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 Mary L. Hart  (1960 - )

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Lived/Active: Maine/Massachusetts/Connecticut / England      Known for: gestural painting, geological and botanical, miniature paintings of natural objects

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Biography from Aucocisco Galleries:
Mary Hart was born in 1960 in Connecticut.  Her childhood experiences were shaped by her mother's training in the natural sciences, particularly botany and geology.  Hart's mature work is known for its close observation of natural forms. 

She earned her MFA at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College where she was the recipient of the Elaine de Kooning scholarship in Painting.  Hart has lived and worked in Portland, Maine since the 1980's.

Hart's early work was influenced by Cezanne and Monet with their emphasis on direct and spontaneous recording of daily life and their practice of plein aire painting. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1982 with an honors degree in English and Art and awards in poetry and painting, Hart traveled and painted the landscape in California, Greece, England and Maine.

Her direction shifted while spending a year as a Reynolds Scholar studying at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London.  During this time she discovered the work of Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse, and began to look closely at Georgia O'Keeffe. She read widely from women writers and critics, especially Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer, Griselda Pollack and Lucy Lippard.  These writers challenged Hart's traditional training in art and supported a more personal and emotional exploration in her work.

On her return to the United States, Hart settled in the western mountains of Maine and pursued a series of projects that sought to balance extended observation of the natural world with an inward turning emotional intensity.  Alfred Stieglitz's concept of Equivalents had a direct impact on her first two major series of work: a body of large gestural paintings of the pine forest near her home, and a group of paintings and sculptural reliefs made during a year spent observing the paper mill in Rumford, Maine.

Hart's work from this period was exhibited at the Dean Velentgas Gallery in Portland and at the University of Maine Art Gallery in Farmington.  Following this time of intense productivity, Hart spent two months at Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs.

Yaddo brought a period of reflection and focused studio work. Another Yaddo resident, art critic Suzi Gablik, was writing and reading aloud chapters from The Re-enchantment of Art, reinforcing a step Hart was taking in her work.  For the first time, she began to paint from inner imagery, discarding the direct tie to the landscape. Her work continued to use materials from the landscape, such as dirt and leaves, but the symbolic structure of the work was more purely abstract. She exhibited these pieces at the Dean Velentgas Gallery in Maine and was included in many group shows throughout New England.

At Yaddo, Hart also met the artist, Adele Cohen, who became a lifelong friend. Cohen's work, abstract paintings and sculptures, recently exhibited in a retrospective at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York, is notable for its brooding emotion and powerful draftsmanship.  Cohen mentored Hart, sharing her knowledge of the art process and her frustrations and successes as a woman artist.  In a letter written in 1992, she chided Hart, saying "It took you a long time to find out you must not think too much about painting?You end up doing the work in your head.  If the "gut" and emotion are there?experience and dexterity will (should) let you do it.  If it doesn't work, do another one."

In 1993, Hart completed her MFA in painting at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.  A multi-disciplinary program, Bard brought Hart in contact with artists involved in a wide range of visual media, as well as writers and composers.  Hart worked directly with painter Alan Cote, and painter/critic, Steven Westfall.  Other visitors to her studio included the poets, Ann Lauterbach and Robert Kelly, filmmaker Peter Hutton and sculptor, Petah Coyne. 

This was a time of ferment for Hart after her relatively quiet years in Maine.  Her work leaped from idea to idea.  Questions were raised that she has been answering ever since. 

Following graduate school, Hart turned to printmaking, joining Peregrine Press in Maine in 1995.  Working in monotype allowed Hart to synthesize imagery from a wide variety of sources, melding old life room sketches with sampling from the natural world.  Imagery returned to her work, but the associations between images were now more lyrical, less defined by a landscape reality.  During this time, Hart met and married her husband, the artist and designer, C. Michael Lewis. Their son, Mica, was born in 1996.

