Mary Souza, Herald, oil, 68x56in

"The Jungian psychoanalyst, James Hillman, has said that the world does not ask for belief; it asks for noticing, attention, application, and care." John Westerhoff, Sensing Beauty.

As a painter I act as a witness: I attend to the world through my senses and the eye of my heart and, by the marks of my hand, respond with a record of particular presence. Every stroke and layer carries the history and immediacy of engagement—of artist with subject and material, and between spirit and form. Each encounter of viewer and image adds to the conversation, community, and life of the work.

I draw my subjects from my experience and memory. Some are figures in motion -- physically, psychically, and spiritually. Evoking liminality, they emerge at thresholds, boundaries, or margins. Others are visions of interior spaces: I shift focus, eliminating the boundary of the human form, to explore new layers of reality and the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm. Although the subjects are illusions on a surface, they are grounded in the materiality of the medium and evidence of process.

Using palette knives, my fingers -- and, occasionally, brushes -- and mixed media that includes oil paint, oil stick, wax, graphite and solvent, I build up the body of the painting by spraying, pouring, dripping, scraping, and sanding until the skin is thick and rich, both opaque and transparent, sometimes obscuring or protecting the body underneath and other times revealing layers of growth. I alternate between building and excavating, inscribing lines and then filling them in, until the work has acquired a patina of time, depth, and presence.

To me, the flesh and gesture of paint on the structure of canvas act to embody feeling. The painting becomes heart and spirit incarnated by matter, a body that ponders the mysteries of communication, connection, and transformation.

STATEMENT- Turning Tuning Series

As a painter I act as a witness, actively encountering the world and gathering “what the senses see, what the heart feels, and the world suffers.” *

I carry these encounters, visions and feelings with me into the solitude of the studio, where they provide fuel and a ground for discovery, yet are subsumed in a meditative practice – a practice of intercession, healing and beauty.

I often begin with a healing mantra. As I listen, sing, and breathe, I address the canvas directly, inscribing the syllables in large calligraphic strokes of dripping indigo paint (often across multiple canvases at once). The repetitive rhythmic motion and sound, activates my body and quiets my mind as I turn inward and tune in to the vibrations and rhythms within and beyond myself. Then, I might quickly create all-over rows of circular shapes, inspired by the sea of bodhisattvas at Sanjusangendo in Kyoto (the 1001 radiant golden statues of compassionate beings).

Next, I respond to the energy and structure before me.  My recent experience as a Visiting Artist at The American Academy in Rome gave me the opportunity to be more trusting of chance, risk-taking, and non-judgmental mark making.  So I spontaneously add more color, scribbles, drips, squiggles and blocks.

As my intuitive conversation with the work continues, I attend to what captures me, noticing what wants to emerge or recede. Some areas are emphasized by scribbled outlines of graphite; others are obscured by drips or blocks of color. With palette knives, my fingers, oil sticks, graphite —and, occasionally brushes – I alternate between building and excavating, quieting and activating, until the surface is rich with layers of process and has acquired a patina of time, depth, and presence.

In attending to particulars and connecting to the universal through the matter and gesture of paint, I seek to express the spirit and energy in my subject, the world and myself. 


*James Hillman, “Practicing Beauty” in Uncontrollable Beauty, p.266

STATEMENT-Rome Rhythym Series

As a recent Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome I was blessed with time for active looking and mark making, reflection and incubation, and for creative stimulus within the community of other artists and scholars.  I collected memories and raw material as sources for painting, printmaking, and mixed media work and enjoyed dedicated time to immediately respond to my sensory engagement with Rome. The collections and productions from this period provided seeds for this still-in-progress body of work, Rome Rhythm.

Rome, with its multiple coexisting layers of history and culture, appeals to my sensibilities in many ways; through the abstraction and open-endedness of ruins, which create not only a sense of the past, but openings for the imagination; by themes from antiquity, which spark the archetypal memory; and because of monuments and figures – containers of history and spirit, vessels of the past, which speak to me now and point me to the future.

As I walked around the city, I engaged my body and my senses in notitia or attentive noticing, absorbing spirit and sensory environment, capturing images and letting them capture me—from ancient epitaphs, inscriptions, and graffiti, to patterns of pavement and the many steep steps up to the Academy, the lines of architecture and monuments, curves of drapery, figurative forms, maps and objects of antiquity, powerful color, and water.

Having returned from Rome to my studio, I continue to trace my pilgrim’s journey with the action of art making. I address the canvas directly, giving visual form to captured memory and feeling and seeking to express the spirit and energy in my subject and myself. Beginning with energetic scribbles or lines as the ground of the city, I continue my “intervention on the plan of Rome” by building the work with fragments of memory and evidence of process: excavated layers; disrupted surface and structure; calligraphic gesture; things defined and obscured, and traces of the journey.  

I seek to trust the immediate response or mark and strive for what Hsieh Ho called “spirit resonance.”



   © 2018 mary souza