A City’s Canvas: Mary Robinson

E.E. Cummings once said, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” Learning to believe in ourselves and the talents that lie within us, is not an easy place to get to in our lives. In fact, sometimes that place can only be obtained by scary leaps of faith. This is especially true of artists. It is one thing to produce a work of art, but it is quite another to show it to the world. If an artist is putting her heart into her work, then indeed, she is showing her heart to the world when displaying her work. Mary Robinson has learned this all too well, but determination and skill have only improved because of it.

Raised in Durham, NC, Mary Robinson married at the age of 16 and has been married for 17 years. Through this marriage, they have had five children ranging from ages 5-17. It is also through this marriage that Mary had the strength and support to follow her dreams and continue her education at Guilford College in 2016. “I did not have a plan going to college, and I was very nervous at the thought of taking on college as a wife and, at the time, mother of four. My husband sacrificed some of his own dreams so that I could finish school. He actually enrolled me into college and has rooted for me ever since. My children really helped keep me in a special state of mind during school. I was pregnant with my fifth child my senior semester at Guilford, so all of my children were on this journey. I even took my youngest daughter (Heidi) to the studio many nights to get a painting completed because she liked to stay up late with me,” says Robinson.

As fate, and irony, would have it, it was at Guilford College that Robinson found her path and learned to start listening to the creative voice inside of her. “I did not consider art as my future at all until I took an art history class at Guilford. I remember my professor and a former art student, who was in his senior year at Guilford, coming to me at the end of class and asking me if I had ever painted before or even considered art as a major. I was not interested at all in painting at the time but the thought of an art degree sort of switched a light on in my brain and my heart. I actually remember being excited,” she continues.

“I would have to say I am an expressionist. My process is very nontraditional, and I often got lectured in college for the way I would start my paintings because I don’t like to have a plan. Once I took my first painting class and realized I actually had something going on, I hardly ever wanted to pick up anything else but a brush. We strictly used oil paint, and for me, painting literally changed my life. I felt like I had something inside that I could only express through the art of storytelling through painting, and it was like therapy at first. As I perfected my technique, I realized that I had my own unique style. I often would break the rules and pour wax onto my canvas as a medium that I enjoy working with or adding for texture,” she adds.

“I most often paint faces and hands, usually of women. When I paint a whole figure, they are often nude as well. Although the content may sound sexual, my paintings don’t ever seem to come across that way because the vulnerable, emotional state is what I try to achieve before the mind goes in that innate direction. I paint woman unintentionally in uncomfortable situations, which is not always a bad thing because this can aesthetically show strength and perseverance. I want the face or the body being viewed to be strong, but vulnerable,” she further comments.

“Art is so much more than tools that are used to create it. No matter what kind of artist you are, you’re ultimately exposing your soul to others. Whether your audience consists of strangers or those in your circle, you are opening a window that reveals a glimpse into places that you sometimes aren’t aware of consciously and you are sharing it through a craft. For art to be successful, however, in my world of art, I believe your viewer should be a voyeur in a place that reminds them of their own humanity but challenges how aware and compassionate they really are of their fellow man. Art is more than just seeing with your eyes but internalizing what you see or hear or feel and something evoked your soul, and altered your state of being, even if momentarily. That is art to me,” she concludes.

Through encouragement, having people who believed in her and her abilities, and an inner need to express herself, Mary Robinson has made that leap of faith to not only producing the art that is inside of her, but also showing the world the heart that produced it. That leap has not only given the world a new artist to enjoy, but also another story waiting to be explored in the work of artists in downtown Winston-Salem.