Marfa Open welcomes artist in residence Russell Dammers during 7th annual festival

Marfa Open’s current artist in residence Russell Dammers, who is originally from New Zealand, wields an airbrush while working on a sculptural painting containing his father’s old toy horses. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

MARFA — Marfa Open, a local artist-centric creative space, will host their seventh annual festival over the next month from September 23 to October 16, featuring a number of local and visiting artists, including current artist in residence painter Russell Dammers.  

Events including musical performances, artist dinners and video projections will take place at Marfa Open this year. In addition to Dammers, other participating artists include Marcela Rodriguez, Paloma Mancha, Liv, Noah Kashinai, Efren Candaleria, Matt Nelson and Sally Lavengood. Regular hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and event organizers are encouraging local and regional artists across all mediums and skill levels to participate. 

Dammers, who is originally from New Zealand but has been living in Chicago for four years, arrived in Marfa a couple of weeks ago, works of art stacked high in his SUV, to begin his residency at Marfa Open. Works in progress occupy his makeshift workstation, which is positioned to receive good light for the better part of the day, while fully realized works hang nearby on the gallery walls. Dammers, who is heavily influenced by the Op Art movement of the ‘60s, is currently experimenting with color and cubes, inspired by a recent trip to the grounds of the Chinati Foundation.

“The thing that’s great about a residency like this is having the time to play with stuff you don’t usually have time to,” said Dammers. 

One of the main mediums Dammers works with is a non-slip mesh material, something he first became familiar with while working a “boring” job selling carpets 20 years ago. 

“I was just looking at it and I thought, ‘Oh, I could use that.’ So I took some home and I started pushing paint through it,” said Dammers. 

Using the mesh as a vehicle for acrylic paint, Dammers creates textural surfaces in his paintings, which, as of late, also incorporate geometric shapes and airbrushing. He said utilizing otherwise traditionally commercial tools like the mesh and an airbrush to make art has come naturally to him. 

“I definitely like making art out of things I find and everyday materials … everything’s a potential art supply or surface to paint on to me. Everything’s a tool basically. Some of its commercial stuff. I’ll use kitchen spoons and things to flick paint,” said Dammers. 

The grid-like pattern of his signature mesh material and the way Dammers has recently been layering colors behind the mesh onto the wall or canvas gives his black and white works a vibrating quality. Another technique Dammers utilizes to imbue his paintings with movement is airbrushing the acrylic surfaces created by pushing the paint through the mesh. By airbrushing one side of the dried paint drips yellow and the opposing side blue, it allows the color of a work to change depending on the angle at which it is viewed. 

“That’s why you get so much movement when you walk past — it kind of makes it like a sculpture. It brings time into it and movement rather than being a flat 2D object,” said Dammers. 

Another 2D work which takes on a 3D quality is Dammers’ 10-by-7-foot mesh creation which hangs, almost like a tapestry, on a prominent gallery wall. 

“It’s fun to come off a canvas stretcher and be a bit more free,” said Dammers. 

The 3D quality of the work comes from a few strategic cut outs to the edges of the material which help further define geometric shapes painted onto the mesh and the light airbrushing of blue, pink and gold accents. 

“I love working around the color wheel. I like a really simple color palette and complicating it through movement,” said Dammers. 

Dammers plans to have around 40 works on view during the Marfa Open art festival and will also have a show after the festival, running until November 4, with sculptor Noah Kashinai. The opportunity to make work within a landscape he finds energizing is valuable and gets back to the roots of why he makes art — something that has been at the forefront of his mind as of late. 

“Everything kind of changed in the pandemic, and I definitely realized I do this for me. Because when we couldn’t show in galleries, it was like, ‘Oh, this is keeping me sane,’” said Dammers.

He said he’s looking forward to mingling with more creatives throughout the Marfa Open festival and so far has felt very welcomed into the local community. He even plans to stick around after his residency is over. 

“[Marfa’s] kind of like a mecca for interesting people in the arts. The fact that I showed up with a bunch of art and I’m making work, there’s automatic acceptance in the community.” 

For more information, visit or follow @MarfaOpen on Instagram.