For decades I have been creating art in circles surrounded by squared edges. When I first made this type of work it was in the mid-1970’s. The circle was most often represented by an apple inside a square or cube. At that time it represented to me the yin and yang, female and male complements to our lives and our characters. The apple was an Eve figure, soft, female, curious, playful and seductive. The boxes were the rules, the male, the limitations, the protection and the containment of her attributes.
Apples in Boxes – A pointillist drawing in ink on paper. c1970’s
I have recently returned to this theme but using flowers from my garden as the subjects rather than apples. It feels so calming to me when I create these voluptuous rounded floral paintings. This peony was the first in a series of exploring again the circle in a square imagery so I named it “Centering” because that is how I feel towards these works. I find my centering in two places, in my studio and in my garden. They completely complement each other, one provided by nature and one in interpreting that vision.
There is a difference between the imagery of then and now. These flowers, though they are encompassed in a square format canvas, they are not contained. They are bursting through the limitations of frame, of edges, of inhibition. They are positive and empowered by their form and by their explosive color. They are neither shy nor retiring. They declare themselves as having established their own space. They are declaring themselves as individuals.
The flowers I create in my studio with brush and canvas speak to me beyond their intricacy of form, color, ruffles and swirls. LIke everyone else they initially attract me with the way the color changes as the light graces their outer curves and when it delicately enters their inner recesses, their intimacy. The edges of petals dance like ballerina skirts bouncing in the breeze. Their edges are fluted, scalloped, curved and splayed defining their differences and embracing their similarities of purpose.
I love the architecture of flowers, not just how they grow on their stems, their height, their leaves and their unique outward appearance. I concentrate on the inner architecture of their center parts, the configurations of their pistils and stamens, their anthers laden with pollen. Quite frankly, these flowers are built to seduce their pollinators. The birds and the bees but also the billions of bugs who help by rolling in their pollen to feast and to share and to help create the next generation to grace the earth.
Flowers speak to me of our universe. Our purpose. Our endurance. Each flower is an individual with its own color, shape and form. It’s own choices of community, culture and companionship. It’s own needs for climate, food and water for sustenance. But we all share our need to survive, another season, another year, another generation.
Whether I am among the flowers in my garden or the flowers in my studio, I embrace our diversity and our commonalities. All these flowers in soil or on canvas speak beyond themselves, they’re ideas and thoughts beyond just the visual. They speak to the interior of our purpose and our minds. They are us.
Not until I studied botany and viewed flower structures under magnifying glasses and microscopes did I really appreciate their magnificence. As a life-long gardener I looked at and created landscapes, matching groups of plants to be seen from a distance, blending distant views of overall colors and shapes. Matching seasons and cultivation needs, heights and spreads contributing to the designs I created in gardens and on canvas in my landscape paintings.
A rainbow of colors in a friend’s May garden. Photo by Mary Ahern.
But that aha moment of peering dramatically close to the parts of a flower opened a whole new world of vision and contemplation for me.
By painting my flowers overly large and entirely out of scale from the real world, I try to bring that same sense of awe to my viewers. Show them something of what I see. I try to create for them their own aha moment of joy and wonder to take on their journey.
My studio is overflowing as I create new work for my show at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum
Mary Ahern brings her award-winning style of floral and garden inspired art to the Bayard Cutting Arboretum from May 17 through June 17, 2018. Three galleries of her floral portraits will be on display at the historic Manor House at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River NY. The galleries are open on Thursdays through Sundays from 11 am until 4 pm.
Mary Ahern, known for her brilliant floral and garden paintings will be showing her latest large-scale flower portraits. As a passionate gardener who is inspired by the gardens she designed and tends surrounding her own studio, these flowers represent to her a microcosm of the universe. The large scale of these individual portraits asks questions beyond the canvas.
What is the purpose for such magnificence in nature? What is the reason for such color, such form, such diversity? What is their relationship to the communities in which they belong, their relationships with other plants and species that sustain them, invade them and nourish them. What of their lifecycle of birth, growth, senescence and rebirth? As humans, what can we learn from their seemingly simple existence?
Initially we see with our eyes. We name it, identify it and classify it. But we also have a duality of vision which allows us to contemplate with an inner vision. This art invites both the external and internal views.
