'Unseen Splendor,' opening Downtown at Blockfort on Friday, Aug. 2, explores the female form, censorship

At some point, artist Cassidy Rae Marietta started to notice a familiar cycle repeating itself. She would create a piece of art and upload the image to various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, only to have it inevitably flagged and removed. (Marietta’s digital paintings are heavily centered on the female form, which has been notoriously prone to social media censorship, even within the realm of art.)

In response, several of the paintings in Marietta’s new exhibit, “Unseen Splendor,” which opens Downtown at Blockfort on Friday, Aug. 2, include nipples covered by crocheted flowers, not only toying with the idea of skirting archaic digital rules, but reiterating that the human form is as natural as the plants and flowers growing in the wild.

“It’s dangerous territory when [companies] can make the decision about what is censored,” Marietta said. “A lot of people rely on those platforms for education. … I’ve had my work removed from a handful of sites, which is damaging for my career, as well as for other artists.”

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The exhibit started with a commission from a French brewery to create a label for one of its beers (the colorful, almost-bejeweled piece, “Fertility,” hangs alone on the south wall of the exhibit) and then started to snowball in Marietta’s mind as she considered not only the concept of censorship, but the current political environment in which Ohio legislators are pushing restrictive anti-abortion laws that rob women of their agency. From there, paintings started to emerge quickly, with the artist creating enough work to fill the gallery space in little more than a month.

Typically, Marietta begins work on a larger canvas, creating a stark black-and-white image with a Micron felt tip pen. She’ll then scan it into a computer to colorize it digitally. From there, the work can take on myriad forms, with some even existing as gifs that include either animated features or swirl with psychedelic color.

But for this exhibit, Marietta left a handful of pieces in their earliest form, the lack of color adding a rawness and vulnerability to the women, whose faces project both strength and femininity. Other works were scanned, colorized and printed in large formats, with Marietta then going back in and embellishing the pieces with everything from puff paint to yarn, giving the works a textural, bedazzled appearance.

“I tend to overwork things, so I had to just step back many times with this body of work and just leave it alone,” Marietta said.

Through the collected pieces, particular themes repeat, with skeletal figures appearing in a handful of paintings, further highlighting the vitality of the women gracing the canvases.

“I love the female form, and this series explores struggles women have during their child-bearing years,” Marietta said, gesturing to the black and white pieces hung on the east wall. “It’s a raw concept, so with this sequence, specifically, I didn’t want any embellishing. I wanted it to be very straightforward. … Being a woman, I feel like some of that [strength and agency] has been taken away from all of us, especially in this political climate.”

Marietta's art is a first step toward reclaiming a degree of that control. Just be sure to see it in person, since Instagram and others might not otherwise let you.