Marley Myles, better known as Miss Marley, is a self-taught artist from New South Wales, Australia, whose work is inspired by fairy tales, mythology, and symbolism. She works across different mediums including hand embroidery and ink drawing, always bringing a combination of whimsy and humanity to each piece she creates. In this interview, she shares how tattoos played a role in her development as an artist, what she has learned from her sons, and how activism and art intersect for her.
Kathryn: As a self-taught artist, have you ever taken art classes?
Miss Marley: I was lucky to grow up in a childhood home that was essentially a full-time artist residence. Every day offered an opportunity to dance, make music, eat from our garden, create art, and connect with the many interesting people who were always dropping by. In that sense, making art has always been a part of my life.
That said, I took a high school art course that I found to be quite rigid in its interpretation and delivery. It felt completely irrelevant to what I wanted to express and how I wished to approach art. During this time, I began drawing regularly as something that I could do for myself, approaching art in the way that made sense to me. Drawing for me is my way to understand, connect, and relate to the world; it is where I feel most at home.
Kathryn: So your whole family is creative?
Miss Marley: If you took a snapshot of my close and extended family and what they love to do, it would include music, painting, sculpture, animation, theater, fashion, writing, research, medicine, and teaching. I am very lucky to have such a supportive and inspiring family!
Kathryn: When did you begin recognizing yourself as an artist?
Miss Marley: One of the turning points in my relationship with my art was in my twenties, when I had my artwork tattooed on my body. It was, in a way, the first “publishing” of my work. It was a crucial part of the process of claiming my body as well as my path as an artist.
Towards the end of 2014, I made the commitment to focus on making a living from my art. I had been working in early childhood education, teaching kids flamenco classes. That was in combination with starting my own Etsy store and being a Mum. I wasn’t able to find the time to make music and art, time that was so important to me. I really wanted to be able to find that time so I quit my day job and became a full-time artist.
Kathryn: What advice can you offer to girls or young women struggling to claim the title of artist for themselves?
Miss Marley: It took me a while to claim the word artist for myself. It should have been easy in a sense because of my background, but it was challenging! It may sound obvious, but my advice is to view your time as a gift, choose to use that time to get stuck into your art and really work. Even if you can only give it 10 minutes a day, use that 10 minutes and show up for yourself and your art.
Kathryn: Where has your work been exhibited or sold?
Miss Marley: I have exhibited my work locally and interstate in Australia as well as online. Whether selling online or in person, I am always grateful when people connect with my work. Being able to reach a worldwide audience online is magic and I love that just as much as I enjoy selling in person.
Kathryn: How does the area where you live in Australia influence your work?
Miss Marley: Living in such a peaceful place, with beautiful natural surroundings, provides me with a generous amount of creative space and energy to work. There are recurring natural elements in my work inspired in part by my surroundings. Mountains and the sky, especially storms, often find their way into my work.
Kathryn: Is there support for the arts in the area?
Miss Marley: I live in a regional area, which is renowned for its creativity and alternative lifestyle, and there is a thriving art scene here. However, it is also a low socio-economic area and whilst creativity is celebrated, it’s not easy to make a living from your art. Our current government has stripped a lot of funding from the arts sector and this impacts opportunities for all artists and creative industries around Australia.
Kathryn: How does art intersect with activism for you?
Miss Marley: My art is my voice; it is a visual representation of my response to what I am feeling.
I see art / creativity as a form of activism; it becomes a revolutionary act in itself. Whilst it is an opportunity to create a conversation, or question the status quo, art also has the potential to bring about real change. For me, this is not only exciting but essential. This year I have explored embroidery and find that the melding of this traditionally female art form with a contemporary perspective is an exciting space to work within. That mix itself creates an explosive array of constructs and narratives.
Kathryn: Speaking of narratives, you’ve that said storytelling is an important component of your work. Can you share more about that?
Miss Marley: My work often tells a story of feelings and emotions through the characters, who come to life as I draw them. At times I feel I have a story or emotion I am narrating through drawing; at other times it’s as though I am discovering a tale as I draw. For me, storytelling through my art is a way to understand and connect with human experiences and offer these to others.
Kathryn: Would you say that each of your characters has their own individual story?
