JOY from the NATURAL WORLD

“I never went looking for inspiration. My inspiration came from the act of painting.
The more I painted, the more the ideas would flow.”

Mary Bourke, artist


interview ROBERT ROSEN
portrait photography MICHAEL MARGOLIS

Artist Mary Bourke.
Baxter
24 x 24 inches, acrylic on panel
Between the Water and Woods
36 x 36 inches, acrylic on panel
Fox on High Street
30 x 30 inches, acrylic on panel
Leaving Camp
12 x 36 inches, acrylic on panel
Looking Towards Ragged Mountain
24 x 24 inches, acrylic on panel
Molly
36 x 36 inches, acrylic on panel
The Swim
30 x 30 inches, acrylic on panel
Visitor
12 x 12 inches, acrylic on panel
Walking the Top
36 x 36 inches, acrylic on panel
When I'm Older
20 x 20 inches, acrylic on panel

Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.

While I began to think of myself as an artist as very young girl, I suppose you can say my career began after my own children were born. As a stay-at-home mom, I tried to find ways in my spare time to be productive, and to try to contribute financially as best I could. I found I could raise children and make art at the same time. It took a long time for my confidence to grow and to put myself out there. I began to approach small galleries in my late 20s and slowly found places to display my work.

I have always been rather timid and somewhat anxious, which when I was young really held me back. Later I came to understand that I was really just an introvert. This realization helped turn my weaknesses
into strengths. I became more confident in my own inward vision of things, and came to believe in the validity of my own point of view, my own ideas.

Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
with you?

My oldest brother—who is also an artist, and the one to whom I attribute my success—always told me not to worry about anything, to just do the work. He would say, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, just paint, just do it. He taught me that it took hard work every day and discipline. People would ask me how I came up with so many ideas, and I would always say I would pick up my brush and just start painting. I never went looking for inspiration. My inspiration came from the act of painting. The more I painted, the more the ideas would flow.

What is it about a scene or grouping that says, “Paint me!”?

What speaks to me most are the patterns and designs I see. I enjoy working in simple forms and shapes, rich colors, and exploring the relationships between them. At least that is the initial or outward attraction. When I begin a painting, what becomes more powerful or inspirational to me is the emotion the subject evokes in me. As I paint I become attached to the feeling behind the subject.

My work is deeply seated in the natural world, either through landscape or animals. Also the human form and how it fits into nature is a recurring theme.

What type of reference do you use: Sketches? Photos? Memory? Imagination?

I like to use old photos of my childhood, especially those taken on family trips in the Adirondacks in the ’60s. I am from a family of nine children—seven brothers and a sister. These photos are a jumping off point for me. The nostalgia they produce in me puts me in just the right frame of mind for what I am trying to create. It’s easy to then mix all the elements of my life since then, my own kids and grandkids and the natural landscape that surrounds me in Maine where I have lived since the ’80s.

Has there been an evolution in your work within the past 10 years?

I sure hope so! I think when you paint every week of your life it would be almost impossible to remain static. But at the same time, I think the evolution is difficult to spot from my own vantage point. Perhaps I am too close.

What time of day is most productive for painting?

I am a morning person and always was most productive in the early part of the day. I do suppose, though, that aging has some benefits. Being in my 60s, before heading to my studio I now give myself the gift of starting each day with a bike ride, or yoga, or even a ski in the wintertime. I don’t work as many hours as I used to. I try to give more time to my kids and grandkids without feeling guilty about not working all the time. As I write all of this, I recognize that I am quite fortunate to have these luxuries and the gift of a loving family.

What does being an artist mean to you?

Well, I believe that every person has something to say, has a point of view that is valid. I never liked being in the center of things, and I am kind of amazed and awed by the fact that I have been able to speak to so many people through my paintings. Sharing my work makes me feel less lonely in this big world.

What do you love about painting or what drives you to paint?

Painting is a very relaxing pursuit for me, at least when it is going well, once I have my idea worked out and moving in the right direction. I find I can disconnect from the world a bit and focus on what it is I might be feeling, or thinking, or even believing.

It can be very emotional to be caught up in a painting. And when I finish a piece, and I feel that it works, it gives me an enormous satisfaction that I was able to express what I was trying to communicate.

We all need people, and in one form or another we all need to talk
to one another. When I succeed at this through painting it makes me
very happy.

In most of your paintings, peoples’ faces are featureless but the animals are not. What is the significance of this?

The featureless face is basically a design choice, keeping the forms
of the body simple. Sometimes I include a mouth, which maybe subconsciously symbolizes the inner voice of the subject.

The other part of this is that the people can become anyone. The viewer often finds their own stories in my paintings, and see themselves as part of the story I am communicating.

The fact that the animals do have faces has not been as conscious
a decision. The face of an animal seems to be such an integral part
of the creature, which is a funny answer because you would imagine
I would feel that to be especially true of a person. But the two seem worlds apart.

Fish are often found in your paintings. What is their symbolism?

While I have never really fished myself, I am filled with a joyous envy when I see others fishing. I drive by the lake and see people standing at the bridge with a pole, and I always think, “How perfect to take time from one’s day to just be in the moment like that in nature.” Sometimes
I see a dad with a young child, side by side, fishing, and I always think, “That lucky child!”

Fishing to me always symbolized a conscious effort to spend quiet, meditative time in nature, to let go of the daily churn of events.

There is a sense of loneliness in several of the paintings, reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s. Can you comment on this?

I think the world can be a lonely place, and I think that it is something each one of us struggles with at various times in our lives. Nature has always been a soothing answer for that feeling, at least for me. I have always tried to articulate, to myself at least, how I fit into the natural world and what is my place. Sometimes being faced with the wilderness I find it easier to feel like I am just one small part of a very large picture.

Did the bird in your painting Visitor appear in your backyard? Do you spend a lot of time there and elsewhere in nature seeking inspiration?

My yard is a wild haven for me. My small house is bright and full of windows. I can see the Camden Hills from my living room. I look out another window to my pond. From every angle I am surrounded by trees and hills and water, and, of course, the sounds that come with that.

At night we listen to the coyotes, owls and peepers. The sky becomes a dome of stars. By day we watch the ducks play and chase each other in the pond. There have been otters, muskrats and even signs of beaver activity. We hear all kinds of birds all day long. I am not sure how I would live without all of that.

What do you hope to give people through your paintings?

I like to think I can bring a little joy through my work. My work has never been dark or edgy. It is more optimistic than that. I can’t help it; it is just who I have always been. I used to teach art to young children and what I tried more than anything to teach them was that who you are matters and what you have to say has value—even if it feels ordinary or not very big, be brave and just say it.

. . .

Represented by Greenhut Galleries: greenhutgalleries.com

Favorite Maine restaurant?
My favorite place to go for a feel good, relaxed,
satisfying fun meal is Café Miranda in Rockland.

 

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