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Won’t you come on in?
Who are you?
My name is Margaret Mair, and I have become an artist.
I was born in Jamaica, and for the most part raised there. My family also spent some time in Barbados and England, and we visited Ireland, France, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland when my father, a professor at the time, was on sabbatical. Then I came to Canada to study – sociology – and it became my home. Now I continue travel when I can – but much more slowly, by sailboat, with my husband. I guess I was part of a family that liked to explore, and I kept right on exploring after I left home!
So what about art?
When I was growing up our family home was full of original paintings. One of Edna Manley’s statues, New Moon, graced our living room. Even now that statue’s graceful lines remain etched in my memory.
Wherever we traveled we visited museums and galleries (how I hated this as a teenager!). The one that made the greatest impression on me, at nine years old, was the Louvre. The paintings that caught my eye, that I remember still, were powerful images full of pain, ecstasy and religious symbolism.
When did you start to think of yourself as an artist?
Not when I was young. As a child, aside from constant doodling (a trait I had in common with my mother), enjoying crafts and taking pleasure in working with a trained art teacher who came to my high school for all of one academic year, I don’t think I showed much desire or inclination to be an artist.
It wasn’t until I was an adult, when I was recovering from a bout of illness and feeling weak, crotchety and at loose ends, that I started down the road to becoming an artist. It started so simply. All I did was pick up some paper and a pencil and start to draw. And then feel dissatisfied with it. And then decide to learn how to draw better.
That’s the kind of path I’ve followed since. Try working with pastels, take some lessons, work with them on my own, refine my techniques, improve. Try acrylic paints, and use the same approach.
I certainly didn’t think of myself as an artist in the beginning. After a while I thought of myself as a painter – until I learned how to use my painting to express what I feel. Then I began to think of myself as an artist.
What is your art about?
My art is about the world I see around me, and what I think and feel about what is happening there. I work at using it to share my ideas, thoughts and feelings in way that lets the viewer in, sharing my emotions and thoughts with them, rather than trying to make them feel what I do.
Interestingly enough I have had people tell me some images have made them cry. I understand how they feel – often a painting that brings someone else to tears has made me sad too. A painting that makes someone else uncomfortable has made me uncomfortable as well. But for me art is not about comfort – it’s about life.
Life is complex. It is full of difficult and sad things – but is also full of love, joy and hope, and I paint those too. Times of movement, times of contemplation – they are all part of my work and of me.
I suppose you could sum it up by saying that my art is about life as I see it.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere.
When we travel on our sailboat, the changing landscapes and people bring new shapes and colours into my world. At sea, the vastness of the seascape redefines perspective. Being encircled by the horizon, watching sea, sky and weather, makes me think about our natural selves, so small, so powerless – and yet, with thought and care, so able to survive and thrive here. Then there are the colours – land and sea have within them an unlimited palate of colours and hues that tease the imagination.
Then there are all the things I am interested in –
- Our oceans, of course, and how to keep them healthy.
- The people around me, their lives and what affects them.
- Words. Words are everywhere, and any combination of words may create an image in my mind. Everything from a scene described in a book to a news item to the words of a song to random comments heard in public places to the names of boats – any of these will start my imagination going.
- And finally my own thoughts – sometimes I need to express an idea, a feeling, find a way to say something about a situation. Painting is my way of doing that – particularly when words fail.
Finding inspiration is usually the easy part. Inspiration is all around me. It’s translating that inspiration into an image that is the challenge; and that is the challenge that keeps me working.
Why do you like to paint? What about other media?
There is something seductive about paint. It has something to do with the way it moves on the surface you put it on, the way it follows the brush around, the way colours combine on the brush to create new colours. It has something to do with the way you can create textures and patterns with it, show brush strokes or hide them. And with acrylics it also has something to do with the speed with which you need to work, at least for me. I don’t want to slow it down or give myself more time – that would change the experience completely. Maybe when it’s time to slow down I’ll turn to oils.
Oil pastels are very sensuous. They move around under my fingers, and blend or lie in layers depending on what I do – and how hot or cold the day is, which makes working with them in different places into different experiences. I can shape them and scrape them and, best of all, I can just have fun.
Pencils and drawing are my foundations. I use them to capture the original shapes and textures of things, and then to simplify and work out shapes and ideas. It’s better to work out the twist of a body or the shape of a bird’s wing before I turn to paint, so that I am not concentrated on those kinds of details. And I use pencils to record things I want to remember for another time, including ideas that are not yet truly formed.
Where do you want to go with your art?
If life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, then art is, for me, what happens when I’m busy living life. Which means that as long as I’m able I’ll be creating art.
I expect I’ll keep returning to the themes and ideas I work with now, because I am deeply interested in them. So –
- I’ll always feel strongly that we cannot disentangle ourselves from the natural world, and that we are, in the end, completely dependent on it.
- I’ll always be fascinated by people, by the way they move and dance, the way they look, the things they think and say and sing.
- I’ll always be touched by the sad and difficult and foolish things that happen in the world around me.
Which means that I’ll keep responding to the world around me. But my responses won’t stay the same. Life is like a spiral. Similar ideas, similar circumstances come round and round again – but each time we see them from a different place.
And as time passes I’ll work with more knowledge in my head and more practice in my hands.
Perhaps the better question is: where will your work take you? And the answer is – I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out!
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