“ Ultimately, make sure it’s yourself who you are trying to impress the most,
with each new piece! ”
We first saw Mary Jane’s work while playing tourist in London, at the BP Awards show at the National Portrait Gallery. I was completely floored by her incredible, detailed rendering. (below) Every single hair was captured in all it’s own minute detail… Mary Jane’s art left a beautiful ache in my heart, hauntingly human, as we left the exhibition. Her latest series, “The Beauty of the Hours” is a graceful, moody and captivating group of work. She currently works from her studio in Brighton’s North Laine, after going for her morning walk on the beach.
Can you tell us where you were born and a little history about your childhood?
I was born in South Shropshire, England, in a beautiful spot in the middle of the country side – our neighbors were cows, foxes, sheep… we kept lots of wildlife – raised ducks, climbed trees that sort of thing, very rural idyl – I’ve always thought it was a great way to grow up in terms of developing a kids imagination, my brother and I were always disappearing off for some “adventure” or another and coming back covered in mud and leaves… we never got to fester the concept of boredom!
What was first piece of art that you remember creating?
Ahh – this is funny, my mum’s just given me a couple of examples of just this in fact – I used to make tiny little pop up scenes – I can vividly remember making a desert island, about 2 1/2 inches across complete with coconut tree and a shark patrolling its waters – the shark was on a little handle so you could make him swim about… I read a lot then but I cant remember what I was reading that inspired that!
What inspired/prompted the vision/image for the most recent piece you completed?
I’ve just had a solo show, “The Beauty of the Hours”. In this new body of work, centering on a series of pictures of Georgie and Sofia, two models who I’ve been working with a lot over the last couple of years.
I wanted to play with the kind of imagery that the classic portraits and fashion shoots for Vogue which Cecil Beaton produced in the 50′s called to my mind. Mixed with nineteenth-century French academic salon painting- Ingres, Bouguereau… those kinds of influences. At the same time I was working on a portrait of Henry Allingham, WWI veteran (and at one time oldest man in the world) for Armistice Day. Polar opposites – that I must say I relished.
If there was an artist, dead or alive, that you could spend 24 hours with, who would it be and what would you do?
Right now I’d go for Ingres or Bouguereau to take me through their techniques… it depends what I’m tackling as to who’s brain I’d like to pick most!
Do you work from live models sitting most the time? From photos?
I work in a number of ways depending on the piece – often I’ll begin with thumbnail sketches – really quick notes to get the idea down. I may be working with a particular sitter or I’ll look for a model and location that suits the mood of that idea. I work in a slow process, building up many layers. Back in the studio I work from many, many reference photos – but it’s important to keep your hand in, working from life too. There is no substitute for understanding the subtleties of skin color than to work from life.
What materials, specific brand of paint/glue/pencil do you prefer to use?
I prefer M. Graham or Old Holland Oils, Rosemary and Co. brushes and Spectrum mediums. I’m an inveterate tester of techniques, always seeking the holy grail of the perfect tools. The perfect medium, trying to adjust the feel of the paint under the brush just so, the speed it dries, the shine (or lack of it) and all the other considerations that go in to bringing about the image that you started out with in your minds eye!
Is there a technique, procedure or tip that you have discovered, you could pass onto other artists?
Keep looking for your unique visual language – it’s the one that rings most true, keep pushing yourself and learning. Don’t lose sight of what you love about it, prepare for very long hours, lots of plate spinning, be professional. Write down your techniques! Don’t reinvent the wheel – most of this stuff has been honed by someone somewhere… and ultimately make sure it’s yourself who you are trying to impress the most with each new piece!
What is your favorite word? Elbow.
Last song you chose to listen to? Elbow.
If you could pick one piece of art to own, out of the world’s museums, personal collections and galleries, what would it be?
Too many… probably Ingres’ Grand Odalisque (below) so I could pour over it’s technique.
Of all your works, what is your own personal favorite? What was the thought or vision behind the work and why is it your favorite?
I’m not sure I have a favorite – some mean more than others to me – the pieces I’ve had selected for the BP Portrait Award for example, I’ve kept those.
What was the last event/movie/art/anything that really moved you emotionally? Be it sad, angry or happy?
The unveiling of my portrait of the WWI veteran (above) was very moving – finally getting to show it to the friends and family and seeing their response meant a lot.
I can’t live without … Coffee in the morning
It’s not hip, but I really love… Reading old cookery books in bed.
My favorite motto is…. Follow your bliss. (Joseph Campbell)
(This entry was originally posted on 1/24/11 )
artist interview, bp portrait awards, mary jane ansell, mary jane ansell artist, mary jane ansell interview, realism
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