Marshall Weber


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Interview conducted by
Madison Seto (Scripps '21) 
Kinsey Lee (Scripps '20)
Mabel Lui (Scripps '21)

Born in Syosset, New York, Marshall Weber is an artist and a curator who received his MFA from the San Franscico Art Institute. He is the co-founder of the Booklyn Artists Alliance, a non-profit organization that helps artists exhibit, document, and distribute their art. As an artist, he has worked with a range of mediums, including collage, drawing, printing, photography, and performance art, addressing themes relating to politics, society, social justice, and identity. As a curator for Booklyn, Weber assembles works from other artists, which are exhibited at Booklyn’s own gallery as well as other museums, universities, and libraries. An integral philosophy that is rooted in Weber’s art and curation is the exploration of social justice issues to affect change and influence communities.

We’ve noticed that you have worked with a myriad of mediums throughout your career. What do you believe binds them together?

I feel I have a rough "arte povera" style that almost always incorporates collage, up-cycling, recycling, concerns about the relation of the work to the audience subjectively and/or materially, and often explores political and social issues from a personal perspective (not necessarily my own but often via the subjectivity of the portrayed people in the artwork). My work is also almost exclusively figurative and/or portraiture except for the more painterly landscape work. My aesthetic is rough, I like the evidence of the human hand and mind in all artwork. I like things that are both urban and organic.

I also feel that via my performance, dance, video, poetry and calligraphy and artists books I’m often creating work that is intimate, tactile and addressing the interface between the personal and the political.

(As a child I started my art career in ceramic sculpture and modern theater so tactile issues, issues of audience and performance and gesture are always present in my work.)

Though my work varies in terms of media I feel almost all my creations whether poetry, performance, artists books, photography, curating, etc. etc. reflect a distinct style.

I’m a child of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, in part my deep education in modern and contemporary art, especially art associated with social justice or pop culture movements, Soviet Constructivism and Realism, Dada, Fluxus, Tropicalia, Psychedelia, Pop, Conceptual, The Women’s movement, Punk, New Wave, graffiti, the aforementioned arte povera, the video reportage and street performance art movement, ACT-UP and Queer Theory, the Chicano art movement, Black Power culture, Native American cosmologies, Buddhism, etc. etc. all are reflected in a style of work that seeks both spiritual and political engagement. My wife’s work in radical early childhood development, theory and pedagogy ( has provided me with a lifetime of theoretical understanding of the relationship between culture and education that I don’t think I could have received from anywhere or anyone else, I feel that the rigorous intellectual engagement I learned from her helps me keep a thread of conceptual and theory-based continuity through my own work. And since her work focuses on the relationship of play and creativity and learning her knowledge has catalyzed a meta-level of awareness of the creative process that is ubiquitous in my artwork at its best.

Are there any recurring themes or issues that you try to address in your pieces and/or collaborations?

Social and environmental justice, the role of art, popular and alternative culture in social justice movements and the relationship between language and life, the relationship between the personal and the political, the figure, the representation of identity, and on and on…

You work as both an artist and curator; how do these different roles overlap or influence each other?

I consider my curating a form of art making, it’s basically assemblage or collage, I usually curate very specific thematic exhibitions that illuminate a specific cultural moment or issue and posit alternatives, solutions, and more questions. Often my curating is about activating the collections of an institution as a form of social practice or engagement with a community. I feel my larger curatorial work as a form of social sculpture, forming international networks of creative people and groups that can affect social change. I consider the two artists organizations I co-founded, Artists Television Access in San Francisco and Booklyn in Brooklyn as major artworks evolved from my creative practice.

I’m grateful to be able to be a curator, project designer and activist, it informs every single part of my art making and vice-versa. Social issues, activist projects, protest, fundraising, conflict resolution, harm reduction, trauma and recovery, resource provision, community capacity building are all matters that have aesthetic, political, and cultural components. Thinking about these matters from imaginative and creative perspectives is a challenge and a compelling responsibility for any creative person.

How has your experience impacted how you view others’ and your own work while creating and collecting it?

Yes, I feel that I have learned that binary constructions of culture, good/bad, craft/art, public/private, political/not political, abstract/figurative, text/image, high/low, are artificial and that all culture and life takes place on complicated spectrums, the goal is balance, not the formation of exclusive and limiting hierarchies of cultural production.

I also feel that all creative practice is informed by identity, privilege, health, social engagement, problematic social constructions of spiritual beliefs, race and class. I also feel my art work has been deeply impacted by my being a father, and struggling to be a good parent, and the relationship with my daughter who is also an artist and who I have had the joy of being able to collaborate with on various artists books projects. Having a child and parenting itself is a creative act, this is obvious and yet so complex; seeing my daughter make art as part of playing, and vice-versa was evocative and impressive.

