MARY CURTIN

Interviewed in March of 2016 by Michael Crockett

MARY CURTIN

Hometown: Northern New York

Current town: Somerville, MA

Website: CLICK HERE

1. We love the dark feel to your work; we are all officially hooked. Tell us about where you grew up, where you live now and where you studied or practiced your craft.

I grew up in Northern New York just below the Adirondack state park. I spent most of my adolescence sitting around taking art classes, drawing and watching cartoons, but my family would always camp and we had a beautiful place to grow up in. I studied at The Art Institute of Boston as well as part of a year at Camberwell College of Arts where I learned lots of art things and also life things. I live in Somerville now and work at Whole Foods Market as a store artist, which has been a whole other kind of education. 

2. Would you say that New England has influenced your style at all? If so, what is it about New England that draws you to stay and create here?

Yes, defiantly, I am visually inspired by where I grew up in New York. As an adult, I am just as infatuated with nature as I was when I was a kid. The vastness of the forests and the quiet potential for there to be something hidden and secret. Sometimes it creeps me out but I like it and that is what basically influences my work. It's a big contrast to where I live now; Boston is a different kind of influence. I was able to learn as well as work here as an artist, getting to meet lots of inspiring people along the way and having access to all sorts of art. 

3. You are a graphic designer, illustrator, and sign artist; would you agree that you also live somewhere in the world of Fine Art? Talk about these different talents you have, and how they help or hinder your personal work.

Yeah, somewhere out there! Although I value all the technical skill I learned in school, it was more useful for the development of my work to throw some of that out. I like some naivety in my work and I think it makes what would be a weird and bloody painting endearing as well. I struggled with reconciling these two aspects for a long time, having always painted in a realistic way and how I wanted to paint: in a simpler, graphic way. It was actually when I started working as a sign maker and a graphic designer that I really started to figure it out. I had to come up with a fast, consistent painting style for signs. After developing the disciple for that, I was able to bring it home and it’s really improved both the speed and quality of my personal work. I think everything I've learned in life has added to my work in one way or another, even if I don't realize it'll be useful when I first learn it!

4. What are your favorite mediums to use in your art? Share a little on the process for this series in CHROMA.

I have been using a variety of solvent-based markers for a few years now (Prismacolor, the Blick brand, and Chartpak) along with microns or Stabilo color pens. I really like the effect but it limited the size I could work in. I started using watercolor about a year ago, along with solvent-based markers. It's really fun since I can manipulate the watercolor and the markers on the same painting in different ways without affecting the other medium too much. It's a little like having different layers in Photoshop!

5. Your work has a tone of witchcraft in it, but we also sense folklore and nature. Are we close? If so, tell us more about where these themes come from in your work. 

I do love witches and witchcraft! But in a more thematic way, not like I practice it or anything - I actually don’t believe in anything magical even though I would LOVE if things like that were real sometimes, I'm too much of a skeptic. Magic is real though in stories and paintings, and in my imagination. I find it super fun to make images of impossible and weird situations. Folklore is a great place get weird inspiration, facts of life we take for granted was magic to people in the past. I don't really see the point in making an image based in reality, I always try to put something supernatural in there. 

6. The female form is very present in this series. Is the female form always used in your work or is it specific to this body of work? If so, please elaborate. 

Yeah, I draw a lot of ladies; it's both a conscious decision and a more instinctive one. The female form is more natural for me to express myself with it than with a male one. Also, there really doesn't need to be anymore interesting and unique men doing cool things, I want to see more picture of women doing things. I like to search out cool female figures in history and mythology to inspire my work. Artemis, Boudica, Mielikki, Beira, Lozen, Itzpapalotl, it doesn't matter to me if they are heroes, goddess, warriors, creatures, witches, as long as they are not just there to fall in love with, seduce/be seduced, or birthing someone. 

7. Your work has the power to tell a story in a single panel. Talk a bit about how you tie in so much information and still leave enough space for beautiful compositions. 

I did study illustration and I have always loved comics, I think I'm just hardwired to want to tell a story. Sometimes I just try to illustrate a story, or part of a story, tying in different aspects of it that I'm drawn to. Sometimes I just have an idea I need to draw out and the image just evolves from there. I really love folk arts, how the people are positioned just so, even rigidly, so the are more a part of the fabric of the landscape than people moving through it. I really love Grandma Moses and Palekh style paintings; they are just so satisfying to look at. I also tend to think more of making a pattern than a life drawing; this above all helps me tie in different story aspects. I don't mind floating in some random object I wanted to incorporate in the air if it doesn't work anywhere else, screw gravity and perspective! 

8. Are you a fan of Folk Art? Although your work is very sophisticated it teases the viewer with elements of outsider and simple traditions. Is this a nod to early folk art or more connected to fairytale themes? Or does it come from some place entirely different?

Yup, I love folk art, I have too much education to really be an outsider artist technically, but I do try to channel that simple, naive look. It is definitely a type of art I enjoy looking at. I always kind of stress out about making something perfect, but the simple look really reassures me that I don't HAVE to make a beautifully realistic painting or anything for it to be amazing. I value the feeling and character of a piece as much as the technique. Even when if I don't draw directly from fairy tales and mythologies, they greatly influence what and how I paint. 

9. Where do you see your work heading into the future? Will we see stories developing soon? 

I'll probably continue along this vein for a while (meaning single wired watercolor pieces), but I would love to illustrate something for real someday. I have been messing around with a stories and character sketches recently, I guess we’ll see where that goes! 

10. We are always interested in the process here, and often ask our artists about music and or background noise when they work. Do you work with specific music in the background? Complete silence?  Share something about your working environment that is ideally you

I always have something playing, mostly audiobooks and podcasts, which kills two birds with one stone since I rarely have time to sit down with an actual book. Favorite podcast list!: Welcome to Nightvale, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Stuff Mom Never Told You, Serial, This American life. Books!!:  Harry Potter on repeat forever, a lot of Diana Wynne Jones, the Ender Quintet, lots of Neil Gaiman novels the Kingkiller Chronicles, some Madeleine, all the Game of Thrones. Also just listening to WBUR all day is great. For some reason, I find music more distracting than someone talking. 

11. How messy are you when you work? Is your studio completely destroyed when you work or could you eat off the floor? 

I'd say fairly clean, but messy! It really depends on how much free time I have... If I'm working a ton I would rather just spend my spare time drawing not picking up. That is until I realize I'm trying to work in a nest of paper, markers, painty paper towels and beer cans, then I pick up. But I do try to keep up on the mess when I can.

12. Who or What is your absolute dream client? What would you love to work on that you haven’t yet?

Defiantly Neil Gaiman. Huge, huge Neil Gaiman fan. The Sandman is one of the first comics I picked up, and it's still a series I can continually re-read. I look to his work for inspiration way more than any other author. I would be so hugely impressed with myself if I ever could work with him!