Lesli Marshall is a Curator based out of Dallas, Texas. Her kinetically energetic personality keeps her busy organizing shows, curating hotels, and helping large businesses become closer to their culture through art. She’s not your average artists, nor your average business woman. She is a strong cocktail of many different skills and attributes. A real Renaissance Woman.
Here, I talked to her on the bottom floor of Touba London’s Paris Showroom, about her process of curating, Dallas, and the next big art movement, surrounded by the art of Samantha McCurdy, Marie Heléne Boone, Matthew Brinston, Drew Merritt, and Micah Crandall-Bear.
Crawford: Have you had coffee yet?
Lesli: Yeah, I had some with some friends before I got here.
Crawford: Oh nice
Crawford: The art in here looks amazing. You really did a great job.
Lesli: Thank you so much, we couldn’t have done it without all of the awesome artists that we are showing!
Crawford: So many great artists! It’s kinda crazy that so many of them came from our neck of the woods.
Lesli: Oh yeah, for sure. There are so many great artists around us.
Crawford: How old were you when you got into art?
Lesli: I actually got started in art my freshman year of College. So I actually started out by being self-taught, messing around with creating stuff.
Crawford: What was your first medium?
Lesli: My first medium was ummmm… let me think… honestly mixed media!
Lesli: I was like using paints, and charcoal, and fabric, and all kinds of stuff.
Crawford: I’ve always found it really good for any person trying to find their own style to kinda just mix everything together, until they find out what they are best at. Sometimes their best is mixing everything together.
Lesli: Yeah, exactly! I’m still using all kinds of mixed media.
Crawford: Who’s your favorite artists?
Lesli: Well I would have to say Basquiat, because that was the first artist I was really introduced to. Nowadays I feel like it’s really cliché to say that, but when I started art, my family didn’t really understand it because it was more abstract, but when I saw Basquiat’s work and I saw his child-like manner, and I saw that he had meaning behind it, I was encouraged.
Crawford: Do you have an algorithm for curating?
Lesli: I think that it really depends on the space that I’m in, the artists that I’m working with, and the theme of the show as well. Let’s take this show for example.
Crawford: Yeah, perfect
Lesli: So for this show I knew it was going to be during Fashion Week, so I wanted to incorporate a mix of artists, who all have different types of styles. I thought about this because with fashion being in this show, all of the designers have different style, so if I chose different styles of artists, it would bring out the textures in each of the designers work. Using sculpture, photo-realism, video, minimalism, abstract, etc., each of the designers would latch onto something.
Crawford: Is this your first time curating an art show that has clothing integrated in with it?
Lesli: It’s not! Well it’s my first for a showroom, but like six or seven years ago, I used to team up with Dallas fashion designers and we had a huge runway show. I was the artist every year, and models would wear my paintings and then their bodies were painted along with the paintings. I really enjoyed doing that.
Crawford: Did you have to think differently than normal in order to curate, because of the fact that there is clothing integrated into it?
Lesli: I think because it was the first time teaming up here, I really wanted to push it. I had such a great team, it helped with the ability to put the show on. I’m from Texas and some of the artists are from Texas, so I wanted to go big. Like go big or go home, you know?
Lesli: There’s also a lot of great work coming out of the States right now, so I wanted to spotlight that and put it in a setting that it would really stand out.
Crawford: Yeah, for sure. No better place for American art to stand out than Europe.
Crawford: What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Lesli: So it’s kind of a tie. I would say between Morocco and Philippines.
Crawford: I’ve always wanted to go to Morocco.
Lesli: You have to go. There’s so much for you to see. The colors, the food, the people, the architecture, the fabrics, everything. It’s sensory overload all the time. I loved it so much. Maybe Morocco’s my favorite. Yeah.
Crawford: Has travel affected how you see curation, like for example, how travel affects an artists?
Lesli: I think the more that you travel, and the more cultures you get introduced to, and just the experiences you have around the world really affect your eye. I think you evolve into seeing certain artists or maybe certain styles that you may have not seen or recognized before.
Lesli: I would say travel has left the biggest impact on my life, and my view of art.
Crawford: What do you think the next big art movement is going to be?
Lesli: Oh gosh. Well there’s such a huge movement right now with artists becoming really smart and creating businesses from their craft. There’s a lot of artists that I work with who did fine art, but are moving into street art, and now they’re moving into making objects that can purchased. So it’s this huge movement of artists becoming entrepreneurs, which I love.
Crawford: Yeah, I was just talking to somebody just recently about how when Warhol started the idea of art marketing, where everything was strategized. He had that whole thought of “I want more Warhol’s in homes than television sets.”
