Marcela Slade’s life story is as vibrant as her art. Soft blues, bright greens, and flashy pinks adorn the canvases on her walls and deep reds and golden yellows are stitched into the clothing she designs. Her art is alive – always changing, reflecting her current stage in life as well as the world around her.
A Jane-of-all-trades, Slade has done everything from building restoration and curating art galleries to event planning and teaching. She has a BFA in Graphic Design and an MFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design and she has lived in Colombia and Spain. But perhaps one of the most unique periods of her life was during her time in Quito, Ecuador where she lived from 2008 to 2016.
While in Quito, Slade and her husband Christian Molina opened xerrajeros, a multi-purpose space with Molina’s private architectural practice, Slade’s studio space, and a storefront gallery. It was there that she first met renowned artist Luigi Stornaiolo.
Stornaiolo was a world famous artist with a drug addiction at the time Slade met him. His addiction had lead to the paralysis of his right arm, forcing him to relearn how to paint with his left. In Slade’s words, when they met “he was a hermit. He was depressed and his apartment was disgusting – covered in liquor bottles and ash.”
But she changed his world.
She began to represent him as an artist, helping him do everything from live shows at galleries to navigating the paintbrush with his deteriorating body. When he was commissioned by the Ecuadorian government to do a 12 by 8 meter mural in downtown Quito, Slade helped him every step of the way.
“I had to be the director and his representation of this project,” she says. “I painted it, directed it, and did all of the logistics for him.” She used her graphic design skills to work with him and make a tricolor representation of a Stornaiolo sketch, which she painted. It still remains in Quito today.
Slade says the two would sometimes spend 12 hours a day painting together.
“He would paint, and I would paint with him,” she says. “I had my pieces up and he had his pieces up and he would paint and ask me to help him. Meanwhile, I was painting and he would fix things or tell me that something was wrong or right. I had several shows during that time because I was producing a lot.”
But it couldn’t go on like that forever. The relationship with Stornaiolo became too dependent, Slade says. “He needed me, and I couldn’t be with my family. It was intense and heartbreaking. We decided we needed to just go and give it a chance somewhere else.”
And that’s what they did. Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2016 and the economic deterioration it caused, Slade and her family returned to Orange County. But, her experiences with Stornaiolo were some of the most transformative for her as an artist.
“I learned to paint,” she says reflecting on her time working with him. “I was an illustrator and now I feel like I can paint.”
Back in Carrboro, sitting at her desk, Slade points at a painting propped up against her wall. It’s a work in progress, but currently depicts a girl and a turtle swimming. “I’m trying to make this piece better by working on top of it,” she says. “Eventually I’ll see that something comes out, which might mean the trash in the water. Before it was just a girl swimming there and this turtle, but now all this stuff is starting to add on, and it’s probably this thing that is happening to me right now where I’m disgusted by humanity.” For Slade, that is when her art “transcends”: when it reflects her raw emotions in an honest way.
All of Slade’s methods have been learned over time by practicing her own art and working with other artists, like Stornaiolo. She says that her experience coordinating and curating galleries has also been incredibly rewarding, enriching her practice as an artist tenfold.
Slade has many events coming up, including an art show at the NC Arts Incubator in Siler City and a fashion show for her clothing line sladesign at The Station in collaboration with Ron Liberti. She is currently curating Smelt Art Gallery, a new arts space in Pittsboro, and continually teaches classes at The ArtsCenter and in her own home. She also serves on the advisory boards for the Orange County Arts Commission and Abundance NC as well as coordinating events for the latter.
Talking to Slade is enrapturing. Her story sprawls lifetimes and it is clear she still has so much she wants to accomplish. She is an activist, a curator, an event planner, a fashion designer, a painter, a wife, a board member, an illustrator, an educator, and so much more. She is also a mother of two, saying her children are her best creations to date.