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"Pilgrimage" Diptych, MaryLea Harris, Acrylic on Canvas, 40" x 60"
My fourth class in the M.I.S. program was painting with John Figura. It was in this course I finally began to develop a focused body of work. I grew up in a neighborhood called Bellevue Forest, a community know for its surrounding oak, tulip poplar, sugar gum maple, cherry, and beech trees. My home and studio are also surrounded by woods and open fields. These pastoral and arboreal environments have had a tremendous impact on my work.
I focus on trees in my painting and consider my subject matter to be treescapes as opposed to landscapes in the traditional sense. I regard them as hybrids: a process using tree sketches and photos combined with brightly colored backgrounds created by layering paint and scraping it with those fake plastic credit cards that come in the mail. These cards are wonderful tools not only for scraping paint but also serve as an ironic reminder of our consumer-driven society and how quickly we replace nature with man-made materials.
My treescapes have three visual components that connect them: calling attention to detail by showing natural subject matter in its still state, flattening the image into a silhouette, and introducing fluid lines. I started my series of treescapes working on 30"x40" canvases and was encouraged by Figura to work bigger. By combining two 30"x40" canvases I created a diptych which led to building my own large-scale canvases which were much more satisfying on which to work.
"Spiritual Sojourn" MaryLea Harris, Acrylic on Canvas, 48" x 72"
As a former printmaker, I admire and am influenced by Japanese Ukyo-e (woodblock) prints for their large flat areas of color and their use of bold outlines. These prints were most prolific during the early 1600s through the late 1800s and capture nature in its still state while emphasizing beauty. I flattened my trees into simplified silhouettes and used contrasting color fields to achieve this look in my own paintings. My favorite season is winter when the bare branches are silhouetted against the sky and layered with snow and ice. This influence is most obvious in the painting Spiritual Sojourn. It has the Asian aesthetic of "less is more" and was a very spiritual painting for me to create.
Eventually, I asked myself how I could push the envelope further and thought of how Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Jasper John (b.1930) used unorthodox painting devices. I created my painting Timberline by pouring and throwing paint on a black gessoed-canvas, and by using a tree branch as my paintbrush to create the illusion of woods.
"Timberline" MaryLea Harris, Acrylic on Canvas, 48" x 72"