California-based artist Mary Weatherford is known for her large paintings that incorporate neon light to convey her experiences of specific places and moments.Read More
Early in her career, incorporated objects and the treatment of colour became key aspects of the artist's work. Completing her BA at Princeton University in 1984 and MFA at Bard College in 2006, Mary Weatherford's paintings of the 1990s and early 2000s incorporated assembled objects such as seashells, sponges, and starfish.
Made up of thin washes of Flashe paint, these early paintings gave way to her semi-figurative 'Vines Paintings' (2007–2008), and later her series of 'Cave Paintings' (2010), based on observations of changing lighting conditions around a sea cave at California's Pismo Beach.
Flashe paint, a consistent feature of Mary Weatherford's art, is a vivid, pigment-heavy but easily dilutable vinyl paint that allows for a diverse range of colours and textures. Applying this over linen canvases prepared with a mix of white gesso and marble dust, the paint surface in Weatherford's works can range from a thick matte to a translucent transparent wash.
The artist's application of this medium in her works ranges anywhere between consistent edge-to-edge colour, to clusters of paint marks among barren patches of canvas.
In 2012, Weatherford first began incorporating neon tubes into her paintings with 'The Bakersfield Project'—a series inspired by the colourful neon signs the artist saw on old factories and restaurants while driving around the small city of Bakersfield as a visiting artist at California State University Bakersfield.
Neon rods connected by thins wires are screwed into the canvas. Completely removed from their commercial context, the neon tubes take on the appearance of lines drawn across the painted surface of Weatherford's abstract paintings. Their overpowering brightness can sometimes generate an afterimage that lingers in the viewer's vision.
A core part of Weatherford's practice, these neon works were the subject of the first book to be written about her practice: Jennifer Peterson's Mary Weatherford: The Neon Paintings (2016).
As Weatherford explained in an interview for Gagosian Quarterly, by using neon, she seeks 'to depict or deliver not only a visual translation of a place in time, but with that, the scent, the sound, and the feeling.'
This is true not only of her 'Manhattan' (2013) and 'Los Angeles' (2014) series, which explore aspects of the city and contrasts of city and nature, it also applies to the more recently unveiled 'Train Yard' (2016–2020) series. In No. 4000 (2017–2018), for example, Weatherford recreates the sensation of standing under the night sky in a steam-filled trainyard, using only tonal variations of black, applied in patches and swirls, pierced by white neon.
Mary Weatherford's Gloria (2018), an imposing canvas of red hues horizontally slashed by a fissure-like red neon line, demonstrates the effect of scale in her later neon works. Into Space and Time (2020), meanwhile, demonstrates the greater conceptual depth of her recent works, as it pairs an art historical inquiry into the colour pink with an examination of humanity's visual and imagined perception of the cosmos.
Mary Weatherford has exhibited widely across the United States in group and solo exhibitions, including MoMA's 2014 survey show Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World. In 2020, the artist's first travelling retrospective, Mary Weatherford: Canyon–Daisy–Eden (2020–2021) commenced at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, later to be shown at SITE Santa Fe and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in Texas.
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