Saturday, June 21, 2008

Artist's Statement: Mary Gilkerson

Edisto Variations, 2005
9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in

"Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going."

– Tennessee Williams

Certain images can trigger emotional responses that seem based not only on a primordial, gut level but also on the cultural baggage that they've accrued over time. I am interested in the ways that these memories and myths shape the way that we view reality.

I have come to realize recently that in many ways that what I am doing in my paintings is exploring what it means to be a woman born and living in the South during the late 20th and early 21st century. There is a seductive mysterious quality about the South that drew me back even after I went north to New York like so many other young artists.

A sense of place, in particular a connectedness to the land that borders on the irrational, has become increasingly important to me. This has manifested itself in my work in both my choice of subjects and how I handle them. For the last several years I have been painting and making monotypes of a place that I consider deeply engaging and mysterious – Edisto Island. There is a sense of fragility to Edisto's landscape that comes both from the play of natural forces and from the threatened encroachment of human "development".

A second series that I have been working on for several years is Midnight's Garden, a series of flowers, such as magnolias and camellias, some from life and some based on the floral still life paintings of Martin J. Heade. Heade was one of the first late 19th century artists to romanticize "moonlight and magnolias". I am fascinated with the strength of the forms, the sensuous lines of these flowers and the contrasting symbolism that has become attached to them, especially in Southern culture.