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.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Professor Louis Finkelstein, the Art Department Chairman abruptly walked out on me at my senior thesis show when I mentioned that I was about to be a single mom declaring it to be impossible that I could also be an Artist. He previously had offered to sponsor me to the notable, Robert Pincus-Witten for a Whitney Museum Graduate Fellowship program but suddenly I was anathema. That event took my breath away for quite some time until I began to gather the pieces of me that felt flayed and strewn to the wind.
So what did I do to salvage my heart and soul? Since 4 years of art school didn’t train me for anything remotely connected with making a living, I knew I needed more education. I also found out that if you worked at a college your tuition was free. So I made a list of colleges I wanted to attend & found a job in the career services office at Barnard College. During my lunch hours, I attended computer programming classes at Columbia School of Engineering. Going from such intense right brain to left brain work was so difficult it often physically hurt.
Barnard at the time was a bastion of feminism and my boss, Martha Green guided me and untold numbers of other women into successful and rewarding careers based upon skills which, I for one did not know I had. She recognized in me untapped horizons and restored my confidence.
Mary Ahern demonstrating the Chyron Chameleon electronic paint system 1986 at the Cablevision television studio in Woodbury New York
From the support and direction I received from the women surrounding me at Barnard, I launched my career into sales, because that’s where the money was, and computers, because that’s where the future was. I zig-zagged my career in computers over the years to capitalize on my Fine Arts degree by selling computer graphics equipment to the creative departments in the television broadcast and industries. My art helped me sell those systems.
So here I am, still painting, still an Artist, proud of having supported and raised my sons on my own. Now I work every day in my studio surrounded by the gardens I created that inspire my Art.
I kept my eyes and ears open and when one mentor slammed the door another mentor opened it for me so I could charge through. Success is the sweetest revenge. Thank you Martha!
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.
I happily took the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station to then walk to Chelsea in NYC from my perch in Northport Long Island. This venture, on a cold winter day, was to gather in the brilliant colors and environments of the watercolor paintings created by the Artist, Joseph Raffael. These large-scale works envelop you into the tropical gardens and seaside shells which are the models and subjects of his work.
Some feature strongly defined focal points while other subjects are diffused, allowing you to meander through the tangles of flowers, leaves and stems. Koi provide the pivotal “Turning Point” between the water and air while leaving ripples which you know will be gone again in moments. Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze sharing the brilliance of Koi colors. Time, movement and transience are significant subjects in these meditative paintings.
“THE WORK OF FOUR EXTRAORDINARY ARTISTS EACH ONE FOCUSING ON THE UNIQUE AND VARIED WAYS THAT COLOR LIVES IN OUR LIVES”
– William Grabowski – Curator
March 26 – June 17, 2013 Art-trium Gallery. 25 Melville Park Rd, Melville NY 11747
Friday, April 5, 2013. 5:30 – 7:00 pm With music performance by Sally Shorrock and Friends
This Show is Sponsored by the Huntington Arts Council
SOME OF THE MIXED MEDIA PAINTINGS ON VIEW by the Artist, Mary Ahern
“Light Blue Iris in the Garden”
I grew these delightful light blue Iris germanica in my garden one year but they sadly haven’t come back with such beauty since. Iris borers and not enough sun perhaps. I solve this ephemeral behavior by painting the flowers from my garden. No pesticides, no fungicides, no weeding, no deadheading. They are in perfect condition all year round.
“Lilies in the Garden”
As a gardener and an Artist I’ve been able to combine both of these passions.Though my garden has been featured on various Garden Tours, I guarantee that it doesn’t look as good as the fantasy garden in this painting.
“Siberian Iris Trio”
A small patch of these Siberian Irises were in the garden when I bought my home in 1989. They are short lived during the season but very long lived over the years.
“Daylilies and Rudbeckia”
I paired this combination of flowers on my canvas for the their jovial and robust colors. Noticing their form, color and bloom time I transplanted them to create a seasonal vignette in my late summer garden as well.
