In Conversation with MarSha Yi Robinson
The Denver-based artist MarSha Yi Robinson uses nature in an intentional and instinctual way. Discover the path she took to harnessing the creative force within her and how, when it comes to expressing beauty, she draws on the power of letting emotions get the better of her.
The first time I saw MarSha Yi Robinson’s work, I was struck by the powerful, beautiful imagery and the deep connection between her art and the work we do at Vintner’s Daughter. As an artist, she believes that a deeper connection to nature can provide a deeper connection to self, and ultimately truth. While we seek this through our whole-plant formulations, she fosters this through her art.
That is why she was the ideal person to illustrate nature’s beauty and power for our 2023 Limited Edition Active Botanical Serum. Her studio, Strange Dirt, is known for lush, bold floral interpretations. “The plant world, to me, is the epitome of beauty,” she shared. "I hope the imagery transforms into a visual, almost physical form of plant medicine. I want to see my work heal."
As you will discover in our conversation below, Robinson thinks and feels things very deeply, from her artwork to her approach to beauty and wellness. Our conversation was one of those wonderful, non-linear exchanges and flowed in so many different directions, while uniting on themes of nature, beauty, connection and gratitude.
I hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did.
Tell us about your journey to becoming an artist.
Drawing and really any form of creativity was something very exciting for me as a child. It was something that felt very natural and I wanted to experiment with it. I always felt that art was going to be a bigger part of my life. I didn't go to university or pursue any formal education. In my early and mid-twenties, I focused on making money and paying bills. And life happens–you go through relationships and breakups, and you're evolving as a young woman moving from place to place. I was a hostess, an office manager, a prep chef and an autistic aide. All along, I felt something was missing. I was not happy. By my mid-thirties I realized this was not okay, and something inside me said, ‘You have this gift. You need to go for it.’ So I put in my two weeks notice and planned a pop-up art tour in California with a friend of mine. We put 70 or so of my prints into her old Bronco truck and we hit the road. They were prints that I was proud of, and I felt might hopefully grab the attention of others. It was wild. The amount of support I received while on the road and sharing my work was amazing.
Later, I settled in Denver to nurture my work and find my voice. It was a wonderful city for an artist like myself, just starting out. The city is very nurturing of its artists. Everyone who had a coffee shop offered their walls to me. I would say my first real art shows were at coffee shops. Things progressed and my work became known around town. Denver is a city, but it is a very small city. I was able to make a name for myself here, and it has been wonderful.
What inspires you and your work?
What I try to do as an artist is to make people feel something through my subject matter, which are florals of the botanical world. The plant world is the epitome of beauty. No matter how bad you feel or how dark your mood is, you can’t pass a window that is bursting with plants or see a table with a beautiful bouquet and not feel uplifted, at least for a moment. That is the power of nature: the color, textures and patterns. There is no way to explain why the natural world is so beautiful to us, but it is. With my work, I try to embody this. My work is not conceptual at all. I am not trying to tell a story. I am trying to pull at your heartstrings, your memories. I want you to feel something. If someone were to ask me, “What is your process? How do you come up with these ideas? Where do you start?” I would say the process is intuitive. It’s all based on my gut and heart. I have a concept of what I want this large piece of paper to look like at the end. But while it's happening, it's just an orchestra of feelings.
The plant world to me is the epitome of beauty.
There's a symmetry and a structure, which is beautiful. The same exists in nature. There is wildness in nature, but there is also symmetry. Is this duality something you think about?
In nature, it may seem like there's chaos everywhere, but if you look on a very minute level, everything is paired up like the way leaves are placed on a stem. There's a pattern. There's symmetry. You find it everywhere if you look closely. There are moments when I'm working on a piece and it seems a bit rigid. I feel like everything has to be a certain way. But then there's also a part of me that wants to just be free and flowing. But those two parts, control and freedom go hand in hand. I can't make one work without the other.
We make products in a very different way—beginning with whole plants so that ultimately, we are building a connection with skin that you can’t get with synthetics or extracts. We are creating a deep connection, which is what you're doing with your art. Do you agree a connection to nature is a connection to ourselves?
Yes. Because nature is what we are. And I appreciate the products that you put out into the world, because nature works with nature. When you start bringing in things that are of an artificial base, you can see the impact. It doesn't work. I don't really use many beauty products. But when I received your bottle and I opened it up, it was the color of amber and the smell—it's so beautiful.
We're not trying to manipulate nature. We literally follow nature. It's why we have always forged our own path, thinking of ourselves as ‘Not Beauty as Usual.'
With so much of what's being fed and shown to us, I think honestly, it's hard to know what beauty really is. I think it means something so different to so many people, because it really is yours or mine. It is everyone's individualistic view. Yet, it is also universal in the sense that everyone can look at an act of nature and say, “That is beautiful.”
And true beauty comes from love, right? It comes from abundance. It's not coming from fear and scarcity. I think that's the feeling you're describing. That feeling of love, abundance, acceptance and connection.
It's also energy. You can be beautiful, but if you don't exude kindness and empathy, sympathy and understanding that beauty doesn't mean anything. It's all-encompassing. You're beautiful on the outside, but also beautiful on the inside.
Any beauty rituals you swear by?
I like soap, and use straight veggie glycerin. I don't like fragrances in my soaps. In a perfect world, I would like to get a filter on my shower head to eliminate all the heavy metals and chlorine. Hydration is everything. It's good for the hair. It's good for your eyes. I guess my beauty regimen is to drink as much water as I can. And sleep, definitely.
I have a concept of what I want this large piece of paper to look like at the end. But while it's happenings, it's just an orchestra of feelings.
Discover the extraordinary 2023 Limited Edition Active Botanical Serum featuring a custom design by artist MarSha Yi Robinson.