Mary working in the studio


For years I have loved painting, especially abstract expressionist painting. From an art history perspective, I find the genre fascinating. Specifically the idea of abandoning all literal and figurative content and still retaining the ability to communicate clear ideas, moods and emotions with an audience. It really puts a lot of faith in the little things--the subtle visual cues that inform our response. Abstract expressionism isolates those components to tell pieces of a larger story. 

I remember the first time I saw an audience react to an abstract painting I created. When I began working, I had been thinking about my maternal grandfather, ailing but proud. I thought about the masculine role he still felt obligated to fill even as his body began to betray his strength. As a maker myself, I thought about the sadness that must be within him from no longer being able to conduct repairs he was always so proud to fix around the house. I remembered spending time with him as a child, fishing in the stream, and how very excited he was to impart the knowledge of fishing and share his childhood with me. And, for a very brief moment, I thought about how he might approach an abstract painting, which--in all honesty--I’m sure was much farther outside his comfort zone than he would even think of venturing. But it did prod me in the moment to grab some rather unconventional tools and tinker with the surface of the canvas.

All the time these thoughts were racing through me, I was working. And when I finally presented the painting for critique from my peers, they were able to pull out the masculinity, the fragility, the age, the earthiness of the work. And while they weren’t standing on the bank of the stream with me and my Papa, it was evident some were connecting to a similar experience in their own mind. To me, that is almost more real than seeing a literal painting of my grandfather--as viewers we instinctively place ourselves within a relational realm to connect with an artwork. Isn’t it more personal if it is abstracted down to the purely visceral content?  

Viewing and experiencing abstract work to its fullest requires your full attention and consideration, but then each individual’s experience is as completely valid as the next. Works do not scream their message, but subtly suggest. And in our cultural climate, over-saturated with content vying for attention, it is a rarity.

--Mary Mooney