Tucked between a busy local restaurant and a hopping collective gallery sits painter Mary Brooking's studio space. I arrived to a warm greeting complete with hot coffee, classical music, and the wonderful site of mary's beautiful paintings everywhere. She was very gracious to let me stop in and watch her progress on a new piece as well as chat with her about her work. Read below for the interview! Thank you Mary!
What kind of painter do you typically describe yourself as?
Actually, the question always stresses me out a little bit. (I hate boxes - just as well since I don't seem to fit in one anyway.) So - I aim for the tipping point where abstraction meets representation. I like to dance there on the edge of things. That describes my style, and "landscape-inspired" is the way I describe my subject matter. Organic planar space, or landscape, is what presents itself to me in the boundaries between color fields. Those edges is where all the jazz is for me. That said, I still enjoy painting more formally representational landscapes now and then. I find representation can be seductive - I'm sometimes tempted to keep working on an abstract composition until it becomes more firmly representational than I'd originally intended. I try to make use of that tension. I want to push beyond pretty scenes - pretty is a walk in the park, but beautiful is more often the end of a three-day road trip through ugly. I like beautiful.
How did your artistic talents get nurtured as a child, and how have they changed as an adult?
I was that kid who was always drawing or painting or reading or writing or gluing something or sewing or nailing pieces of wood together. I think my family understood that creativity was part of my personality, not something separate that I could choose to turn on or off. I was good at rendering; my two-dimensional work progressed from realism to surrealism. In school I was given opportunities to develop my work, design some courses, and sometimes exhibit. My family was very conservative; abstract art was not valued, but my ability to draw and paint realistically was rewarded. (That pretty business again.) Hmm, maybe I'm still connected to my inner teenager when I paint - my kids should love me for that!
You talked about constantly re-inventing your work. Can you tell us more about that?
When I worked in the corporate sector (as a graphic designer and later an art director), I was lucky enough to find a company (Penton Publishing) that allowed me to retool my job about every 18-24 months. I spent 16 stressful years at that company! That's the kind of stress I thrive on - what I can't stand is doing what I already did. I continue to notice 18-24-month stylistic increments in my work: for a time I'll develop a style by pushing it a little further in the same direction each time I paint. Then, in order to keep painting for myself and no one else, I need to really change things. I don't know if anyone else really sees the changes as starkly as I do - after around fourteen years of painting, my work is still recognizable as mine - but I teach myself to paint a lot.
Do you paint from photographs, plein-air, or just a vision?
I work in all three of those ways. When I work 'from' a photograph, I do just that - use the photo as a springboard into design, rather than a blueprint to copy or any future measure of 'doneness'. Plein-air painting was for me something apart from my usual work, until just a couple of years ago I finally granted myself permission - sometimes - to paint more (or less or just other) than simply what I see on-site - although my most representational work is still my plein-air work to this day. My most recent work is also my most intuitive. Most of it is accomplished in my studio, and consists of color-field underpainting with fairly abstract layered mark-making from which emerges planar space with the suggestion of landscape that I particularly enjoy finding and exploiting to varying degrees.
Do you hang a lot of your own work in your home?
Yes, mine, and friends' work, much of it traded, which I love. And last year I made what was for me a major art purchase: a Barbara Brady. So thrilled!
Where do you show and how have you made connections?
I'm a member of Saccarappa Art Collective in Westbrook, so I always have work there, and I also always have work at Art 3 Gallery in Manchester, and at Eco Home Studio in Portland. Now and then I exhibit elsewhere - I'll be at Hole In The Wall (in Raymond) this July. I've exhibited at the Harlow Gallery (in Hallowell, Maine), Yarmouth Frame and Gallery, and Silver Circle Gallery in Putnam, CT in recent years. Connections are made through people who have exhibited or bought or just appreciated my work. And Facebook - a wonderful free networking/marketing tool! I don't have a business page, just friend me!
Do you find that Maine is a supportive place to live as an artist?
Oh, yes. The arts are cherished here in ways I feel are exceptional. What little town in Maine doesn't have an art center, a community theater, a dance studio? Mainers live creatively. So many Mainers cobble together cottage industries and odd jobs to make a living, think outside the box to heat their homes, throw music-making parties in the dead of winter. Living here requires a certain fearlessness that also benefits the making of art. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else!
Where do you go for inspiration? Do you have any daily reads?
I don't do anything daily, other than brush my teeth (the world can thank me)! I do, however, have many sources of artistic inspiration: jazz and minimalist music; local historical references in poetry and prose; my photography; the work and conversation of so many wonderfully diverse artists I get to rub shoulders with; contemporary art exhibits in many fine local galleries and online; and most especially, the breathtaking beauty that washes over me everywhere I walk, hike or drive in this amazing state.
Check out these links to find Mary: