Student Spotlight: Artist Marina Massidda '17

by Haley Gordon | 1/5/16 6:01pm

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Marina Massidda ’17 is a studio art major who focuses on oil painting.

Marina Massidda ’17 formally began taking art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when she was in her early teens, following a childhood filled with informal artistic pursuits.

Massida said that these classes ranged from general workshops to figure sessions.

“That was a good way for me to be exposed to art in a studio setting,” she said.

Massidda, currently a studio art major at Dartmouth, plans to pursue a professional career involving painting after graduation. That career might involve a turn as a professor, Massidda said.

Massidda drew throughout her childhood and her teenage years. When she started, she referenced photographs while completing her work. Currently, as a painter, Massidda chooses to paint from observation, composing actual scenes with objects or figures to paint directly, rather than using photographic references. While great work has been and continues to be created with the use of photographic references, for her personal artistic process she prefers to paint without them, Massidda said.

“I learnt that in a photograph information is locked in, all the exact values and colors,” Massidda said. “Whereas in real life it allows for a lot of interpretation.”

Assistant studio art professor Enrico Riley ’95 taught Massidda in two of his classes, “Painting 2” and “Painting 3.”

“I think she is an immensely gifted observational painter,” Riley said. “She has a great facility for observing objects, in particular figures, and painting them in a very sophisticated manner.”

Massidda said that she gets her still life objects from a closet in the Black Family Visual Arts Center. The closet contains objects varying from the standard plastic fruits to old appliances to bicycles, Massidda said.

“[The still life painting] can really be as conventional or as quirky as you want it,” she said.

Massidda frequently features mirrors in her paintings.

“For me one of the best things to paint is the human figure,” Massidda said. “But it’s hard to get people to pose for you for long amounts of time, so I’ve done a lot of self-portraits using mirrors.”

The human figure is a form Massidda likes to play with in her pieces.

“I think the figure is almost like an ideal subject in terms of painting,” Massidda said. “It’s so dynamic in terms of shape and form and even color.”

Even one aspect, like color, can take Massidda hours to fully capture.

“Skin tones are so challenging in terms of trying to capture the transitions in temperature and texture,” Massidda said. “It’s sort of conflated with portraiture in a way — each figure has its own energy and personality and its different, so it’s also a tireless subject.”

Fellow studio art major Dondei Dean ’17 described Massidda’s style as “flat,” “even” and “controlled” with a “great grasp of temperature.”

With a studio art major and four painting classes under her belt, Massidda has created many artistic pieces while at Dartmouth.

“The latest big project I did at school was this large three by four foot self-portrait where I was nude in the mirror,” Massidda said. “It was me, painting myself in the mirror.”

The self-portrait took time to complete, but not only because of its size, Massidda said.

“I spent a lot of time on it, really trying to get it to be really believable,” Massidda said. “It was something I really wanted to do to study the figure.”

Dean described Marina’s presence in the studio as fun and relaxed.

“Marina spends a lot of late nights in the studio,” Dean said. “She tends to paint her friends which is really funny so she often has conversations with the people that she’s painting as she’s painting them.”

Vanny Nguyen ’17, a friend of Massidda’s who has posed for her in the past, said her paintings reveal a strong connection to the subjects.

“They all seem to be of people who are close to her, or of things that are significant in her life,” Nguyen said. “I guess when I see a portrait that she paints, I can tell that that’s someone that holds a special place in her life, and it’s very personal, I think.”

In addition to the exposure necessitated by a nude self-portrait, Massidda said she found herself exposed emotionally as well.

“It was pretty personal in a way,” Massidda said. “I don’t really think about it when I do something like that, but definitely once I unveil it — it gets some stronger, maybe even uncomfortable reactions.”

Despite these reactions, Massidda remains loyal to the concept of nude self-portraits.

“It’s not my first nude self-portrait,” Massidda said. “I like the idea of a provocative subject matter that’s not necessarily supposed to be provocative.”

Massida’s work has become more “open” and “abstract” during her time at Dartmouth, Riley said.

“The mechanics of her painting have become much stronger and therefore her paintings are operating on multiple levels,” Riley said.

Massidda is inspired by painters of many styles. She admires John Singer Sargent, an American Renaissance portrait painter, in particular for his ability to realistically capture faces.

“Everything is not meticulously blended,” Massidda said. “He’s definitely playing with the paint and exploiting the fact that he’s using paint and that’s something I’m interested in, working with the medium and having the subject be important but not necessarily the priority.”

“[Marina places a] super high emphasis on photo-realistic quality and studying the classics,” Nguyen said. “She likes going back in the past and doing studies of all these different pieces from different art pieces.”

The physicality of painting sets it apart from mediums in which the artist does not physically interact with the materials, Massidda said.

“You can engage with it in your hands very specifically, and apply it,” Massidda said. “Digital art is very valuable in some ways as well, but I think there’s something very special about physically engaging with the material, and the limitations and challenges that go along with that, like solvents and weird chemicals and stains.”

With the physical nature of paint in mind, Massidda supports experiencing finished paintings in person rather than through a screen if possible.

“Because paint is such a physical material there is such a quality and texture and color and scale and everything that needs to be taken in person to really appreciate,” Massidda said.

However, Massidda noted that with the spread of social media sites there is a wider range of people that can be exposed to art who might otherwise never see it, a positive consequence for individuals in an educational system that sometimes neglects the arts.

“I think visual art is not integrated into general education that much,” Massidda said. “We have reading, math, science- — all this stuff — but the value of recording visually is not as much integrated.”

To students thinking of filling that gap by taking arts classes at Dartmouth, Massidda said that she encourages participation as long as students understand the work involved.

“Of course I’m an advocate [of taking arts classes],” Massidda said. “But definitely be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort.”

Quick Quotes

Last movie seen: “Léon: The Professional” (1994)

Go-to snack: Hot Cheetos

Favorite on-campus meal: Breakfast at the Collis Center

Correction appended: Jan. 7, 2016

This article has been updated to clarify that John Singer Sargent was an American Renaissance painter.

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