“What influences have the characteristics of my body had on my life? And what influence can I, in turn, have on my body?” are some of the recurring questions in German illustrator Marijpol’s practice. Both the physical aspects of being female, as well as the many societal expectations it brings, play a key part in her work, which is strongly informed by gender norms, motherhood, family and friendship. Her investigations into such themes are often played out through her cast of weird and wonderful characters. “Different inner voices of mine are represented by the characters so that I can look at them from a distance,” she explains. “I don’t necessarily understand everything they say, but that doesn’t matter. The self-reflection that occurs in the creative process is really my motivation.”
In her recent project for French illustration magazine Lagon Revue, Marijpol explores these ideas in an eight-page love story titled Acrylics on Love. As always, her visual work is preceded by a deep dive into a wide array of inspirations, including classical sculpture, H.C. Andersen’s fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, an image of a sexually ambiguous silhouette from a Louis Vuitton runway show, and a pink acrylic nail she found on the street. Together, they help to shape the three protagonists of the story – a giant muscular woman made of marble, a tiny nail artist, and a baby swan. “Why this combination of characters is starring in a tragic love story with a cruel twist, is not so clear, even to me,” says Marijpol. “My fantasy was to tell a story of true and pure love and loyalty between two very different people, which I find incredibly touching.”
In this series of illustrations, which have been digitally illustrated in her usual monochromatic palette, we can see how the themes that guide Marijpol’s work are interwoven with elements of dark comedy. We feel for her characters as they attempt to navigate a strange and difficult relationship, and yet aspects of the story are undeniably funny. A nail artist is hopelessly in love with a marble statue, bringing her so many new acrylic nails to try on that they start to appear overgrown. The loyalty is endearing but it is hard not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. And herein lies one of the core methods of Marijpol’s approach – creating tension between the mundane and the bizarre, between comedy and tragedy.
Elsewhere in her work, friendship and the overcoming of adversity are equally as important to her visual narrative. In Making Friends, created for the seventh release of art publication Mould Map, Marijpol takes inspiration from the issue’s theme of “Pantropy”, a hypothetical process of space colonisation whereby humans are modified to suit their environment, as opposed to the process of terraforming in which the environment is altered for human habitation. “The concept really inspired me because I saw a connection with the graphic novel I am working on [due to be released in 2022],” she says. “The question was also how the body we have influences our life, and to what extent we need to modify our bodies to live well.”
The story features three female characters from Marijpol’s forthcoming book, each with bodies that shape their stories – one fat, one muscular, and one with modified snake limbs. In Making Friends, she invents their metaphysical origins and the story of their meeting. “This tale works on a more mythical level than the graphic novel, in which the three women are more or less regular people with human bodies,” she explains. Here, each of the three women helps to “make each other” – both by making friends and by helping to make each other’s bodies. They go through pain and prevail, integrating parts of the obstacles that they have faced into their physical makeup in a way that strengthens them. Their story again reveals Marijpol’s fascination with the physical. “The most cohesive theme probably is the relationship with a body – body perceptions, obsessions, modifications and transformations,” she says.
Coupled with Marijpol’s artistic influences – from Buster Keaton’s physical style of comedy and the exaggerated performances of German silent cinema, to the transformative nature of RuPaul’s Drag Race – another crucial tension in her work becomes clear: the spiritual and the corporeal. Among the many other questions around which her practice revolves, the inextricable though often strained relationship between the body and the soul is arguably the most central theme. She constantly seeks to understand how the body affects identity, and to what extent, if at all, we can have control over this. “I can totally relate to the [RuPaul] contestants navigating questions like, who am I really, and who would I rather be?” she says. “What makes me different from the next person, how do people see me, and how important is that to me?”
Marijpol: Making Friends (Copyright © Marijpol, 2018)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.