To Japan and Back: The Art of Orr Marshall

By Orr Marshall

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How many ways are there to interpret an idea, to present a vision? The artist Orr Marshall's exploration of these questions is the subject of this book in text and images. Like most children, he began drawing pictures as soon as he could hold a pencil or a crayon, depicting the weird creatures of his imagination. He maintained a concentration on art through school, majoring in painting at Yale School of Art and Architecture where Josef Albers was his most inspiring teacher. Another interest of his was language study, especially Japanese and Chinese with their writing systems and calligraphy. He taught art in the San Francisco area, where he continued learning those languages. Then with a scholarship from the Japanese government he went to the National University of the Arts in Tokyo to study for a year and a half.

Orr Marshall finds inspiration in many places—especially in imagination and dreams; also in everyday surroundings when he sees promising source material. Ranging in technique from realism to semi-abstraction, he challenges himself further with questions and goals such as:

  • Could he paint entirely in patterns of colored dots yet retain a recognizable subject?
  • Could he depict nudes—essentially curvilinear—made entirely of squares and rectangles of varied sizes?
  • Could he turn the amorphous dreams of his mind's eye into something solid and believable for all to see?
  • As a Westerner, could he mix scenes of modern Japan with traditional imagery, labeled with names of places and characters (including his signature) in various styles of Japanese calligraphy?


These are a few examples of his approaches to art that require extensive preparatory sketches, drawings, paintings, to figure out how to do them. Along the way, through his trial studies he often discovers new ideas, new color combinations, leading him to yet other works. So he goes on creating, spurred by a constant flow of inspiration.



Publication Date

Spring 4-2019


The Press at Cal Poly Humboldt


Arcata, CA


Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Painting | Sculpture

Recommended Citation

Marshall, Orr, "To Japan and Back: The Art of Orr Marshall" (2019). Archives & Reprint Series (imprint). 6.


Art From to Japan and Back
Art From to Japan and Back