Floral Contemplations. The Duality of Vision
New Work by Mary Ahern
May 17 – June 17, 2018
Galleries Open to the Public Thursdays – Sundays 11 am until 4 pm
Bayard Cutting Arboretum
Historic Manor House
440 Montauk Highway
Great River NY 11739
Opening reception: May 20, 2018 1 pm until 4 pm. All Welcome!
Pincus-Witten, the art critic, curator, historian, author and individual who in 1971 coined the term, “Postminimalism” has died. It reminded me of a brush with greatness that never happened for me. Let me explain.
During my college years in the 1970’s in the Queens College art department program in New York, I was expressing myself with the same underlying emotional & intellectual content in a variety of mediums. It was a time of the emergence of feminism for me and the search for self. An awakening of the world I lived in, was raised in and thought I understood.
I entered this program as an older student at the age of 27, married with two young children. Needless to say, I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the much younger student body. Most of my creative work, rather than using the studios on campus, was done at home in my own studio/dining room after I put my sons to bed in the evening. This actually freed me to create more independently than I might otherwise have done.
I followed my own muse. I created sculptures and assemblages using acrylic boxes, clear fishing line, minimalism inspired grids, feminine but painful masses of pink fiberglass insulation. I used distorting mirrors, bindings, weavings of ropes/cords/threads in numerical sequencing. I painted windows where the panes of glass protected or imprisoned using the gridded mullions in defined mathematical ratios. I used graphite, pastel, cut paper & photography to explore my own body landscape and journey of discovery.
All my work at that time explored the balance of male/female, pain/protection, enclosure/exclusion, geometry/biomorphism, math/chaos. One side of me embraced the rigidity, consistency and comfort I found in minimalism but the other part of me was rebelling against those very same norms.
At my senior thesis show, all my work was on display, my sculpture, my drawings, paintings, assemblage, photography and my written papers. Years of independent thought, exploration and interpretation.
Louis Finkelstein was my advisor, a professor I had never met before nor taken a class with but a very prominent and influential person in the NYC art community of which I longed to be a part. He spent a great deal of time viewing my work, reading my papers and asking me questions of motivations & process.
He was impressed by my work. He told me that he said he was going to introduce me to Pincus-Witten and propose me for an independent studio fellowship offered by the Whitney Museum of Art. I was itching all over with the prickles of joy.
And then the ax fell. I mentioned to Prof. Finkelstein that I was in the process of a divorce and just straightening out the details because I had two small children.
Without one further question put to me, without one opportunity for me to elaborate, Finkelstein stood up from his stool (and here is where my memory is a little bit muddy) said either, “A divorced woman can’t be an artist” or “A divorced mother can’t be an artist”. And he walked out of my life taking with him my dreams of ever meeting Robert Pincus-Witten.
Choosing bulb replacements for perfect lighting in my studio.
Since I have fluorescent fixtures already installed in my painting studio and didn’t want to replace them it narrowed down the search for the type of bulbs i would be looking for. Learning about LED or halogen lighting options, which I might consider if I was designing an entirely new studio, was off my research list. The installed fixtures are 4’ and had a mixture of cool and warm T8 bulbs bought at the local big box store.
The existing lighting fixtures in my painting studio hold a series of florescent 48″ T8 bulbs.
As soon as I began researching online for the best bulbs for studio lighting I knew the options were very broad and would need more studying. I would need to know what the important specifications would be in selecting the right ambient lighting for working on my paintings and also for proofing digital prints?
I learned about the ratings of Kelvin, CRI and Lumens:
K or Kelvin. The color temperature index of cool light at 5500K and a bit warmer light at 4100K seemed to be my goal. I didn’t want to go too cool while creating the Art since most of my work is hung in either residential or corporate lighting environments. Residential incandescent bulbs are in the 2,500K to 3000K range
CRI or color rendering index. I sounded professional when I went to my specialty lighting store and pronounced it correctly, Cree rather than C.R.I. CRI is a measurement of how the lighting reveals colors across the full spectrum when measured against natural daylight. The highest measure is 100 and a good CRI for a painting studio is 85 and up.
Lumens are the measurement of how much light is coming from a bulb. The more lumens the the brighter the light. This differs from wattage which is a measurement of how much energy is used to create the light.
Over the years, as bulbs have burned out in my painting studio fixtures I went to the big box store & bought a warm and a cool fluorescent for each fixture fully well knowing that a more appropriate solution should be available. Recognizing that over the years my lighting had become inconsistent, I decided to bite the bullet & finally do it right.
