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An Extraordinary "Oddist" 

Orr Marshall takes his time

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Orr Marshall

If you're a regular at Eureka's Arts! Alive, you've surely seen him. He's the older guy with a ponytail wearing a full motorcycle helmet and pausing to examine each and every work of art he comes across. His signature monthly appearance may be unmistakable, but underneath that magenta and silver helmet, the artist Orr Marshall is anything but predictable.

For more than 40 years, Orr Marshall has steadily produced a set of refined sculptures, paintings and drawings that defy categorization. From overblown hood ornaments to dramatic black and white India ink drawings to meticulously detailed six-foot-high Japanese block-print inspired paintings, Marshall's art casts a wide net. His work spans genres and mediums in an enviable, effortless way, blending the many sources of his inspiration into a collection of work that embodies the extravagances of creativity and visual imagery.

Inspired by dreams, travel and family, he follows his muse from start to finish with very little deviation. For Marshall, time is critical. It's not uncommon for him to work for more than two years on a painting. That's two years on one painting. Some have taken up to three. He's not a man in a hurry, and he produces his works with the exactitude of a scientist. For example, when working digitally, he couldn't get the right shade of blue. Rather than settle for a replacement, he painted his preferred hue onto paper, photographed it and loaded it into the program.

While some artists line up several works at once and jump from one to the other, Marshall concentrates on just one thing as much as he can. "People talk about attention deficit disorder these days. It makes me think that what I have is attention surplus disorder!" he says, "I keep working and working and I can't stop until I've worked months or years on something and I've finished it." Such intense focus and planning sometimes leads to an intense attachment to the work. It's not uncommon for Orr to sell only prints of his work or even to buy back a painting that was sold years before.

One such painting, "The Golden Glasses," was sold to a friend in the early '80s and recently reacquired by Marshall. A product of three years' work, the 5-foot-long image of a woman wearing shades teems with thousands of acrylic dots. Layers of mustard, ochre, lime and chartreuse combine in an expanding half-tone pattern of eye shapes over the eponymous glasses, while squiggly swaths of turquoise and tangerine define the woman and the background. There isn't a straight line in the painting. Standing in front of it can be hypnotizing, if slightly dizzying.

His newest piece, "Goth Girl Bike," is an apt example of Marshall's process from inspiration to completion. At the local co-op, he happened to park his bicycle next to a black bike wrapped completely in black lace. A red rose adorned each corner of the basket, which was topped with a white skull. Fascinated, Marshall soaked it all in, thinking, "I'd never seen anything that so clearly identified the type of person who owned the bike." He never saw the rider, and set out to imagine who it might be.

Back home in his Eureka studio, Marshall made a few sketches, playing around with the angle of the bike and the position of the figure. As with most of his larger works, he then drew each component with exacting detail, putting them together like puzzle pieces before moving on to the final drawing. The finished product is a sexy cycling fantasy of lace and leather. Seen from a low angle, Marshall's imagined rider sports thigh-high boots, dready hair and a crucifix on her chest. Feathery fringe and intricate fishnets contrast with the strong, thick forms of the bike, emphasizing the femininity of its owner and highlighting Marshall's illustration skills. "I'm just hoping that the owner of the bike still lives in Eureka," he says with a wink, "and that she sees this drawing."

If you'd like to see "Goth Girl Bike" and a few dozen other pieces, head to the Sewell Gallery during October to see his show, Orr Marshall: Oddworks. A number of affordable prints will be on sale, as well as some original paintings never before shown on the North Coast. A reception will be held during Eureka's Arts! Alive on Oct. 5 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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Ken Weiderman

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