Published, EAC Communiqué, Spring 1999
n some ways, artist Marilyn Koop epitomizes the image of an Elora artist and at the same time defies the common stereotype of artists in general. She is a traditionally trained visual artist and freelance illustrator/graphic designer, but does not fit the profile of a pretentious “I can get away with being a social boor because I’m involved in the arts” sort of person. Tucked away in her home studio on Carleton Street (does Elora have a Carleton Street?), she works away almost anonymously, yet she is anything but an antisocial hermit. Her influence in town is evident in her three-dimensional signage (perhaps you’ve been to “Sweet Tooth and Thyme” or “Magic Mountain”) and it is obvious that she has not bought into the ostentatious style that shouts, “Hey, look at me!” On the contrary, Marilyn is a down-to-earth woman, the wife of a musician, and mother of a 10-year-old daughter.
Marilyn, who is the youngest of a large Mennonite family, is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art (1979-1982). She spent some 12 years in Toronto, working for the Mariposa Folk Festival and “finding her own voice”. The “need to be a member of the arts community” led her to St. John’s, Newfoundland where she pursued a career in commercial graphic design. It was here that she helped found an artist-run gallery named Eastern Edge.
Several years ago, Marilyn made a pact never to show her paintings behind glass and in fact to create works of art that do not need framing. “I want my art to be complete in itself, not needing any addition to the presentation.” Many of her paintings are on plywood and explore domestic themes and images in bright colours. In contrast, a recent commission presented her with the challenge of creating a piece for an already existing frame. With ease, she was able to create images that express her own artistic style and, at the same time, complement the ornate, dark frame.
As an artist, Marilyn is a designer, and has a preoccupation with domestic space. She believes that interior spaces are personal, and her home is evidence of this idea. “It is a work in progress,” she says. She is constantly experimenting with the relationships of three-dimensional objects. Her home is filled with her artwork – everything from hand-painted chairs to vividly coloured kitchen cabinets, to paintings and 3-D art boxes on the wall.
Marilyn’s studio is a warm and busy space filled with projects on the go. It includes a table set up for Katie, her daughter, who shows staggering artistic potential. There is a three-dimensional aspect to her work that has become a personal trademark, and it was a natural extension to move into public-site art in the form of signage and exterior design. Marilyn has designed the outdoor logos for Elora’s “Magic Mountain”, “Sweet Tooth and Thyme”, “Naomi’s,” and Mill Street’s newest addition, “Sparkles”. As well, she has consulted on interior images and colour schemes for these and other businesses. She has a dream to paint a triptych on the exterior wall of the Post Office in Elora. She imagines three five-foot by five-foot images depicting writing, mailing, and reading letters. The Post Office is enthusiastic about her proposal, especially since it supports Canada Post’s own advocacy of literacy.
“My artwork is very contextual – it matters where it ends up,” says Marilyn. She is in search of a way to make site-specific art and looks forward to participating in the EAC’s annual Studio Tour, which takes place in October. She feels that the success of a Studio Tour is that artists can control the context in which their art is viewed. “I value the chance to set up my work and show it the way I want it presented.”
Marilyn loves living in Elora and feels that it is the perfect place for artists to work. However, the lack of public art is somewhat disheartening. “The finest artists in the area are represented elsewhere and this is a mistake. For a town so rich in artistic talent, there should be more art on display.” One hopes that her dream of the Post Office triptych will not only be endorsed financially by the town and Canada Post but also embraced by the local and tourist public audience searching for evidence that art is alive and well in Elora.
by Patricia Reimer, Spring 1999
My artwork is very contextual – it matters where it ends up.
UPDATE – 2005
After a full year’s effort, Marilyn Koop did convince Canada Post to commission a piece for the Elora post office. Her triptych, entitled ‘The Letter’, was installed in the Fall of 1999 and can be seen on the outer wall. Since then she’s also completed murals for the Kitchener Downtown Development Association and the Waterloo Regional Government. These, and recent paintings and illustrations can be viewed on her website: www.marilynkoop.com.
In August of 2004, Koop, along with five other artists, founded Village Idiot Productions, an Elora-based arts production company. They produce live concerts and visual art exhibitions, including “The Idiot’s Ball” and “The World’s Smallest Art Gallery”. For more information about The Village Idiots, visit their website at: www.villageidiots.ca.
In June of 2005, Marilyn Koop joined several other artists in a show called “Women’s Work” at the Elora Centre for the Arts.