I was spurred on to optimize my own painting studio by the announcement that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which I visit regularly to study their paintings, is completely renovating their gallery lighting over the next few years. You can follow the Met’s lighting project here.
I studied the elements of lighting & then went the specialty lighting store that most of the contractors in my area frequent. Initially the gentleman at the counter said that all I needed was an ordinary fluorescent bulb which I could buy at any box store. Once I began to speak about the technical aspects of the bulbs I was considering, he became interested & spoke with me at length about the options for my studio. We discussed the temperature of the current lighting and the problems I would have if I went to a higher K or color temperature.
So what did I choose?
I chose a bulb with a Kelvin of 4100K rather than 5500K which is often called a daylight bulb. As mentioned earlier, I was considering the rooms in which my paintings are usually displayed after they are purchased. I should also mention that I have a large 10’ north facing window in my painting studio which offers a good deal of natural light.
I also selected a higher than usual CRI number of 85 to give me a more robust range of colors which displays the full complexity of my subtle pigments. Lower CRI’s don’t always show the full spectrum of yellows.
For the lumens my choice was to select 3250 which was brighter than many of the bulbs they were replacing although the wattage remained the same at 32W.
One consideration that I was nervous about was the thickness of the actual bulb. The existing T8 bulbs were thicker than the ones I took home from the lighting store. My consultant assured me that they would be fine in my fixtures and he was right. Less glass didn’t mean less light.
The price for each bulb was a modest $2.40. Well worth the investement!
The lighting is perfect! Great color balance, brightness, range. It was worth the time I took to do the research. As an Artist, I research my subjects, paints, pigments, mediums, brushes, canvas, etc., etc., etc… So now I can add studio lighting to the list of professional choices I’ve made towards producing excellent Art.
This is the choice of replacement T8 florescent lighting bulbs for the correct balanced lighting in my studio. I didn’t pick by brand name but by specifications.
Join us Sunday, July 9, 2017 for another exciting event in the picturesque Village of Northport, NY. This multi-disciplinary annual event will be held in the Village Park surrounded by the lush tableau of water, boats, trees, playgrounds and the old time Village feel of another, calmer and genteel era.
Look for my Fine Art Booth at Sunday, Art in the Park sponsored by the Northport Arts Coalition
There will be music, dance, poetry and of course, near and dear to my heart, Fine Artists and Artisans.
I will be showing my Flower and Garden Paintings with a few additional surprises!
Mary Ahern Artist booth in The Northport Art in the Park annual eventCome to see these exciting events and enjoy a visual feast of The Arts.
Location: Northport Village Park
When: Sunday, July 9, 2017
Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM
My muse, is my garden. Other gardens as well, but my garden in particular. I move in it, feel it, and hear the breezes whisper through it. I watch the lighting during the day as it slides over and around the textured surfaces.
These Fire Flame Peonies bloom in my garden each year in May at the same time as the color matching azalea.
Lighting so different on days with sun and with clouds. Lighting in the spring with the bright yellow greens of optimistic new growth and lighting by the fall with ambers & tans of a lived life. Morning light offers tender ambiance while afternoon colors not only light the scene from a different direction, the colors are deeper and warmer.
My garden brings consciousness and meaning to me. It keeps me grounded. The ephemeral beauty of an unfertilized blossom studied up close with magnifiers and macro lenses is a representation of a miracle. The world of possibility. The beginning of a story I represent in my Art. I walk through my garden gathering ideas. Stories I want to tell. Suggested ideas I want to convey.
In my garden I spend time designing the landscape or I spend time closely and intimately with a singular specimen at a particular stage of growth. In my studio I may paint a vignette or a full landscape view of a part of the garden I’ve designed, or I may choose to paint a small portion of one flower that has moved me. The minute miracle. This is my work. Outdoors and indoors. These are the stories I tell. This is my Art.
I was asked to do an informational interview by Misty Swan who is working on her college Art degree. Here are her questions and my responses. This interview was done via email.
Please state your name, the name of your business, city and state you live in, and your profession.
Name: Mary Ahern
Business names: Mary Ahern Artist, Reimagined Memories, Fine Art for the Garden and ondesign.com, a website design business.
Place: Northport NY.
Profession: Professional Artist
How long have you been pursuing photography and painting?
I began painting & photography in the mid-1970’s.
What excites you the most about photography and painting?
Creating something out of thin air that no one else had ever seen in the same way that I had.
How much training and education have you received in your field?
