the first two were short-lived, the latter is still going strong.
Cathedral Square Gallery was started by Jane Shaw who modeled the cooperative after a gallery in Taos, New Mexico. The Co-op, which has been operating for almost five years now, is located downtown on Dauphin Street and consists of thirty-to-forty artists who work a day (or two) each month. The commission rate is only fifteen percent (compared to the usual forty-to-fifty percent).
Over the years, Fred has been involved in a wide variety of highly visible projects. In 1988, at the request of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, he designed and painted two wooden eggs for the White House Easter Egg Hunt, an annual event since the 1870s, which later became part of a Smithsonian Institution exhibition.
In 1995, the Alabama Arts Council, as part of the Alabama Artist's Billboard Project, commissioned him to design a billboard which was placed in strategic highway locations. You may remember the brightly-colored fourteen foot by forty foot sunset painting alongside the Beltline, exhorting drivers-by to "Be Good! Do Good! Love God!"
In 1997, using old photographs of the Crown Theater, Fred designed and cast the tragedy and comedy stone masks which now adorn the front of the Dauphin Street business. He also created a poly- chrome wood sculpture called "Ring Toss Pagoda" for the Child Day Care Center on Washington Avenue near Canal. More recently, Fred prepared some of the outside design work for the Nasssar Gymnasium on Old Shell Road, just west of Sage.
Fred formerly taught at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, teaching art history, drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking for three years. He works in many different mediums, but favors sculpture in bronze, cast aluminum, terra cotta, and wood. Marchman also paints, primarily in acrylic, though he has also worked with water colors and pastels. Rounding out his art repertoire are works in collage and works that are computer-generated. He writes poetry, short stories, and art reviews and has provided cartoon art to The Harbinger for the last four-or-five years; Marchman has written several unpublished novels and a book of mystical philosophy entitled The Dictionary of the Nail.
Fred considers himself a Southern Folk/Pop Artist extolling the banal things in our lives: cars, beer cans, and Coke bottles. One recurring theme in his work is kudzu, which symbolizes the decline of Southern Culture; though kudzu covers and appears to threaten everything in its path, its deep roots and voracious growth rate, nevertheless, appear languid on the lethargic landscape.
Another theme is the television and its enormous materialistic and moral influence on our society and human behavior. Marchman often juxtaposes the TV with human elements to elicit the viewer's response in the ongoing debate between technology and the arts. That theme is carried out in The Harbinger's art cover this issue. Fred's "Alabama ‘Religion'" is a satirical print in which an image of two couch potatoes worship a television featuring a football game; visible icons in the room include a bust of Bear Bryant, a turkey, and the Confederate Flag. Fred said that while he loves all of those things, the public's obsession with football and sports has displaced visual art as a priority in our culture. And that really bothers him.
Formerly, Fred's work was expressed in the abstract: it was dream-like and produced out of his subconscious. Now, the work is less emotive and highly symbolic. Marchman also applies the theosophical in his work: "The visual arts have a paramount place in the human quest for wisdom and truth via the aesthetic experience. This may be obvious or implicit depending upon the particular work of art."
Marchman has several public showings in the near future. The first is at the Pizzeria Restaurant, in the Leinkauf Historic District, which began on October 9 and runs for two months; Fred will have several pieces hanging along with fellow artists Patrick Yeend and John Chamblin. On October 26, Marchman will be participating in Business in the Arts at Stewartfield at Spring Hill College. In November, Fred teams up with Chamblin again in a two-man show at Koch Gallery. Marchman is looking forward to the shows, saying that he really likes Chamblin's work because he "pulls out all of the stops." And during November and December, Fred will have the "painting of the month" at the AmSouth Bank at Airport and McGregor.
Fred's wide range of artistic interests and endeavors has culminated in a large collection of art, spanning all mediums. For one who will take the opportunity, his work provides a perfect backdrop for sitting and talking with a man who has spent his whole life in pursuit of self-improvement, self-awareness, and self-expression. Give him a call: 473-5237.
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