I am so thrilled to sit down with artist Mary Little. The piece shown here in my entry way is my first art purchase of Mary’s. When I saw it I had a full gasp, the movement, the dimension and softness drew right in and learning more about her brings so much more meaning to the piece and into my space.
From Mary on her background:
I was born on a farm in Northern Ireland surrounded by great-aunts and uncles who were from another era. A couple of them were farmers who worked their small farms with horse-drawn ploughs (“plows” to you). They lit their homes by soft gaslight as they had no electricity. At the age of ten, my family moved to Belfast, and I had the shock of landing in a gritty industrial city, with tough classmates, just as the civil war was reemerging. We jumped right up to date with the daily sight of soldiers sitting out the back of armored vehicles casually holding powerful rifles, and military helicopters in the sky. Life quickly went from emerald green to drab gray, though on the upside I developed a dark sense of humor.
On graduating from art school in Belfast, I moved to London with a single suitcase and my Singer sewing machine. I studied furniture design at the Royal College of Art. Furniture from my London period is in the permanent collections of the Vitra Design Museum in Basel; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; and Victoria & Albert Museum, London. During that time many US collectors added my work to their collections, and it was their support and encouragement that sparked my interest in working in the US. So, twenty years ago, I moved 7,000 miles to teach at California College of the Arts (CCA), in San Francisco.
How did you start working with canvas?
I had been working sculpturally with my furniture since the outset and I especially loved making chairs that felt wonderful to sit in. I became an expert at manipulating soft materials into curvaceous forms with various densities to support the body.
There was also an element of serendipity in my change of focus. I wanted to create a screen for my studio space and for this, I initially experimented with a creamy cotton canvas given to me by an artist friend. So, unbelievably, the first work I made in canvas was 10’ x 10’. Visitors to the studio found it so desirable, I received a lot of encouragement to explore it further.
Whatever I create, I want it to touch the emotions, evoking a sense of well-being. I used the move to LA to break from the complexity of chair-making, leave behind functionality, to focus on exploring sensuality with my form-making. With this work, I aim to evoke peace and serenity.
What kind of physical/mental space are you in when you work?
I’m happily settled in a downtown loft space with high ceilings and east-facing windows. The natural light is incredible. I live and work here with Peter, my husband. He looks after the backroom tasks in the studio—and feeds me.
How does Ireland influence your work?
My sensibilities are rooted among the lush rolling farmlands and well-worn rugged coastlines of County Down, on the northeast coast (of Ireland). My work itself takes the form of undulating hollows and rises, suggesting images of the landscape. In the countryside, you are so exposed to the weather and outside elements and that’s given me an appreciation for changes in the way daylight touches the landscape. I’m particularly sensitive to how the changing light affects the forms in my work. I feel uplifted by the changes.
What inspires your large-scale installs?
I’m mentally and physically challenged by large works. I especially like bigger-scale commissions; I find them an exciting challenge. The larger a work, the more gravity has an impact on the textured relief I make in the canvas. Gravity will pull and stretch a work in unpredictable ways, often adding to or changing my intentions. Sometimes I go with it, other times I manipulate it, or may even set it aside and start again.
Is there anything upcoming you want to talk about?
I’m always making new work. I make new bodies of work two or three times a year, then present them on my website. Your readers can follow me on Instagram or go to my website to sign up for my newsletters and announcements to keep up to date with what I’m doing.
to shop Mary Little head here