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Virgil Marti, BFA in Studio Art ’84

Virgil Marti, BFA ‘84, is an artist known for his works in sculpture and installation — which have been described as flamboyant and psychedelic — as well as his many years spent as a master printer.

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I had always drawn as a kid. It was something that my mother could give me to make me shut up and sit still. Whenever I’d go see a film, I always wanted to draw scenes from the film afterwards. It was just something that I gravitated towards.

Impactful Classes
There were a lot of impactful things that happened to me while I was at Washington University. One thing that I’m really thankful I got out of my education is a really good grounding in art history. I took a couple of classes that have stuck with me over the years. Lawrence Steefel taught a class called Modern Painting in the Northern Romantic Tradition, which I still think about and it still factors in to what I make. Another teacher is Kim Strommen, who was my first 2D design teacher. That class and his teaching gave me a really good grounding in design principles.

I like working with a lot of different materials. When I’m interested in new material, that sort of leads the creative process in terms of what the final outcome is going to be. I’ll have an interest like, “Oh, it’d be cool to try making cement faux bois,” which is how a previous body of work started. Then I start to learn how to work with the material, and then that process lead to what the final outcome is in terms of sculpture, rather than the final outcome leading the material choices. A lot of my work is, if not site-specific, at least site-dependent. There are themes that, eventually, I start to see run through the work. I see that there’s something to do with nature and artifice. And I couldn’t really articulate it any further than that.

Nature and Artifice
The idea of nature and artifice is still running through the work. It’s the natural world and a human intervention, or a human attempt, to replicate some aspect of it. A good example of what I’m trying to describe there is a piece I made in 1995 called “For Oscar Wilde.” It was a site-specific installation for Eastern State Penitentiary, which is a disused historic prison in Philadelphia. I staged it so that as you moved through the installation, you would go through increasing degrees of artifice. Starting outside, there was a field of real sunflowers growing. As you entered into the cellblock of the penitentiary, you saw what looked like a field of lilies, which were actually silk reproduction lilies. Then you entered into a cell that had been refurbished to address Wilde’s complaints about prison. That cell is wallpapered in a design based on sunflowers and lilies. So you’re moving through subsequent degrees of further abstraction, further removal from the original natural source. That’s something that I work with quite a lot.

Showing My Work
I’m always most excited about the most recent thing I’ve made and the most recent body of work. One thing that I never could have imagined was to have a show at the Hirshhorn Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian. What’s so special about that is that I don’t come from a family of artists — but they do know the Smithsonian. When I told my parents that I was going to be in a show at the Smithsonian, that actually meant something to them.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Vm3 monstrance and 462 cubic inches of florissant air installation view 2018

Installation view: “Hothouse” at John Michael Kohler Art Center

2018, with “Monstrance”, “462 Cubic Inches of Florissant Air”, and “Hybrid”, Mixed media.
Photo credit: Jeff Machtig

Vm7 for venus of the rags 2008

For Venus of the Rags

2008, Fabric, foam, plywood, 27” x 60” x 60”
Photo credit: Michael Lease

Vm8 set pieces installation view 2011

Installation view of “Set Pieces

Curated by Virgil Marti from the Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art” at ICA, Philadelphia, 2010, Mixed media installation with borrowed artworks.
Photo credit: Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media

Vm1 junior 2018


2018, Rubber, silver plating, urethane, faux fur, fringe, mahogany, plywood, 63.5” x 35” x 35”
Photo credit: Jeff Machtig

About Virgil Marti

Artist Virgil Marti, BFA ‘84, is known for his works in sculpture and installation, which have been described as a fusion of high and low culture, art and craft, flamboyant, and psychedelic. He spent many years working as a master print​er​ at The Fabric Workshop and Museum. Marti’s work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial in New York, The Andy Warhol Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many more.