“Conversation Piece Azalea”
These multi-colored flowers all bloom on the same shrub in my garden collection. Another nice thing about this cultivar is that it blooms a bit later than other Azaleas, thereby extended the colorful season.
MY ART BLOG
I wrote an article on my Art Blog recently describing how subconsciously I was influenced by the famous Matisse painting, “The Dance.”
Studying Art History for decades seeps into your creative mind and emerges in ways that you don’t expect. Though I majored in Art in college, it’s the years of continuing pursuit that really make the subtle and not so subtle differences in an Artist’s work.
MY ARTIST STATEMENT
My Art is driven by the pursuit of multiple passions. In my garden I grow the delicate & ephemeral models which are the subjects of my paintings. I transform them through a complex series of digital technologies and traditional mediums.
I have a degree in horticulture, a degree in Fine Arts and my entire career has been spent in Digital Imaging technologies. These are the tools I use to create my Art.
Creating and reinventing my gardens larger than life size demonstrates the profound importance they play in my own personal centering.
Studying Art History seeps into your memory. Countless visits to the many museums and galleries that New York City has to offer has crept into my subconscious. This lifelong study has taken me through so many happy surprises as well as quite a number of dead ends.
Often Artists are asked who their influences have been for their Art style. Trust me, never would I have answered Matisse. I’ve never appreciated his sketchy use of paint, his lack of detail and apparent lack of a “finished” quality to his work.
And then, when I least expected it, I reimagined Matisse’s iconic painting, “The Dance”. Using flowers from my own garden, I picked up the exuberant rhythm that makes his work such a delight. This work is so light, buoyant and a wonderful interpretation of what spring means to me.
As I was creating the composition of Irises I remember somewhere, behind my eyes, trying to make the circular floating connections of the frilly irises that was suspended somewhere in my memory. I have stood so often in front of the Matisse painting at the Museum of Modern Art, loving the composition while not liking the paint quality. I’ve returned so often to view that painting in the original hoping to find what I missed.
I absorbed his painting just by being there and looking. And looking again. And again…
“…man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world…” Ralph Waldo Emerson
My paintings actually start in my garden. This is where I grow the flowers, shrubs and trees, which are a part of the workflow of my creative output. The sun and shade play a role in all my compositions.
I actually consider the creative work to be seamless whether at work in the garden or at work in my studios. The up close and personal view of the flowers when I’m weeding, deadheading, trimming and tending allow me the time to become intimately aware of each flower’s details. This is something I like to convey in my work.
Light Blue Iris Germanica
These light blue irises came to dance in the breezes in the front garden, which I can see through the French doors in my living room. Though short lived, their ephemeral character is part of the fun of capturing them in my Art.
Phlox stolonifera, ‘Sherwood Purple’ in front of a Karume azalea in the woodland walks.
The composition of this painting was created using elements from different areas of my garden. The woodland walks with their large hemlock trunks for the vertical accents, which mimic the verticals of the irises. The rare spots of sunshine in the front garden, which hold the irises and many other perennial sun lovers, give me many sources of inspiration during the seasons.
The Joseph Raffael show at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery at 520 West 27th St in Chelsea New York was a burst of color and soul. The show was there from November 2009 through January 10, 2010. For those of you who missed this wonderous presentation, I created a video of the show.
Visiting this show brought such a burst of the voluptuous joy of color and passion to an otherwise gray day that I was compelled to share it with others.
Joseph Raffael douses himself in his watercolors. His colors flood and pool in the most controlled display of virtuosity I’ve ever seen in this medium. Though in this show his subject matter seems to be primarily flowers, his style is the antithesis of botanical illustration.
As a matter of fact, Elisabeth, my fellow Artist friend and I gallery hopped to this show on the heels of a visit to the ASBA (American Society of Botanical Artists) show at The Horticultural Society of NY. The contrast of two exquisite art forms, both employing watercolor and using flowers as subject, was astounding.
