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October 28, 2022 - November 10, 2022

MARY MABBUTT – LIFE IN COLOUR- Dowload the catalogue

Mary Mabbutt’s works have been widely exhibited, with pieces held in numerous private and public collections including the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Since completing her Post Graduate degree at the Royal Academy of Art she has had several solo exhibitions in London at the Paton Gallery, the New Grafton Gallery and the Russell Gallery. Her practice has remained the driving force of her career whilst also teaching as a part time lecturer at several institutions, most notably Falmouth University and Central Saint Martins. I met with her one week before the opening of her solo exhibition at Beside the Wave to hear all about her recent work and lifelong creative process.

As we make our way up to Mary Mabbutt’s studio, located in her Falmouth home, I glimpse familiar cabinets and colour palettes that have become instantly recognisable from her prolific career. Gentle cadmium yellow is softened by dusky taupe and off white. A few of Mary’s most recent paintings enrich the subtle palettes of her interiors with considered and complementary palettes. Her studio is located on the first floor with two large windows overlooking the carefully tended garden below. It is a long room flooded by natural light, her brushes are organised in pots on a small shelving unit placed to one side whilst two tables, situated below the large windows, are enveloped in smaller works of varying size. Towards the back of the studio, amongst countless stacked paintings, there are two further shelving units adorned with books and old sketchbooks as well as smaller pieces. Everything appears to have its place in Mary’s studio, not dissimilar from her painting compositions.

The works comprise of angular shapes building scenes of intriguing forms with light and shadow marks carefully leading your eye around the painting. These captivating tones are usually rendered in groups of three across the works so that your attention is swept across the entirety of the canvas. The high points of bright colour, usually smaller elements such as a pot or blade of foliage, have an unadulterated glow of unmixed paint whilst complimentary tones sit below. Mary is drawn to colour; the subject of her own experience is simply a vehicle for experimenting with complementary tones and varying palettes. Two colours that appear repetitively are yellow and red, Mary often allows for these to be the driving force behind her paintings. Agonising over the correct hues and brightness until they are exactly how she envisages them. Often, she can labour over one piece for so long she begins it again until she can have a series of the same painting with slightly small adjustments to each. It is this laborious approach that enables Mary’s work to be an enticing bridge between exquisitely simple yet perfectly detailed. Blocks of colour interspersed by considered details and forms, never too busy nor too sparse. The layers build upon the surface of the canvas to create texture, paint is allowed time to dry before the final thin layer is teased across the canvas in dry, disjointed marks using a hog hair brush. This application of paint gives immediate depth to Mary’s work.

When I ask Mary about her process, whether she begins each work with a series of sketches or preliminary paintings, she admits it’s a difficult question to answer. Each painting has its own journey, some are immediate studies from life whilst others begin as quick, uninhibited sketches that later lead to countless variations of the same composition. Mary is an artist constantly inspired by specific elements, be it the texture of a plant or the colour of her tablecloth. How she can translate that enthusiasm onto a canvas is what drives her compulsive approach to her practice. She is an innate creative, finding constant inspiration in everyday life. Mary’s subject is her own experience ‘No one can tell you you’ve got it wrong if you paint your own life.’

Whilst studying her BA at Loughborough her contemporaries were predominantly male abstract painters who often told her to pick up a larger brush and stop painting the figure. It was Mary’s tenacity, from early in her career, that has enabled her linear progression as a figurative painter to become instantly recognisable. Amongst the shelves of neatly stacked works there are two small pieces Mary created whilst at college. These focus on her own experience again but with a far more diverse palette. One displays her as a young woman, in her student room with her parents sat beside her, visiting for her birthday it would appear, given the frosted birthday cake and cards. The details are painted so delicately that even the cover of books, strewn across the floor, are instantly recognisable. From Virginia Woolf to Hermann Hesse, these paintings capture the essence of young adulthood in the 1970’s. Mary’s paintings give weight to the female experience with powerful and sturdy figures performing gendered roles, from brushing a child’s hair in her earlier works to shopping in Zara and using a sewing machine. The subtle femininity is laced in strength and grit which emulates the artist herself. Mary is gentle, considered, and modest yet definitive in her conviction, all combined with an astute wit. To be welcomed into her home and studio whilst able to discuss her practice and painting was a true joy. It is no surprise she has been a part time tutor since the late 70s, her passion radiates, and you can’t help but be inspired.

This new collection incorporates several small pieces, no larger than twelve centimetres square. Mary explains how they originate from larger pieces she wished she’d had the opportunity to exhibit together ‘I thought at this size I could almost exhibit them all together in a shoe box!’. These smaller pieces are sometimes small extracts from the larger works where the hand of a figure and a culmination of colour and pattern can create an exciting composition of its own. Mary’s practice is the continuous search for the ultimate palette and marriage of texture and composition. She is never finished with questioning ‘What if?’. Her extensive career has seen her exhibit with the likes of Celia Paul and Maggi Hambling but what truly sets her apart from these artists is the intrinsic joy within her work. ‘Art is supposed to make life better.’ Mary’s work is certainly testament to that.

– Sophie Castle


October 28, 2022
November 10, 2022
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Beside The Wave
8-10 Arwenack Street
Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 3JA United Kingdom
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01326 211132
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