Currently the most shocking re-revelation recently (though it is substantiated by decades of experience) is the ubiquity of white supremacy in the art world of the United States and Europe and the influence of misogyny on global art and popular culture production. The complicity of both the academic and commercial art world's in keeping this hegemony normalized as well as unveiling of specific global economic structures, such as the use of the art world as a laundry for narco-trifficante and arms dealing money and as a tax shelter for the mega-rich, has deeply affected how I feel about all art and education practice.

As someone who partakes in various visual and performing art forms, what about book arts appeals to you as an artistic platform?

For me the artists' book is a platform to integrate every other medium I have ever worked in,

  • its often a vehicle for poetry and thus calligraphy,

  • like theater and dance it is gestural in that the audience commits both time and physical engagement and activates the artwork in handling it,

  • like performance art it is intimate and literally in your face as you hold the book close,  

  • its sequential like video and film, and often employs tactics and strategies of cinematic and photographic language,

  • the book is historically rooted in traditions of both painting and printmaking,

  • it is an icon and vehicle for spiritual discovery,

  • I like that the artists book demands so much of the audience

I went from focusing on street performance art to focusing on making artists books, it was a very smooth transition and I often integrate the two practices which are for me rooted a bit in punk socially conscious, anti-authoritarian and anti-commodity attitudes. I love the punk attitude of making an intimate and sometimes precious artifact that needs to be handled, is difficult to commodify, seems essentially about sharing and democratic production, and ignores the conventions of both the fetishistic bibliophile world of vitrines and ‘fine’ press and the appropriating and commodifying maw of the venal art world of billionaire oligarchs. That punk attitude of every book ever made, "you have to destroy me a little teeny tiny bit every time you use me…”, the honesty of a medium that has a shelf life, that reflects both human form (foot, spine, text body) and human mortality.

How do you continue to find inspiration throughout your extensive career to stay current and keep pushing forward in a constantly evolving field?

I am incredibly lucky and in part privileged to be able to work in academia and the public and grassroots art world, as well as being able to travel extensively. I’m just inspired every day by the social and creative work that human beings and other species do. I’m like a shark, I can’t stand being bored, I’m attracted to new shiny ideas and passion and complexity and joy. I think there is a very close connection between gratitude, inspiration and creativity and I try to work on that connection every day through meditation and creative practice.

I feel that as an artist I am responsible for using my creative powers for the good, it is my job to be inspired, to imagine, to seed beauty and justice, to pay attention to both my elder and youth culture. Again, I am so lucky that I have this job as an artist and curator that is mostly about people sharing NEW things with me and me sharing my new things with them.

In reference to your collaborative pieces like Diamond Leaves (2012) and On Evaluating Black Privilege (2017), why do you value bringing together art from different cultures through the book art form?

I love fractal complexity, exhibiting an illuminated 16th Century Koran next to a contemporary hand drawn graffiti book is to show the resonance of human culture, that curatorial gesture is a creative act, it’s a homage to the continuity of culture. I’m such a ridiculous optimist I really believe that by appreciating the diversity of culture, by comparing the differences of specific human cultural production we learn the similarity of human experience, how can this not make us more compassionate and appreciative?

Throughout your career, how has art’s ability to motivate its audience and enact change in the social sphere evolved?

In one important way it has not changed, art was, is and always will be and expression of human joy and human misery and the goal of having more of the former and diminishing the impact of the later. I feel that specific art movements have been more conscious about articulating how art is used as a tool of emotional and social change. For instance the current art build movement as modelled by the social practice of activist artists like David Solnit, uses a completely pragmatic vernacular that constructs art making as a pedagogy for educating the public via magnifying the impact of actions and protests of social justice groups.

I think the current cultural moment, the rising of the Wikileak, Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements will provide a chance for both art education and the art world to reconsider its primary role as a money laundry and entertainment commodity for global oligarchs, and perhaps to refocus some of these billions of dollars away from the wealthy art dealers and back into public cultural economies. These super structural issues are just as important as the specific aesthetic and social issues that coalesce around every artwork.

As a co-founder, what do you see the focus of Booklyn as? We noticed that many pieces pertain to social justice, is that an integral part of Booklyn’s personality?

I personally see (other staff might differ, so I’m speaking for myself here, not as a Booklyn representative) Booklyn’s primary focus as being to support artists’ and artist/activist organizations who are:

  • working in the artists’ book form in all its manifestations, from zine to unique illuminated manuscript, including: box sets and unbound portfolios and broadsides.

  • working in other works on paper media, especially prints and photography, but also collage, drawing and painting,

  • working in an activist, social practice modality, or working in a committed fashion on subjects of social and environmental justice.

I feel that Booklyn’s founders all had various creative, professional and personal commitments to addressing social justice issues, with approaches ranging from social commentary to direct action. Equity, diversity, consensus, and collective practice were in the founding moments, and remain, integral to Booklyn’s culture and personality.