Interview : Mary Wallace, Artist

Mary Wallace talks about her amazing Moonjars, Arthearts and Precious Bowls and how she couldnt imagine life without creating art.

Q. Where did you get your passion for art? 

 Gosh! That's a BIG question... I didn't always know I would be an artist. It took me a while to find that part of myself. There was an epiphany of sorts, I suppose. In the late 90s I spent a year drawing. Intensively. Every day. I had not drawn or painted since childhood. Something very special happened then; a desire so strong that could not be ignored. My children were young. I had a very good work arrangement working mornings and had all school holidays off. I was that 'superwoman' they talked so much about in the nineties! Something had to give! In Spring 1999 I got very sick and couldn't speak for three days : the first words I did speak were "I'm giving up work". By June I was out. By August I was taking a portfolio course. In 2000 I started to paint. Yes. It is my passion. I could not imagine my life now without making art. 

Moonjar "Cerise on Green" by Mary Wallace

Q. You have an almost Oriental attention to objects and that where you get inspiration or ideas? 

There is so much of the exotic in everyday life. A world that often goes unnoticed. Getting close, seeing the detail, altering the scale, bringing increased awareness and sensual connection - the effect is almost like a meditation drawing me in.  I find inspiration in simple things; a tea bowl, a flower, a hen, a fish... to create precious bowls, moonjars, exotic flowers and fruit, flamboyant hens and cockerels, fish and other figurative creatures. 

I have always had an interest in fragmentation. Questions prompted by what has been removed or what is chosen to stay.  Torn edges, fragile paper contrasting the robust nature of paint, wax, pigment. It is a powerful sensation to 'tear' a painting knowing that it is the right thing to do. I can manipulate the fragments and the image can be transformed and somehow magnified when torn and reassembled. This interest has led to my current work, the Precious Bowls and Moonjars series, which is inspired by the Japanese artform kintsugi – the repair of broken porcelain using gold. 

We all have that experience when something treasured is broken

The break is cherished. The flaw is not hidden but instead is given respect by using gold and the preciousness of the piece is enhanced. We have all had that experience when something treasured is broken. You know; that feeling of not wanting to let go? I  keep things, full of great intentions that the pieces will be used... in a painting, a mosaic or whatever. Perhaps it’s the artist in me that doesn’t want to let the beauty go. There is a compelling excitement in the proximity of beauty and brokeness. People really respond to wabi-sabi : the acceptance of transience and imperfection reflected in the philosophical idea of embracing beauty in imperfection, acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life. As we heal from damage, loss, grief or trauma we are strengthened and become better from these experiences.

I sometimes wonder how I, as an artist, can have an impact in today's world. More and more I find myself having conversations with people who feel a resonance with my work. They express a sense of hope that problems can be solved and that they can be whole again. A small broken teabowl carries a strong message. Discovering this reaction to my bowls and how they make people feel is such a joy.

"Ainezumi" by Mary Wallace

Q. I love the moonjars. How much work goes into one of those?

Thank you so much. The moonjars are gorgeous and are an extension of the Precious Bowls theme. I wanted to create larger work and discovered this beautiful  Korean white porcelain so named for its shape and milky coloured glaze said to resemble the moon. There the resemblance stops. I have taken the roundness, imagine new shapes, use vibrant colours and apply the kintsugi effect! 

My process has many stages. It begins with the preparation of the paper. I use Fabriano - a glorious fabric-like paper made with cotton fibre. I tear it carefully fraying the edge deliberately to give the appearance of a fragment.  It is very strong and can take a lot of medium. I use unusual art media and make my own paints - egg tempera, pigments suspended in beeswax, wax encaustic - and more conventional media like acrylics, oils, pastel, charcoal, inks, gold leaf. My use  of beeswax as a medium has now evolved through rigorous trial and error. I have devised a technique which is a fusion of drawing, painting and the batik process to a truly pleasing aesthetic effect. Use of beeswax gives colour a translucent brilliance and lustrous sheen.

Gold leaf

Working with gold leaf is a tricky business. It requires patience and practice to place that filigree just as you want it. Sometimes I feel it has a mind of its own as the gentlest breath of air can cause it to flicker and fly away!

"Faith" Artheart by Mary Wallace

Q. Tell us about the Arthearts and the dedication of one to George Michael?

My Arthearts are very popular. People just love them. This one was a special commission from a collector who also happens to be a fan of George Michael. He noticed that I had made Arthearts dedicated to David Bowie and Neil Young and asked me to paint one for him. We talked about ideas and it became clear that 'Faith' was his favourite album. The colouration of the heart is inspired by the wood tones of the guitar that George Michael used. The five symbols associated with the album, representing  Faith, Music, Money, Religion and Love, are rendered in gold leaf. I'm glad you asked.

"The River Merchant's Wife" by Mary Wallace

Q. What's coming up for you in the future?

Well, 2018 got off to an exciting start as I showed my work in London for the first time. It will not be the last. I am working on a new body of work which will be ready in time for my annual exhibition at Wexford Opera Festival in October. Larger in scale and I promise there are thrilling new developments in the way I work with wax encaustic and gold leaf. There are other exhibitions in the pipeline and I would be delighted if people would subscribe to my newsletter for updates. After that... Well, it would be amazing to visit Japan. Who knows the opportunity to bring my work could be just around the corner! And now I have a question for you. Have you noticed my signature? It is a delicate butterfly created from my initials. It gets a great reaction as people try to find it 'hidden' in the painting. Some think it looks like the infinity symbol ∞ and I like that too.

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