I graduated with a BA in Fine Arts from Queens College in NY in 1980. During the 70’s, Feminist Art work was on the rise as was Photo-Realism along with many other avant-garde styles. Most of my professors had studios in SOHO, which at the time was the center of the NY art scene. We were encouraged to frequent the galleries, set up interviews with artists and critics and generally be involved in some way with the art scene.
After college, and not wanting to starve, I built a career selling computer graphics platforms to the TV broadcast & production industries. In order to sell this technology I had to learn all the graphics & electronic paint systems . Training was provided on the job but I brought my Art background with me.
Because of my love of gardens and flowers in 2000 I earned an AAS degree in Ornamental Horticulture exactly twenty years after my BA in Fine Art.
To brush up on my drawing skills I returned to school for a 2 year diploma/certification in Botanical Illustration from the New York Botanical Garden graduating in 2004
A week never goes by that I don’t take an online webinar in either painting, software or marketing. I have taken so many webinars & seminars over many, many years that it’s too hard to count. I believe in life-long learning.
In 2015 I took a 1 year mentorship program in portrait painting from an artist like myself who is based in Louisiana. He pushed me out of my comfort zone to paint people. There is always more to learn, to grow, to expand.
How did you choose your field of photography and painting?
I don’t really understand the question. Do you really choose a field of painting style or does it choose you? My work has evolved as I evolved.
How has the field of photography and painting changed since you started?
This question is really answerable in a dissertation, but here is a snippet.
I believe that technology has changed the field of photography the most. With the introduction of digital cameras the access to photography has reached a greater cohort of people. Mobile phone cameras have grown the accumulation of images exponentially but not necessarily artistically. The bar has been lowered to what the general public assumes is Art.
The field of painting has been less affected by the introduction of electronic paint systems since they, up until now at least, are still not in general use. Also, all the same rules of painting apply to digital as to traditional. It is just another medium in which to work.
What are the most important skills to have in order to be successful in this field?
I am a great communicator, a salesperson, a marketing person. If I didn’t have these skills my Art would accumulate in my closets.
What do you dislike about this field?
I dislike that many potential clients undervalue our work since they have the insane belief that we paint for fun and relaxation. Those are the ones that don’t understand the difference between a Professional Artist and a person who paints as a hobby.
What is your most interesting photo shoot or painting?
I am always drawn to my garden for inspiration. The closer I paint the flowers the better. The colors are rich, the forms are voluptuous, the textures challenging.
What are the things that keep you passionate and motivated in your field?
I constantly reach to learn more. A week never goes by that I don’t learn something new or refresh my knowledge base. I read Art books, I take webinars, I read Art blogs, I go to Art Shows & museums. I am always in a learning mode.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone entering this field of work?
One thing I was never taught in Art school was how to make a living from my Art. I used my own mental creativity to zig and zag myself into a career in the visual arts.
It is very rare for painters and photographers to make a really decent living from just the narrow vision of what they view as their Art. I had to step outside of my comfort zone in order to support my family but because I did it creatively, I was able to maintain a career with a tangential relationship to the Arts & also maintain a working studio.
As Artists we are creative people. Living creatively doesn’t mean that one has to be a starving Artist. In fact by thinking creatively and widely, you can have a profitable & emotionally fulfilled career. Enjoy!
The headlines herald the 25th Birthday of the introduction of Photoshop, the photo editing software that almost everyone has heard about and many have used. Photoshop was released on Thursday February 19, 1990, 25 years ago. I, however, began painting electronically years earlier on the Chyron Chameleon Paint System.
1986 Mary Ahern working on the Chyron Chameleon at the Cablevision studios in Woodbury NY.
The Chameleon was a digital painting & editing system complete with dedicated hardware & software aimed at the Broadcast TV & production industry.. Primitive by our current standards but tremendously advanced at that time in the mid-1980’s.
In order to sell a paint system in the ‘80’s, since no one really understood the enormous creative possibilities of computer painting, I did demonstrations & lectures in order to sell this tremendously creative tool. It offered drawing tools & brushes, cut & paste, zoom, a removable hard drive, video outputs and 8 bits of color.
I have made a very good living using Photoshop, amongst other digital imaging programs, but I was able to apply my Artist’s vision first using the tablet & stylus of the Chameleon.
So I wish Photoshop a very Happy 25th Birthday but they are the young kid on the block. I have been digitally painting for 30 years.