For an extra treat, I would suggest visiting Joseph Raffael’s website and taking some time to view the meditative videos of him as he paints.
Take a moment to calm down and become immersed in the process of Art. It will make your day. It always does so for me.
My garden is often the source material for my Digital Mixed Media Paintings. Though I am not a Photographer, I like to use my digital camera to record the progress and changes in my garden from day to day and year to year.
Springtime is such a hectic time since I’m always late uncovering the perennial beds. These jolly yellow daffodils came up in my entry garden and I was lucky enough to catch the early morning light behind them.
My entry garden is still in need of some tidying but putting the pansies into the pots and baskets takes my mind off the leaves from last fall.
Though I like to create gardens and like to create Fine Art using my garden, in the garden I get messy and dirty while my Botanical Art is clean and stylized.
This Digital Mixed Media Painting is a very popular piece that surprisingly sells all year long, not just in the spring as I would have imagined. People buy this Single Yellow Daffodil as an individual piece and also as a grouping along with some of my other daffodil Art Works. You can see them in my Store.
Excerpt of Article posted in The Times of Northport
Artist cultivates her livelihood like a garden
By Arlene Gross
June 13, 2007 | 02:39 PM
Northport resident Mary Ahern is a successful artist who practices a unique technique she describes as. “Digital Mixed Media Painting”.
But Ahern, who… (was) among the exhibitors at Arts in the Park in Northport July 8, (2007) was not born an artist. “I didn’t come to paint until I was older,” she said. “I didn’t even know I had a facility for it.”
As a young girl, she focused on music: playing trumpet and saxophone for the high school band and conducting her Fort Hamilton High School graduation in Brooklyn with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
“I’ve been in the bleeding edge of those kinds of issues,” she said. “In those days, girls didn’t conduct.”
A life-changing moment came in her 20s, when a friend gave her a coffee table book of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.
“I opened it up and turned the pages and wept,” she recalled. “It was completely transforming. I could only look at 10 pictures a day, it was so overwhelming.”
From that moment, Ahern knew she must study art and, then a resident of Queens, attended Queens College.
Although she was influenced by O’Keeffe and painted similar subjects, such as close-up and sensual florals, Ahern said she did not mimic her idol’s technique. Whereas O’Keeffe painted with direct and rapid strokes, Ahern’s traditional paintings were created in grisaille, or gray scale, and layered with washes of pigment on top, giving the subjects a glow through the optical blending of glazes of pigment.
After divorcing her first husband, Ahern took a job at Barnard College’s career counseling office, where she herself was able to get some career guidance. Through her Barnard position, she attended Columbia University for free by working there while raising sons, Chris and Michael, then ages 10 and 8.
“I knew if I couldn’t stay home and be a mom and paint, I had to make a decision: I’m going to make as much money as possible,” she said.
With profit in mind, Ahern went into technology sales, selling computer graphics and eventually becoming Northeast regional sales manager at Chyron Corporation in Melville (and a National Marketing Manager at The Dynatech Video Group.) Then she started Online Design, a digital graphics company.
For Ahern, feminism was not a word to bandy about but, rather, her day-to-day reality – working as a single mother in a male-dominated industry.
“My single-minded focus on providing a good life for my sons enabled me to ignore the tremendous obstacles, prejudice, emotional assault and loneliness that comes from breaking through social barriers,” she said. “I, like my father, pulled myself up by my bootstraps. As a woman in a male industry however, I, like Ginger Rogers, did everything in high heels and backwards.”
In 1989, Ahern fulfilled her dream of buying a house with a spacious garden in Northport, which she said, “was like a step back in time to a slower and more gracious lifestyle.”
“The center of town with a Main Street embedded with trolley tracks leading to the harbor breezes and music in the gazebo captured my attention and insisted upon my attendance. I needed to move here.”
