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See Mary’s work on the cover of the current issue of the St. Sebastian Review

1. How long have you been working with these materials, especially food-based dyes? How did you discover their artistic potential? When and/or how did you know that it was something you loved doing?

I have been working with organic materials for over two years now. Originally, I started by setting up and photographing still lifes of rotting food in my studio. I used those as collage or transfers in the work, as well as in performances and installations. I then, after heeding some creative advice from a colleague, started to use the papers sitting underneath as collage on the drawings. Making organic dyes and letting the food seep into the paper was a short jump from there.

I have always loved making work in which I was fully absorbed in the process. Creating my own dyes from organic material—such as raspberries, pomegranates, and spinach—is a way I can be involved in one more layer of the image-making.

2. Describe some aspects of your artistic process (how you get ideas, how long you usually spend on a project, your editing process, how you know when a piece is finished, etc.)

I start from organic based constructions of my own making. Fruits and vegetables are propped up on each other; the camera I use doesn’t catch the tape holding up the background paper or the wads of paper towels shoved under wilting forms to give the appearance of fullness. I have used water, cooking spray, and the refrigerator to force the organic materials into submission, making dull, drying skin shiny and ripe. With these methods, foods well past their prime retain their shape. The construction may be left out for days under plastic to produce the most vibrant forms of mold and mildew.

I continue to construct “realities” as the photographs are altered using software to brighten the whites and enhance the foods’ colors beyond any natural level, especially in organic materials left out to rot. They are by no means a representation of an actual banquet laid out—only that of a dreamt one. Each berry, grape or drop of oozing material has been placed there intentionally. I have constructed a situation that never happened, and yet it still exists as I have made it—it is at once perceived experience, reality, and dream.

These constructed images are not the end: I use them as transfers onto paper. They become backwards, vague, and ghostly representations of themselves, smeared by vigorous scrubbing and harsh acetone. I cut them into lacy forms, leaving out unwanted parts and rearranging them into new, often impossible, layouts onto the paper.

After laying down a collage, I use inks, pencils and other traditional materials to further elaborate and embellish the forms and to create new ones. Some are mirror images, and parts of others are copied and moved. Baroque-like designs and patterns on dishware are brought to life, growing and sprouting, hybridizing with the organic life already smashed or inscribed onto the paper.

I am not sure how I know when a piece is finished–it just feels right. It feels complete. Ideas for my work come from my life experience, material explorations, and my own research.

3. How do you choose what subjects to include in your work? Is there anything you most like to depict and why does it intrigue you?

I originally felt the urge to make work that came from a place of vague amorphousness where things aren’t what they seem, and I have continued to make work in this vein. I use food because it connects directly to the viewer’s corporeality. Food is put into the mouth, churned through the digestive system, and expelled as waste, much more revolting than it appeared on your plate. It is associated with sexuality through its aphrodisiac uses, its smooth textures on the skin, and the pollination (or, in human terms, insemination) of flowers that become ripe fruits to be ingested. It can be at once both disgusting and seductive.

It is my hope that my work dislocates the viewer and creates an ambivalence within them as to what they are seeing, what they desire, and why. I hope to act in that space where things shift and cannot be tied down.

4. How did you find out about the St. Sebastian Review? Why did you choose to submit work to us?

I found out about the St. Sebastian Review through a Facebook post from the editor, my friend, Carolyn Gibney. We both attended Gordon College and were roommates for a bit there. I believe the Review acts within a space not often occupied: it supports individuals and their friends who belong to groups that others assume cannot be held simultaneously. I fully support the work of the journal and it’s contributors. I am very honored to be included among the fantastic and heartfelt writers of the Review.