Crawford: It’s gotten to the point where artists are becoming household names, and I love that.
Lesli: I do too. There’s so many ways to capitalize on your craft. I’ve been running a business and doing that for 12 years now. There are so many avenues that artists can take. Thats something I do, is educate artists on how to create businesses out of their craft, because business has become so much of art.
Crawford: I recently watched a BBC special with Tracey Emin, and she talked about how people probably think all she does it paint away in her studio, but they don’t realize that the studio is 4 floors, and on one of the other floors she has a room full of people on computers selling her work, organizing gallery and museum shows, and so on.
Crawford: There’s so much business strategy, because if you wanting to keep on painting, you have to sell some. Canvas gets expensive!
Lesli: Yes! Absolutely!
Crawford: So why curating? What got you into that?
Lesli: You know it’s funny, I started out as a mixed media artist, but then started my own design firm. In the beginning I was just doing a lot of hotel bars and restaurants. I was consulting with other designers for these spaces and then over the years it really evolved into me curating spaces using site specific pieces, working with artists, collaborating with fabricators, and more.
Lesli: I'm still designing restaurants, but I love being able to, not only as an artist, but like being able to collaborate with other artists whose work I love. It's something where I can team up with them and bring them in on certain projects, or have this crazy idea for one of the hotels that I'm doing and I'll know exactly which artist I want to work with. I love being able to collaborate with other artists and create a platform for them and create opportunities for creatives.
Crawford: And I feel that sort of makes curation an art form. Its the same way with sculpture, or even painting, where you have to sort of figure out the painting. There is an ending place for everything in order to give you satisfaction as an artist.
Lesli: I think it comes back to even just that design element as well. I’m not normally the person on a project who’s all match match. Normally I want a piece to stand out, but also fit in. It’s kind of that push and pull of “Wow, this piece is amazing and it feels right in this space,” but it’s not like matching the sofa or something.
Crawford: Yeah, I agree
Lesli: I want people to want to talk about it and for it to stand out.
Crawford: Yeah, there’s not necessarily a place for everything, but there is that place it does not work.
Lesli: Since I was young, I’ve always had an eye for design or color. I could just put things together that looked right. Even if it looked kinda off but it felt right, so I would still wear it, like oh well.
Crawford: I’ve always felt if someone can pull off wearing plaid and stripes at the same time, that’s really cool. It’s that whole “who cares?” feeling.
Lesli: Yeah, I think that awesome. You can pull that off.
Crawford: I’ve been working on it.
Crawford: Where do you see Dallas, Texas in the next ten years?
Lesli: Well I’ve been there pretty much my entire life. In the last ten years, there’s been major growth.
Crawford: Oh my goodness, so much has changed in just the past five years.
Lesli: Dallas has really opened up to be this amazing forward thinking hub, major base for entrepreneurs, with an incredible amount of artists and creatives of all sorts. There is so much opportunity that it is just overflowing, and these artists get to tap into it.
Lesli: Every month Dallas is evolving so much, so I mean in the next ten years it’s going to be a completely different city. The different neighborhoods are really trying to invest in creating a certain vibe in those areas and it doesn’t feel just like all of the same vanilla whatever cookie cutter mess.
Lesli: And what I love about Dallas is artists have such a huge platform to showcase their work but also to get paid for their craft.
Lesli: I mean that's been a huge part of my business and success of my business. Is through collaboration with other creatives in Dallas. Do you know about my Mr. Cooper curated program?
Crawford: I’ve heard a bit about it, but I’d love to hear more.
Lesli: So for five year I’ve had an artist in residence with a client of mine, named Mr. Cooper, and everyone in this Paris show has been a part of the program at some point. They have offices in Cali and Phoenix, and for the last five years they have hired me as their art curator and I have collaborated and installed almost 350 installations within their headquarters, using all local artists. They support them, it’s an amazing platform. I have to take you the headquarters back in Dallas.
Crawford: Yes, for sure!
Crawford: This is a little random, but do you have a favorite flower?
Lesli: I do, I’m so country, my favorite flower is a peony. I love all kinds of cactus too, and anything that looks like a Dr. Seuss plant.
Crawford: I love that. Kirk Beattie from And The Sky Goods told me his favorite was the asparagus fern, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.
Lesli: Oh my gosh, those are beautiful!
Crawford: Like little green clouds, I know. They go perfect with his collection.
Lesli: Yeah, for real.
Crawford: Alright, well thanks for the little chat, Lesli.
Lesli: Of course!
All Photos by Exploredinary