About the Artist

Colleen A. Marlow

Colleen A. Marlow has a formal background in science. She earned a BS in physics with a minor in art from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (1999) and a PhD in physics from the University of Oregon (2005). Her physics research was in low-temperature nonlinear electron dynamics with a focus in chaotic and nonequilibrium behavior. She studied electrons because they are a fundamental particle and an essential building block in the entire physical world around and within us, and her life goals have always been rooted in understanding and appreciating that world. Her work in science revealed the persistence of chaos and nonlinearities at a fundamental level of reality. Deeper reflections on this aspect of her research, along with the prevalence of these qualities in her personal life, led Colleen to turn her scientific attention to the very complex and personal system of the human being.


This shift in focus brought her to San Francisco, where she was a Sloan Fellow in theoretical neuroscience at UCSF studying neural firing patterns. Her interests in understanding the human manifestation of the natural world matured during her time there, and she began to further her investigations by probing the internal workings of her own complex being. Much of the self, and subsequently of humanity, is a mass of emotions and perceptions formed by one’s own direct experience and the collective experience of one’s family, society, and genealogy. Colleen realized that a logical starting point in navigating the complex mental and emotional world of humanity would be to try and discover and quantify the emotions and perceptions that formed the framework of her identity. In learning something about an individual piece of the system—herself—she would gain greater insight into the larger organism of humanity. At that point, she realized her goals for understanding this aspect of the human system were outside the scope of what modern science and math could accommodate. Having had a lifelong relationship with painting and visual expression, she decided the logical next step was turning to artwork and its creative expression as the primary method for her investigations.


Colleen’s artwork attempts to embody and characterize her internal landscape, thereby reflecting humanity in all its mental, emotional, and experiential glory. She merges the fundamental impression or intuition of the nature of the universe with her raw life experience. The interplay of these two aspects can be seen in the flow and content of her paintings. Her work is highly reconstructive and reflective, as is much of who we are as humans. She collages physical pieces of trash and paper that she accrues in the weeks leading up to a new work, then uses the results as the base of the painting. The content of the painting rides on top of the loaded physical matter and strings together a collage of her impressions of her life, as well as how they relate to fundamental human conditions that have evolved over years of collective and personal experiences and reflections.