Medium: Watercolor on paper

Signature: Signed upper right


Set in a realm of fantasy, Mary Spain’s work exhibits oddly distorted figures in a child-like manner with an underlying sense of absurdity. Through her toylike and primitive style, Spain created surrealistic dramas that puzzle and entrance the viewer.

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, Mary Spain studied art at Syracuse University and moved to Ohio in the 1960s to teach art at Chagrin Falls High School. She was a frequent exhibitor in the May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art during the 1970s and early 1980s where she won several Juror’s mentions for her paintings.

Characteristic of her work is a flattened frontal gaze or a total profile view of her figures that recall Renaissance portraiture. Additionally, most of her characters are seen wearing odd or unusual hats. Spain believed that these hats identify the figures much like they do for professions such as chefs, clergy, or law enforcement. The hats also act to contain the characters. While her figures often appear cute or innocent, Spain felt they were filled with mischief. Without their hats, she imagined that they might just explode.

Spain’s interest in antique dolls and toys lends insight into the construction of her figures. Many figures have marionette like qualities with blocky, out of proportion limbs, suggesting that perhaps they are not entirely in control of their actions. During her struggle with cancer, Spain used these figures to express her feelings of pain and sadness. While her deeply personal vocabulary and symbolism might be lost to the viewer, the narratives and embedded emotional substance remain.

source: CAN Journal


From the collection of George Roby (1936-2017)

Type of Work: Paintings

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Other works by Mary Spain