Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mary Hughes: Boston, Mass.

Lynette Haggard's Weekly Artist Interview

Mary Hughes in her Fenway Studio

Lynette Haggard (LH): Can you share with my readers a little about yourself? Where did you grow up and what (if any) were there any early influences on your work?

Mary Hughes: I grew up in Boston, Jamaica Plain specifically. We lived in an Arts and Crafts style house that my mother was constantly redecorating, making curtains and slipcovers, re-papering the walls and rearranging the furniture in very specific ways. There was a sense of presentation to things. I think all that activity affected how I viewed my environment. My grandmother was a seamstress who took up painting later in life. I did my first oil painting ever with her. She gave me a picture postcard of waves crashing against rocks and I copied it. I wish I still had it. I do have a seascape of a lighthouse she did, which I keep in my studio.

Ghost Spiral No. 1
pencil on paper
18” x 16”

Mary's grandmother's painting

LH: Where do you live now?

Mary: I live in Boston in the Fenway Studios. The neighborhood can be a little chaotic and there is always stuff happening. I have grown to really like the bustle.

LH: Did you receive any formal art training? If yes where and what did you major in?

Mary: I went to the School of Fine Arts (now the College of Fine Arts) at Boston University where I majored in painting. It was an academic approach to studio art-lots of figure drawing and painting, still lives, etc. It was the right thing for me at that time. I really learned about the discipline needed to make work. I spent a semester after college in Provence, France doing landscape painting, where I really started to think about color and content. After that I got an MFA in painting from Mass College of Art, which is where my work took the leap from representational to more imaginative, slightly abstracted landscapes.

LH: At what point in your life did you become interested in making art?

Mary: I always loved making art. As a child I was always drawing and when I was about 11 or 12, my mother enrolled me in a summer drawing class at the MFA in Boston. There was a studio somewhere in the museum and we would draw from life or go into the galleries or courtyards to draw. I still remember the work I did there. The whole experience seemed so exotic.
In high school, we only got one elective per semester and I always took art. The classes were taught in the art building (a little house outside the school) and any good memories I have from high school are from those classes and of my art teacher, Mrs. Carlo.

LH: Was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?

Mary: I think in my 20s when I was working crazy jobs that would enable the most time in the studio. I didn’t really care about “career advancement” so much as I did about being productive with my artwork.

LH: Can you describe bit about your work in general.

Mary: My work of late is mainly drawing. I have a body of work that emerged from some abstract painting I was doing that was linear and organic. I was looking for more specificity in my mark making so I started working with templates. In general, I work pretty quickly and I wanted to slow myself down a bit so I started using dry media like pencils, charcoal and pastels. I didn’t have the quickness and facility that I had with paint and that obstacle was useful for me to be more intentional with my marks and the overall development of the work. The images involve linear and geometric forms that have some depth and are about the play of the 2-d surface against an illusion of space.

mixed media
18” x 16”

mixed media
22” x 30”

That body of work lead to my Spiral Series in which I really limited the tools down to one shape, one surface, one color and one tool. I attempted to see how much variation I could get from these limitations and to see if I could achieve organic forms with very rigid instruments. Most of the pieces were done with metallic pencil on clay board, which is a beautiful but very unforgiving surface.

LH: What is your media?
Mary: I have started to move back into painting again after a hiatus of 3-4 years. In the past, I have always worked in oils but now I am giving acrylics a try. I like the dry time but I am still struggling with the difference in quality of the paint. It can be more fluid but it lacks some of the richness I am used to in oil paint.

LH: What is your current work about? Do you have photos you're willing to share on my blog?
Mary: Currently, I have returned to freehand drawing and painting. I have done a lot of work on paper, using color pencils on toned or black paper. The newer work is still influenced by landscape. I am thinking about contour maps, topography, airline flight patterns-things that relate to landscape in a less literal way. I also really like the exploration of line and layers and what the tension of the 2-d nature of the image against some illusionistic space does. That seems to come up in more again and again.

Untitled No. 1
(Topography Series)
pencil on paper
30” x 22”

Untitled No. 3
(Topography Series)
pencil on paper
25” x 19”

Untitled No. 4
(Topography Series)
pencil on paper
30” x 42”

LH: What is your workspace like?

