Tuesday, January 1, 2013

ESSAY Mary Gilkerson – From The Edge Of The Highway: 300 Daily Paintings


By Wim Roefs

         “Our culture tends to make us feel divorced from the natural world,” Mary Gilkerson says on her website. “I want my artwork to give the viewer a chance to re-engage with that world, to experience and recover a sense of place.” In part to intensify that engagement, her viewers’ and her own, and in part as a marketing device, Gilkerson in 2012 decided to paint a small painting every day for three months. The 90 x 90 Daily Painting Project was born.
         Every day, the Columbia, S.C., artist posted an image on her blog and sent it into the world through email blasts and social media to engage her audience in preparation for 701 Center for Contemporary Art’s Columbia Open Studios 2012, which took place in April. People could buy a painting instantly or stop by her studio during Open Studios to see the work in person and buy it.
         Gilkerson’s new practice was facilitated by her daily trek to the Lower Richland area to take care of and ride her horse. Driving in the countryside with a new painting in mind made her look at the landscape near roads and highways around Columbia more deliberately. “The project enriched my studio practice in both expected and unexpected ways,” she says. “Working from observation every day really deepened my connection with the places I worked.”
         While she continued to create larger paintings and monotypes after the 90 days were over, Gilkerson missed the connection with the land and the one-painting-a-day routine. For Open Studios 2013, she upped the ante with 12 Squared: 144 Daily Paintings, as before working on site and through photos and sketches. “The edge of a highway is a strange intersection of nature and culture with a wealth of potential subjects,” she says. “We all move so fast that we don’t see the world in the same detail that people did before modern transportation came along. I hope that the paintings will encourage people to pay more attention to the world around them, to notice the small and subtle as well as the large and grand.”
         Gilkerson’s daily paintings, which she continued after 12 Squared, are the apotheosis of a process that began when in 2004 she started making monotypes regularly with Greenville, S.C., master printer Phil Garrett. Garrett had introduced her to monotypes in the 1990s during workshops for Gilkerson’s students at her hometown’s Columbia College. She enjoyed the process and in 2003 “started using thinner paints in my paintings, scratching and wiping out areas as well as making direct painterly marks. That’s when I began thinking about making monotypes on a more regular basis.”
         Gilkerson has created some 100 monotypes with Garrett, and making monotypes affected her paintings, which became looser, more direct and more decisive. Making monotypes made Gilkerson, it seems, a more confident and self-assured painter, which facilitates her daily habit.

                                    – Wim Roefs is the owner of if ART Gallery.


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