Eleven years later, she renovated her home, adding an airy, second floor art studio, and now natural light trickles throughout.
The garden, which Ahern designed, encircles the house, with its artfully designated focal points and meandering paths, everything flowing gracefully.
“I practice nonviolent gardening – no rose bushes to stab you – all soft inviting plants,” she said.
Seventeen years after her first marriage ended, Ahern married David Ruedeman, an engineer at Chyron. The couple worked together there but got to know one another only when he became a client of Online Design. This year will mark the couple’s 10th anniversary…
Early on in the second marriage, wishing to reinvent herself, Ahern got a degree in horticulture from SUNY Farmingdale in 2000, with the idea of becoming a landscape designer, which she did for a year. “It was too much for my (aching) body,” she said, of the many hours spent working on bended knees.
From there, it was a two-year course studying botanical illustration at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.
Her (Mixed Media) painting, a culmination of expertise paralleling her life’s progressive journey, combines a passion for the fine arts, gardening, computer graphics and botanical painting.
“To be creative, you need to know your medium,” Ahern said of her computer graphics skills. Through her paintings, she seeks to make people look around them and become more aware of the nature surrounding us.
Dr. Roberta Koepfer, her friend since 1971, said, “She’s like a phoenix. I have seen her rise up from a fair number of devastating experiences. Every time she comes back, she comes back more dynamic, more focused on her art and with an increased zest for life and personal growth.”
When it came time to sell her art, Ahern’s business savvy came in handy; she started in Northport as an exhibitor at the annual Arts in the Park series (in 2004) and now participates in about 15 art shows in New York and Connecticut between May and September, with her husband lending a hand.
Ahern’s work has also been the focus of several gallery exhibitions, including a one-person show at Greenlawn’s Harborfields Library this past February.
Susan Hope, gallery coordinator for the library, noted that Ahern’s exhibit was well timed: her cheerful florals brightened the gloom of winter. “It has an eye catching appeal,” she said. “People really enjoyed it, whether they were art savvy or just seniors on their way to their meetings.”
Today, Ahern is either painting her botanicals, selling them or lecturing on the business of art at libraries or schools, although her business persona has changed radically over the years. “I did trade shows in high heels and silk suits,” she said, “now I’m doing business in Birkenstocks and shorts.”
To anyone seeking career guidance, Ahern advised, “Don’t throw away anything you’ve done because you want to transform yourself. Take the good portions, the positive elements and try to incorporate them into this new self you’re creating. That’s how I’m living my life.”
Life drawing classes are the traditional method for teaching the drawing of the human figure. Live models are used so that students can study the muscles and anatomy of the figure in order to render the volume and dimensionality of the human body. Using photographs instead of models can often cause students to render the figure in too flat a manner.
Life drawing in pencil
Drawing classes that I attended at York College, CUNY, in Queens NY in the 1970’s, were held in 4-hour segments. Poses were held for short bursts of sketching time such as 5 or 15 minutes in the early part of a class to allow the artists time to warm up their drawing arm and eye. As the class progressed, poses often were held for longer periods and were in fact upon many occasions maintained for the entire remainder of the session. When the model took a break they would then return to their position in the center of the class so the students could continue to work on the drawing of that pose.
Seated figure in pencil on newsprint paper
Life drawing is such an fundamental part of the curriculum of any art school that it is hard to believe that in the not so distant past these classes were taboo for women. Throughout history women were banned from traditional art school under the guise of protecting their delicate sensibilities. In order to pursue their art many women took a separate path towards expressing themselves and gravitated to watercolor paintings of flowers and gardens. These were considered acceptable mediums and subjects for a well-protected and well brought up middle class woman.
Leaning figure seated on stool drawing
And then along came Georgia O’Keeffe and everyone saw flowers in a very different way. She helped to forge an acceptance of woman as artist and the doors of art schools flew open.
Pencil drawing on newsprint paper from life drawing class