Michael Marrinan did not have time to be interviewed. A couple from New Jersey was coming by to pick up some paintings they had purchased, which he was hurrying to finish framing. Others were flying in from Atlanta to retrieve something he was fashioning for them out of copper.
Copper is a go-to medium for Marrinan, we learned once he took a breather to chat in his Wellfleet gallery. A bricklayer by trade who branched out into all aspects of construction (he was accepted to art school at 18 but didn’t want to go the starving artist route), he first learned about copper in his native London. People used it for countertops and bathrooms, and he appreciated the patina the metal would develop as it aged.
Fast forward to Cape Cod, where he settled after living everywhere from Spain to the United Arab Emirates, the Cayman Islands, Thailand, and the Bahamas. (“The Outer Cape reminds me of the west coast of Ireland,” he says, “but with sand and grass instead of rocks and clay.”) One winter, after creating a copper bar top for an establishment in Provincetown, he let a leftover sheet of the metal sit behind his house for the season, where the rain and other elements left lines of green, red, and orange. “By early spring,” he says, “it looked like an oyster — sort of iridescent, and crusty in the middle.” He finished off the mollusk with some oil paint, framed it, sold it the same day, and never looked back. “I was a lazy artist,” he says. “Nature had done its thing. I just manipulated it.”
These days he speeds up the patina process with tomatoes and sulfur, painting rich seascapes and other scenes over the metal and using the copper canvas to create the effect he wants. For instance, in one work where he wanted to give the impression of the sun setting over a skiff on the sea, he scratched back a bit of the copper’s deep patina and left that spot of metal unpainted so its “light” would glint over the boat and water where the day’s last rays were lowering over the horizon.
Marrinan paints on Belgian linen, too. “It’s a finer medium than traditional canvas,” he says, “so you don’t see the weave through the paint, although it’s less forgiving. Mistakes stand out more.” (We didn’t see any.)
None of his paintings features people. “I am sometimes asked why there are no people in my paintings or why there is no one in the boat. When I go to the beach, I want to be the only one there. I don’t have a beach sticker. I’d rather go in the rain and snow, or when there’s a storm coming. I want to have my own thoughts and be one with nature, not one with nature and 500 people.”
By painting his works without people, he is hoping to afford his buyers some of that same contemplative experience. He doesn’t name his paintings by place, either. “Oh my God, is that Herring’s Cove?” someone will ask. To Marrinan, it is if you want it to be.
Marrinan never signs his paintings but, rather, puts his signature on the handmade frames he places around them, replete with scratches and old nail holes in the reclaimed wood he uses. “The painting and the frame together have to be as organic as possible,” he says. “That way the frame becomes part of the painting.”
The artist’s gallery is as unstuffy as he is. There’s no “don’t touch, don’t breathe,” he says. “I want people to enjoy being in here.” Upon entry, you’ll find a comfy red couch, sconces made of 1930s potato ricers, plants growing out of yard-long pieces of glass, and driftwood sculptures among the paintings. You’ll also often find Marrinan himself if he’s not at his studio in Eastham. It has been years since he laid his last brick. The starving artist thing never did come to fruition.