On my trip to New Zealand I visited artist Mary McFarlane in her studio on the hills, high above picturesque Dunedin, with its vibrant art scene. Her studio is located in a small industrial area with a rural view and a stream nearby. It is sunny and spacious with few visitors. McFarlane loves the nature, the easy going and amenable people. You get a sense of nestling, being held and nurtured by the landscape. And as her husband used to say ‘Dunedin has soul’. For her studies she spent time at the Universities of Otago & Canterbury, Otago Polytechnic School of Art & Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, but also Europe, USA & India, just to come back here.
The sun was shining bright, when I was welcomed by Mary, who led me into her little sanctuary full of mirrors, delicate lost and found objects, with all their small, little and precious details. As I entered I was blown away by the uncountable vintage mirrors which she transforms into artwork full of mystery and memory, that directly touch you somewhere deep. The mirrors are part of her ongoing exploration of Vanitas, providing a contemplative experience with their atmospheric impressions, black depths and shiny glimmers of the night sky. For McFarlane everyone has a relationship with the moon. ‘I’m not trying to make anything you can see explicitly, I want to prompt a conversation with yearning, the unknown and an understanding of that which holds our interior only just intact. The moon has always looked hard at me. I wondered how I could make a moon as full, bright and elusive as the real thing. I needed to do so on a scale that enfolds the viewer. With the large works, I hope I’ve succeeded. It’s true, the Moon knows us.’ McFarlane guards the secrets of the processes, but she definitely learned how to endow the mirrors with magic. Painting, distressing and aging the mirror’s plate she is able to capture fleeting moments, shadows and clouds.
The rust of age and time carved into the surface, while a slight melancholy exudes from it, makes us feel the fugacity and yet the exceptional beauty of her work, intensely personal to herself and to the viewer. And she is right, when she says she is trying to stir up her audience so they take a longer look. She said that overtime, her work has become a deeper connection to her personal life and she hopes this imbues it with the intangible qualities that make work memorable. For my part I couldn’t take my eyes of it and as my fingers touched the surface, it felt like beneath drowse a long history, a story of nature and culture merging with the own interior experience. When the sun fell into the studio the mirrors were changing in the changing sunlight, moving structures, but actually it was myself reflecting back, my face materialized, only recognizable when you move closer.
Thank you very much for your time Mary.
Text & pictures by Anke Nunheim