Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Featured Artist: Mary O'Malley


Please introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Mary O’Malley and I live and work in Somerville, MA. I am originally from the Boston area, and have lived here all my life with the exception of two years I spent in New York city while attending the School of Visual Arts earning my Master’s degree. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to study art and went to the Massachusetts College of Art after high school and got my BFA in Painting.

Mary O'Malley talked about her drawings shown in "REPETITION - Negotiating the Irrationalities" exhibit held at artSPACE@16 in Malden, Massachusetts. This exhibit was selected as one of the eight best shows by Mary Sherman featured on WBUR.ORG's VISUAL ARTS BEST BETS in April 2006. (Photo: Sand T)

What kind of job(s) do you do besides creating art?

I have been teaching at the DeCordova Museum School since 2007. I teach painting and also an alternative drawing class, as well as a parent/child class for 3-6 year olds. During the day I work full-time as an administrative assistant at a non-profit educational research and development firm.

Can you give our readers some insight into your work in general?

For many years I considered myself a painter and my work was primarily oil on canvas. I always loved to draw, however, and struggled a bit with trying to integrate my paintings with my drawings.

Bouquet. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

When I was in grad school, a professor, Gary Stefan, suggested I try drawing on materials that I would never consider—different kinds of paper, different pens and tools, etc.

Bird Bouquet #2. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

This search for new materials led me to find a beautiful black drawing paper that I fell in love with.

Bird Bouquet #1. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

I began experimenting with different pens that would show up on the black, and discovered metallic gel ink pens. I did a small series of drawings with the silver ink on black paper, and something clicked.

What’s the inspiration behind your drawings? How does it all start, what techniques and materials do you use? Why have you chosen to present them in this form?

When I finished grad school, I was working with the black paper and pens, but thinking of them more as a supplement to my painting. I soon realized that my real interest was with the drawings, and that I could achieve what I was after much better with drawing than painting.

Mental Map #6. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

Making the decision to work exclusively in drawing, I felt liberated from the heavy weight of the history of painting that hangs over every contemporary painter’s head. I had started to become very interested in creating work that was extremely detailed, meticulous, and also decorative.

Mental Map #2. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

My work had always been in some sense about nature, but now I was able to create my own world inspired by systems and patterns found in nature, as well as its wild, unpredictable and ominous side.

Mental Map #1. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

I wanted to create images that existed somewhere between the man-made and the natural worlds, so I began compiling many different resources in the work-- botanical illustration, direct observation of nature, microscopic scientific imagery, the Baroque, Victorian decorative arts, architecture, textile patterns, etc.—to create a hybrid landscape that is part observation, part fantasy.

How long does it take to complete one drawing?

I often get asked how long it takes to complete one of my drawings. Although I don’t have an exact answer, I can say it takes months from the original conception to the completed work. I start by gathering images that I collect for inspiration, and I sometimes do very basic preliminary sketches before starting on a piece.

Hanging Garden. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley.

For some of the larger, more complex works, I have projected and traced my sketches onto the paper to lay out the basic structure. But from there, they develop very organically and spontaneously. I often don’t know what the final image will be until it’s completed.

Expanding Colony. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley.

It’s important to me that they are done entirely by hand, especially as they get bigger and more complex. This act of obsessive mark-making and almost ridiculous attention to every detail is fundamental to the work.

How have you handled the business side of being an artist?

This is always a tough question. I have basically learned as I've gone along, seeking advice from colleagues and friends when I didn't know how to handle a situation. I did get a lot of good advice and tips in grad school, being surrounded by many people who had been in the field longer than I have, who had different experiences from my own. And I've also tried to follow my instincts, and do what's best for myself and the work.

What galleries have you exhibited in? Tell us about the awards and recognition you received in the past year.

In the past year I participated in the show, Drawn to Detail, at the DeCordova Museum and also Overflow at Laconia Gallery in Boston. I was also awarded the critic’s pick in the drawing and printmaking category in The 2008 Boston Art Awards.

The Lesson. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

What are you working on right now? Are you planning any exhibitions of your work in the near future?

I am currently in a group show at Miller/Block gallery in Boston, Economies of Scale, that will be up through the end of July. I will also be in a group show at the Sam Lee Gallery in Los Angeles, as well as working on a solo show at Sam Lee this fall.

Please give us some details about the group show at Miller/Block gallery in Boston, "Economies of Scale".

The show was organized by Alexis Dunfee of Miller/Block gallery. The show includes more than 30 artists that were invited to create small-scale works that address issues inherent in these recessionary times: economics, consumerism, reuse, and the meaning and sources of value.

Haeckls Garden. Image courtesy of Mary O'Malley

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope to be continuing to develop my work, and also do be in a situation where I can devote more time to it. I would love to be teaching at the college level.

Would you provide links to articles and reviews about your work?

Please use the following links:

Do you offer any classes, commissioned works?

I teach painting and drawing at the DeCordova Museum School. I am open to commissioned pieces.

Do you have website(s) for interested readers to learn more about your work? Would you like to share your contact info with our readers?

My website is You can email me at or call 917-488-2289.