Mary: The best part about my workspace is the light. We have huge north-facing windows and even on a cloudy day, the light is fantastic. The workspace is smaller than I would like so I am constantly seeking out the best options for organization. A bit of a hopeless cause I think. The studio gets pretty messy when I am working. I always admire really organized studios, especially because I think it could improve my work flow when I know where things are and when everything has its own spot, especially in a tight space.

Hughes' studio space

I have two dogs that keep me company when I am in the studio and I love that. Being an artist can be an isolating activity and having a warm snout come up and nuzzle me now and then can be very comforting.

LH: Describe how you work in your studio. How do you get "in a groove" and what inspires you?

Mary: I can be a little distracted when I am trying to get to work. I tend to organize stuff a as a warm-up (or perhaps as procrastination). I generally work on several things at once. I work in series and it can be like the entire body of work is what is happening as opposed to one painting or drawing. Jumping around has always worked well for me.

LH: Do you ever get stuck with your work and how do you remedy this?

Mary: I have gotten better about walking away when things really are not working. Sometimes fighting it can leads to bad results. Other times, I will try to work it out by doing small drawings or experimenting on pieces that I don’t think are going well. The stakes seem lower and if I screw them up, I am not too worried. Sometimes that freedom to mess up leads to some interesting things that I can pursue more intently. I often work on several pieces at once, which allows me to work things out on one piece when I get stuck on another.

LH: Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice?

Mary: I try to look at my work everyday. Just to remind myself what is happening in the studio even if I am not going to be doing any work.

One of Hughes' studio assistants...

LH: What are you reading right now?

Mary: The Elephant Keeper, by Christopher Nicholson
It is a book about a young horse groom in 19th century England that ends up in charge of 2 elephants his wealthy owner buys on a whim. The book chronicles his developing relationship with the animals and his openness to something that many of his contemporaries found frightening.

LH: Do you have other jobs other than making art?

Mary: I am the curator of visual resources for Art and Architecture at Northeastern University. I develop and manage the image collection used for teaching and research. I get to look at a lot of artwork in my job and as a result, am very familiar with the work of contemporary artists and architects. I also teach foundation classes in the Art+Design program. It is great to have a job that is art-related, though balancing my schedule is always a challenge. I love seeing what the students do. They have so much energy. I think working in a school setting can be very invigorating for one’s own studio practice.

LH: Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?

Mary: I would love to have more time in the studio and be more engaged in the exhibiting and social side of the creative process. I would also like to be more active in artist groups or workshops and expand my exhibition activity beyond the New England region. I’m also hoping to show on the west coast and perhaps be part of more curated, group exhibitions.

LH: Do you have any upcoming shows that you'd like to mention?

I will be in the Copley Society Holiday show, which will be up in mid-November through December

You can view more of Mary's work at her website and Copley Society

Thank-you, Mary!


Nancy Natale said...

Lovely and intriguing work, Mary. Thanks for the interview to you and to Lynette. I enjoyed hearing about your process and how your work has developed.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Haggard,
Thank you so much for your profile on my friend Mary. I've known her since 1989 and have loved her and her work ever since. She is an amazing talent.
While I was perusing your blog, I clicked on your gallery, and wow! Your work is very beautiful.
Carl White

Milisa Galazzi said...

Fantastic, Lynette. Thank you for introducing me to Mary and her work. Mary, your drawings are stupendous!

Ellen Thibault said...

Dear Lynette Haggard,
What a wonderful interview. I'm a great fan of Mary Hughes' work and always love hearing how she thinks about and creates her art. I enjoy watching how her vision and media change over time, but circle back to certain themes, too. You also drew out some details I didn't know--for example, that her grandmother was a painter and that her mom enrolled her in an MFA art class when she was a kid. Thanks so much for sharing this. I've bookmarked your blog and now look forward to exploring your artwork and writing.
Best wishes,
Ellen Thibault

LynetteH said...

Thank you all for reading. Ellen, most of the writing is done by the artist, I provide the questions for a framework for the interview. I agree, this is a good in-depth interview!

Unknown said...

Lovin' and learnin' - I also did not know some of the great beginnings of Mary.

Love the shot of the painting by her grandmother, as well as other studio shots. I guess I should just copy what Ellen wrote (hi Ellen) ... I will be sure to bookmark your blog.
Best - Sheila Corcoran

John Bassett said...

Well, someone's a good writer. We've known Mary and her parents, Margaret and John for a long time. I see something of her father in Mary as well as her mother. Reading this has been fun!

Thanks! John Bassett