As Hart's use of imagery became more specific in the late 1990's, she returned to painting in oils on small, polished wood panels.  Dealing with issues of fertility, damage, struggle and beauty, Hart's work continues to link the natural world with an inner narrative.  Her small, sometimes miniature paintings are intensely focused and detailed but their larger purpose is the formation of visual associations that describe the artist's place in the world and her emotional response to it.

Her paintings have also been included in exhibitions at the Portland Museum of Art and she had solo shows at the Trustman Gallery at Simmons College and the University Of Maine Museum Of Art in Bangor.  Hart's work is currently in the collection of the Portland Museum of Art, Simmons College, the University of Maine, Southern Maine Community College, Bates College and numerous private collectors.

She received an Artist's Resource Trust Grant in 2006, a Good Idea Grant in 2007 and was artist-in-residence at Southern Maine Community College in 2007-08. 

Mary Hart is currently at work on a series of paired paintings called, "Lexicon,".

The Articulation of Sensibility*
Mary Hart   

I think of the emotional life as a strange accretion of influences; things seen, heard and smelled, which attach themselves to specific memories, particular fears or joys.  It is an intimate and private thing, occurring primarily within the frame of my own mind, until it is released into images.

In my paintings I am interested both in mirroring the way connections between specific images and emotions are made, and in developing a chain of connections that describes a larger condition.  A recent body of work explores fertility and the loss of fertility.  The paintings develop almost randomly, perhaps starting from a printed image or a wash of color and texture, and then adding an object, or a figure. I think of the surrealist drawing games of Frottage and the Exquisite Corpse.  One step leads to another in these games.  Out of a chance texture or fold in the paper, something deeper may be discovered, a surprising thing, a new connection.  Another group of paintings begins with images of landscapes: air, water, ice and rock.  Insects and other actions create small dramas against the vastness of these landscapes.  They speak of fragility and the intrusion of disorder.

The imagery I use is personal, a visual repertoire gleaned from childhood memory, and things from daily life that snag on my peripheral vision:  a dried salamander found in the windshield wiper, a fly discarded on the windowsill, one flower singled out of a familiar mass. The paintings often juxtapose an idealized or invented landscape with an almost scientific study of the natural objects I have collected.  I am emulating the shifting focus of the mind, which can catch on a vivid reality then drift into an amorphous place, all within the same inner narrative.  The insects and flowers are sometimes lovely things, elements of bliss, and at other times they are full of dread and decay.  It is most intriguing to me when they can encompass both extremes.

My work is small, sometimes miniature.  It requires the viewer to come close, to play out a physical intimacy that reflects the intimacy of the subject.  The paintings seem quiet, but are full of disquiet.  There is an unnerving feeling that what is seen in parts may mean the opposite when understood as a whole.  We flicker between passions, but are left with a story, an emotional narrative, that only becomes visible through the slow accumulation of layers.

"Mary is a gifted painter with a fiercely personal vision.  Her work might be characterized as the articulation of sensibility* in the face of forces larger than the self.  A resident of Maine, her imagination is as deeply imbued with the first-hand experience of the power of nature as it obviously is with the consciousness of culture.  Her paintings and wonderful little drawings portray an ongoing mapping of feeling through collisions and overlays of materials and imagery sourced in art, science, industry and the natural world.  Because the subject is really feeling itself, her work is fundamentally abstract?"

Stephen Westfall, Instructor, Bard College MFA Program
Art Critic and Painter, 1996

Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard college:  MFA 1994.  Studied with painters, Alan Cote, Stephen Westfall
Byam Shaw School of Art, London, England, 1983-84
Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH: BA 1982 (English and Art), studied with Ashley Bryan, Esme Thompson
Peregrine Press Printmaking Cooperative:  1995- 2005, President 2001-2004
Maine Arts Commission Registry
Museums Where in Permanent collection:
Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME
University of Maine Museum of Art, Bangor, ME
Trustman Gallery,Simmons College, Boston, MA
Olin Arts Center, Bates College, Lewiston, ME
Southern Maine Community College, South Portland, ME
The Davistown Museum, Liberty, ME
Books and Exhibition Catalog References
2006,    Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation        91pg ,      Exhibit Catalog,      Color
2004    L.C. Bates Museum    Portraits, Maine Natural History    Exhibition Catalog
2001    Emily Wilson, Poems    Univesity of Iowa Press    85 pg.    color cover
2000    Stonefence Review    Dartmouth College Press    125 pg.     color cover
2000    Words and Images    University of Southern Maine Press    111pg    color image
1998     Henry Hart,     Rooster Mask, poems       University of Illinois Press,     87pg,     color cover
Magazine or Newspaper References:
2007    Portland Press Herald, SMCC's artist in residence ready to go, feature article, Melanie Creamer
2007    Art New England, Spotlight Review, Carl Little
2004    Portland Press Herald, A Landscapist's Flights of Fancy, feature article, Bob Keyes
2003    Portland Press Herald, Art Review
2003    Bar Harbor Times, Destination:  Art, review, Carl Little

Exhibition Record:  Museums, Institutions and Awards:           

2007-08    Good Idea Grant, Maine Arts Commission, Augusta, ME.
2005    Artist's Resource Trust Grant, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, MA.
1992    Elaine de Kooning Scholarship, Bard College.
1988    Yaddo Fellowship in painting.
1983-84    Reynolds Scholarship for one year post-graduate art study in London, England.
1982    Adelbert Ames Fine Arts Award, Dartmouth College.
1982    Academy of American Poets, Poetry Prize, Dartmouth College.
1981    Xerox Grant for painting.
1982    Marcus Heiman Award for the Arts, Dartmouth College.

Exhibition Record:  Galleries and Art Shows


2006    Aucocisco Gallery, Portland, ME:  Mortal Folly.
2004    Aucocisco Gallery, Portland, ME:  Incursions.
2003    University of Maine Museum of Art, Zillman Gallery, Bangor, ME: Recent Paintings.
2002    Aucocisco Gallery, Portland, ME:  Field Notes.
2000    Simmons College, The Trustman Art Gallery, Boston, MA:  Ephemeral.
1992    Phillips Exeter Academy, The Lamont Gallery, Exeter, NH: Organisms Meet.    
1989    Dean Velentgas Gallery, Portland, ME.
1988    University of Maine at Farmington, The Art Gallery:  Millsmoke.
1988    Dean Velentgas Gallery, Portland, ME.


2008    Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME:  New Natural History.
2007    Whitney Gallery, Portland, ME:  Tiny.
2006    Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME:  New Acquisitions.
2006    Simmons College, Boston, MA: Artist's Resource Trust Anniversary Exhibit.
2005    Cambridge Art Association, Cambridge, MA:  National Juried Exhibition.
2005    Marshall Store Gallery, York, ME:  The Art of the Print.
2004    LC Bates Museum, Hinckley, ME:  Portraits, Maine Natural History.
2002    Aucocisco/Eastland Gallery, Portland, ME: Peregrine Press Group Show.
2001    University of Minnesota, Weisman Gallery: National Print Biennial.
2000    Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, ME: Peregrine Press Group Show.
2000    Greenhut Gallery, Portland, ME: Peregrine Press Group Show.
1998    Maine Coast Artists, Rockport, ME: Peregrine Press Exhibition.
1995    Ames Gallery, Belfast, ME: Maine Industry.
1995    Icon Gallery, Brunswick, ME.
1993    University of Maine, Augusta, ME: Paint.
1993    Icon Gallery, Brunswick, ME.
1991    Dean Velentgas Gallery, Portland, ME: Gallery Artists.
1991    University of Maine, Augusta: Natural Process.
1990    Berkshire Art Association, Pittsfield, MA: Works on Paper.
1988    University of Southern Maine: All Maine Biennial Works on Paper.


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