Miss Marley: Some do, but for the most part they share general traits. They have a similar fragility and vulnerability, which at first glance could appear as maybe too delicate, but on closer look it becomes clear that they are warrior women. They are unyielding and resolute in their journey. They are curious, determined and not always of this world.
Kathryn: Your work has been great influenced by fairy tales and mythology. How have they impacted you as a female artist? What is your favorite fairy tale?
Miss Marley: In most fairy tales, women are passive and the stories appear to mirror the ways in which society oppresses women. I find this relevant today; just as in fairy tales, women are required to draw on an inner strength to overcome obstacles or challenges in an artful way.
I love how fairy tales are timeless, how they mix magic and harsh reality. I have always enjoyed the Grimm’s fairy tales, in particular ‘Rapunzel’. Not only has she provided great hair inspiration but I also respect Rapunzel as a character; she finds her voice and is a survivor. I am also fascinated with stories of Baba Yaga and her house with chicken legs. I am enchanted by the tales from One Thousand and One Nights. And although it is not really considered a fairy tale, Alice in Wonderland has always been a favorite of mine.
There is definitely an emotional escapism to enjoying these stories, but not necessarily an intellectual one, so there is an opportunity to process the deeper meanings of them in a powerful way using artwork. As an artist, I use metaphors to explore deeper issues. On the surface my work has a whimsical, child-like quality, but on a closer look it delves into more dense and dark aspects of human experience. In that way it can appeal to a wide audience; some may think it’s ‘cute’ and others will drop in deeper, much like occurs with a fairy tale.
Kathryn: We spoke earlier about your family of origin and their immense creativity. You also have your own family (children) right? Are they also creative? How have you balanced motherhood and being a full-time artist?
Miss Marley: My partner and I had our two sons in our early twenties; they are now aged 13 and 10. Becoming a mother continues to be the most rewarding and challenging experience I have in my life. It grounds me and I learn so much about the world through my sons. Both my sons and my partner are very productive with their own creativity, so we share an understanding of the process and time it takes to make art/ music. There is a mutual respect there between all of us.
I find I need to be alone in order to really delve into my work. I put on music and let me mind go. It’s the most liberating, beautiful feeling to have that space to work. I schedule my day so I have that time in the morning when my sons are at school and work again later at night on other projects such as embroidery. It can be hard to ‘switch off’ when you work for yourself and I find I am constantly learning how to manage this along the way.
I am very lucky that my partner is not only a great Dad, but is both an inspiration and supporter of my work. He helps me with many practical aspects of my work, such as exposing screens for screen printing and helping me with framing. He provides me with encouragement and humor, which is the best! We approach everything as a team. This includes parenting, work, art and life. This makes it more possible to try to find that work/life balance.
I am also very lucky to have my supportive extended family. Both my immediate and extended family offer enduring strength and love and are an endless source of inspiration.
Kathryn: What do you most hope to pass along to your sons?
Miss Marley: It’s funny, the things I hope to teach and pass on as a mother are the things I have learnt, or developed more deeply from my sons – to be brave, to stand up to injustice, to care for yourself, others and the environment. And to be curious … to play, explore, love and live!
Kathryn: You mentioned the environment. One of the things that is important to you as an artist has been that your work is “ethical and sustainable”. What does this mean to you?
Miss Marley: I believe how we spend our money has the capacity to empower or dis-empower others; it shapes the world we want to live in. Sourcing sustainable and ethically made materials is an important part of my practice. I have a range of T-shirts that I hand screen print with water-based inks. These are sweatshop free and some are manufactured using renewable energy sources. My coloring books and greeting cards are printed on Australian-made, 100% recycled paper. I source my range of pillowcases from a small, family business and they are made with 100% organic cotton.
Kathryn: Let’s pay it forward … who are some of the artists that inspire you?
Miss Marley: Vali Myers has long been an inspiration to me. Her work and her wild spirit resonated with me when I first discovered her in my teens. I was lucky enough to visit her in her studio in Melbourne, I would draw pictures and write little poems for her. Her work is beautiful.
Mab Graves also inspires me. Her work is amazing and beautiful. Mab offers a generosity in her practice that I admire, along with an enduring strength to continue her work as she is challenged by and brings awareness to serious health issues she experiences.
And finally, Frida Kahlo will always be an inspiration for me for her courage and strength as both a woman and artist.