Above: Robin Marks-Fife is a longtime member of the New Zone art collective; she is the gallery’s “spotlight” artist for February, shown here holding a watercolor rendering of a photograph by Art Kennedy. Photos by Randi Bjornstad.

By Randi Bjornstad

Every month, the New Zone art collective — a membership gallery with about 75 contributing artists — selects two of them to occupy a “feature” and a “spotlight” position that showcases their particular talents.

For February 2020, longtime New Zone member Robin Marks-Fife has the “spotlight” space, exhibiting between 20 and 25 of her watercolors and mosaic tile creations.

“Generally for the monthly show I might have four or so pieces,” Marks-Fife said in the middle of hanging her portion of the show. “This time, with more space, it will be much more diverse, with mosaics and watercolors and prints.”

She’s been selling her tile work for a long time, often through commissioned jobs for countertops, backsplashes, wall installations, even tabletops. She also accepts paintings on commission, often of people’s homes, gardens, families, or favorite photographs.

One of Marks-Fife’s favorite watercolors is “Freedom to Dance,” drawn from her reading of a historical novel, The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. The book is based on the life of Sarah Grimke, a girl in the antebellum South who on her 11th birthday is given the gift of an  slave girl similar in age. Forbidden to set the girl free, Sarah protects the child and her mother, grows up to be an abolitionist, and teaches black people to read and write, which is against the law.

“Creating tile is my function, and doing watercolors is my soul,” Marks-Fife said.

It’s been just in the past five years or so that she began augmenting her workaday tile-making not only with watercolor and acrylic painting but also smaller glass mosaic pieces that vary from sentimental Valentine gifts featuring hearts to whimsical faces.

“I guess I was born creative — my mother said I came out gripping a pencil, which is why it was such a difficult birth,” she said with a laugh. “I do know that I have been drawing as long as I can remember.”

Her parents were artistic in their own ways, her dad as a writer and her mother as a teacher. Marks-Fife is a transplanted New Yorker who also teaches art to youngsters in elementary and middle schools.

She loves rendering nature scenes in watercolor, capturing the essence rather than the detail of her subjects. As an example of that transformation, part of her exhibit at the New Zone Gallery is a collaboration with photographer Art Kennedy, whose oeuvre includes landscape pictures, some of which Marks-Fife then renders in watercolor.

“I like his subjects, and I like his eye,” she said. “That has made this a really enjoyable project, because I’m not a watercolorist who wants to replicate a photo but to paint the feeling of what I see, not what I see. I want to control enough, but not too much.”

The New Zone Gallery is located at 22 W. Seventh Ave. in downtown Eugene, open from noon to 6 p.m. daily, and until 8 p.m. each month during downtown Eugene’s First Friday ArtWalk

Contact Robin Marks-Fife: robinlmf@yahoo.com, 541-686-9395, or Robin Marks-Fife on Facebook

Artist Robin Marks-Fife in recent years has added watercolor painting and glass mosaic tile work to her longtime “functional tile” business