Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Art of Dissection: A moment with Marie Sena and her knack for cutting things up.

So, there you are in the doctor’s office, waiting for what seems like forever, in silence, staring at the drawings on the wall of the human body. The diagrams have little words that you’ll never pronounce correctly, and body parts that you never think about until you get sick, or break one of them. Have you ever thought about who drew this picture, this oh, so familiar image that you’ve seen in class and on television specials? How do they know what it looks like? What kind of people sit and stare at dissected organs and draw all the little fat cells, nerve endings, ligaments, and mussels? Who does that? Marie Sena. That’s who.

Marie Sena’s not your average, run of the mill artist. Classically trained, she not only creates scientific illustrations, but dabbles in fine art and tattooing. Marie started her journey into the art world at a very young age, drawing with her mother.

“She stayed home with me,” she recalls, “and we drew all day, and I remember always wanting things to be with high heels. ‘Mom, draw me a swing-set with high heels!’ Everything had to have high heels, so we would just draw ridiculous crap and, what do you know… I’m drawing ridiculous crap right now!”

Besides her mother, her greatest influence is a New York painter by the name of Eric White. His work caught her attention as “freaky, but beautiful. Super-realistic.”

“Once I really started studying him,” Marie admits, “I decided that I really needed to start painting. I have to do something with my life, I can’t just make little things, and forget about them.”

In such a demanding field, school, obviously, has taken a giant role in her life.

“Sweet god!” she exclaims. “I’ve been through so much school. I feel like I’ve lived a billion years, but I’m glad I went through the super-formal-old-school [training]. I’m talkin carbon dust, scrapin crap off and dusting it around, airbrush, and things with quills, pens, pen nips, and ink bottles. Things that no one would use today. They’d be like ‘What? No. F*$! that…Photoshop!’”

Her schooling has included everything from sketching vegetation to cutting up human bodies.

“I went to undergrad for biological, scientific art. Drawing plants, and leaves, and trees, and shit, in Iowa of all places, don’t ask me how I ended up there. It was drug-induced, drinking induced, and I ended up in Iowa. Somehow, I stumbled into this crazy science illustration world and really loved it, and didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with it. Someone told me that my major should naturally lead me to medical illustration: that’s where people go. There’s five schools around the country that do it, and one of them was [in] Texas. So, I ended up down here, and now I’m getting my master’s. This is what I do all day long. I dissect dead things. I’m basically going to med school. I cut things up, watch surgery, and then I draw [for] the rest of the day. It’s a very bizarre lifestyle, but that’s what I do for my job, and what a
cool, weird, interesting thing that not too many people know about. What a cool thing to stumble into.

The smell’s not cool. I had to throw away everything that I touched during the semester that we did anatomy. It was pretty nasty. You’d come home with bits of people on you . Like little bits of fat. It’s pretty retched. One of my classmates, when she was in her dissection class, put the bodies in these big six-foot long tanks. Little bathtubs for the body. You have to flip them open and raise them up with this creepy medieval crank. She slipped and lost hold of her crank and all the body juice went splash! She opened her mouth and turned, so she got a mouthful of body juice. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m glad it didn’t happen to me. Antics ensue when you cut things up!”

Some artists have rituals before working on a piece. Due to the complexity of her subject matter, Marie surrounds herself with textbooks.

“I don’t pray and light candles,” confesses Marie, “but I really have to be alone. I can’t do this with anyone else around me. I have to do things with a lot of references. Even when I’m doing my fine art stuff, it’s reference, reference, reference. It’s me, a table with a foot and a half of actual drawing space, and books, books, books. It’s a wall [of books] and a little bit of drawing space.”

Marie’s first show was “Meat Market” at Nine Eyes Studio in August of 2005.

Mark Merchant, founder of Nine Eyes Studio, gave Marie her first opportunity to strut her stuff in a local gallery.

“Good old Mark, being such a sweet man, totally floored me. I pretty much peed my pants. It was my very first art show. I’ve been in college shows, but who the hell goes to those? No one.

Parents, that’s who. And so I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’m not a business person. I don’t know how these things go, and so of course I got way too drunk , not appropriate gallery behavior for my first show, but I’m learning along the way. Slowly. But, yeah, it was Mark that gave me my first show, and ever since then I’ve been pretty steady. It was the weirdest thing. All I had to do was break that first show point, and things started to happen. It was the weirdest, weirdest little chain of events, but I totally give him full credit for starting me.”

When you first meet Marie, you notice the stunning quarter sleeve on her right arm. Ever the multitasker, she also finds time to practice the art of tattooing.

“Really it is the hardest thing to get into. Talk about a guarded industry. Very much so. I had to beg and plead for many years, and I’ve been hanging around for a long time with limited success, very limited.”

Her first tattoo was given to her at the age of fifteen by a guy named Richie Rich.

“He looked and talked like Cheech Marin,” Marie giggles. “He had this little travel roll-cart of tattoo equipment, and a sidekick called Too-Short. Richie gave me a little frog on my back, and of course and I [thought], ‘Oh, yeah! It’s so cool.’ He was my homeboy. Richie went on to tattoo most of my entire back. He would call me up and say, ‘Hey, Marie,’” she tells me in a horribly fake Hispanic accent, “Because that’s how Cheech Marin talks of course, ‘You need to get me some business!”’ All my friends got tattooed by him too. I don’t even know if he’s still around, but his work still is. That’s part of getting tattooed. Everybody gets shitty tattoos. You’re like, ‘Check this out!

This looks like hell. Someone threw up on me, and it’s made of ink!’ It’s there forever. It’s a story to tell your grandkids, as to what you shouldn’t get tattooed.”

She’s been slowly breaking into the world of tattooing, and is now an apprentice under the direction of Mark Merchant at Nine Eyes Studio.

Since she spends a vast majority of her time either at school, studying, or working on her intricate pieces, she has little time for gallivanting with other artists and musicians in the area. However; some of the local people she admires include Mark Nelson, Mark Merchant, Chad Hoberer, Matsum Plumber, Erica Felachela, Havi Frost, and Frank Campagna, most of whom are friends and/or associates. Favorite local bands encompass Lazer, Frankie 45, Dragna , and Screaming Red.

Like all good women, Marie has small sock fetish, and, suitably, her favorite socks are covered in bones.

“My bone socks!” she squeals, and hitches up her pant leg so I can get a full view. “My bone socks are my favorite socks. They’re the greatest socks I’ve ever seen. They are a black knee-high pair that have the complete bones of the foot and lower leg. On the bottom they have the reflexology chart in case anybody wants to rub my stinky, stinky feet. They smell like Fritos. I always wondered why feet smell like Fritos, or why Fritos smell like feet. The resemblance is uncanny.”

Marie Sena is a self-proclaimed nerd. “A Discovery Channel watching, Sesame Street loving… all that embarrassing stuff that you wouldn’t do in front of people. Hours of PBS viewing. Still, to this day, if Nova comes on, I’m like, ‘Shut the f*$! up everybody. It’s Nova.’ I love it. Being a huge nerd is how I got interested [in biomedical illustration], because no one knows about what I do. People just go to the doctor’s office and see stuff on the wall. They see an animation, or open up a text book, and no one really knows how it gets there.”

-written by Alison Marie Welsh
-interview conducted by Alison Marie Welsh and Janelle Tohill
-pics from

You can see more works by Marie at

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