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Artist Spotlight: Mary Alayne Thomas

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Artist Spotlight: Mary Alayne Thomas
Fairy tales fascinate Mary Alayne Thomas. She paints her own modern day versions, capturing magical moments that we all experience, both real and imagined. Initially taken with the luminosity and versatility of watercolor, Mary eventually began exploring and incorporating other media such as encaustic, gold leaf, india ink, pencil, and silkscreen. She coats her watercolor images in encaustic with other media layered in between, a technique she has been refining for the past ten years. Encaustic adds a sense of atmosphere and mystery to her already ephemeral paintings. Mary’s imagination is fueled by her beautiful surroundings — from Sante Fe, NM to her current home in Portland, OR.

How did you get started as an artist?

I was raised in Sante Fe by two full-time artists. When I was little, I would tangle up my mother’s loom and make clay animals in my father’s pottery studio. We would travel as a family to art fairs around the country, where I saw a myriad of artists approaching their passions through different mediums.

Although I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t drawing (I illustrated a children’s magazine at the age of 11), I do remember when I began to actually fall in love with art. It was in high school, when I discovered the fine art section in the public library, and opened up a book on Michelangelo. I took the book home and began to copy his sketches. I felt something, looking at his work, that I had never felt before. From then on, I would park myself in the fine arts else and pour through each book, artist by artist. It was then that I decided I wanted to be an artist, professionally.

How does your love of nature influence your art?

I was recently speaking with a friend of mine who works as a musician. We both talked about the longs walks we take through Portland’s forest areas, and how much our experience in these places revitalizes us as artists. We both throw so much of ourselves into our work, we find ourselves drained afterwards, unable to move forward. But the wonderment and enormity of even the smallest flower is so overwhelming, that one can’t help but become invigorated.

In terms of direct influence, my experiences with nature can be elusive. This summer I’ve had the privilege of repeatedly encountering a pair of spotted owls during my evening walks. I can think of very few events that impacted my work to the same degree as these two owls, and yet I have yet to rush home and paint owls after our meetings. Instead I feel like these moments energize the larger themes within my work, particularly womanhood and the natural world.

What five words best describe your work?

Secretive, atmospheric, veiled, wistful, feminine

Tell us a bit about your technique.

Over the past 20 years, my technique has changed a lot! At the heart of my process are pencil sketches that evolve into watercolor paintings. These are then coated with a complex layering of encaustic and original silkscreen images. There is a sense of mystery, a softness that emanates from the floating art forms within the transparent waxy surface. My intention is to create an atmospheric work, a dreamy, ethereal expression, reminiscent of the children’s illustration from the Golden Age of illustration, and Pre-Raphaelite paintings that I love.

What do you listen to while you work?

Broadcast, one of my favorite bands, just re-released all their albums on vinyl. I’ve been listening to them non-stop all summer. Playing records in my studio while I work is a little problematic, getting up to flip the album every so often, but I feel like it makes me so much more aware of the music. Other days, when I really have to meet deadlines, I’ll put a New Order CD on repeat so that I can paint until I drop.

What is your favorite thing about being an artist?

I guess I approach a question like this as a lifelong lover of art. I see paintings from time to time that strike me so powerfully that I feel like I literally leave my own body, I go some place else. As a painter I get the opportunity to try and offer that emotion to other people.

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