Early last year I retreated for three months to a tiny cottage in Seaside, Florida. I was raised on nearby Okaloosa Island, and as I searched for ‘home’ ….alone… this community provided physical safety and comforting memories, especially during the quiet off-season between Christmas and spring break.
Around 1980 I watched, with my mother and sister, this pastel Gulf front town arise from the white sand.
My temporary residence, a two-room carriage house behind a family’s large second home, hinted of my grad school years, when I lived in a similar space behind an historic home in New Orleans’ Irish Channel. Yet even as the space seemed right; everything else was wrong —-not the least of which was the art.
The sand was too white; the water too blue; the sunshine too bright; the grocery store too domestic; the restaurants too romantic; the neighbors too happy. Just two blocks from the too-beautiful beach, I remained exclusively indoors with my situation, my self pity, and my grief.
My sister helped me. We emptied the walls of their vacation-home kitsch — paintings of Seaside maps, palm trees, oversize coffee cups, and floral bouquets.
We replaced them with what became my “traveling art collection” (joined soon after by the “traveling crystal”), the space transformed by George Rodrigue, Hunt Slonem, and Mallory Page.
Weeks later, as I sat at the top of the stairs without any conceivable reason to descend, I realized that, by coincidence, Today I am Fuchsia, and I snapped a photo —my first since my world slammed shut, tight. Heretofore trapped within my screaming emotions in a tiny house, I began to open. It was through these canvas worlds, as opposed to the real world, that my boundaries (and my fear) loosened.
(pictured: February 2014, Somewhere in Seaside, Florida with Today I am Fuchsia, 2013 by Mallory Page, Mixed Media on Canvas)
Soon after, Page, who worked feverishly after having married in a fever, announced a new book of her artwork. “Would you write the Foreword?” she asked.
I was honored, not only as a longtime fan of Page’s work, but also because she became family when she married my stepson, Jacques Rodrigue. She writes tenderly and admiringly of George within The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops, her award-winning monograph* published this spring:
“…he was a gentle and nurturing mentor, an artist himself, and was always generous with his pieces of precious wisdom.”
Boundless: The Art of Mallory Page
An essay by Wendy Rodrigue
An effective painting requires mystery.
Recently, I overheard a group of gallery visitors searching for meaning within Mallory Page’s paintings.
“I see a window,” said one.
“I see a light in the window,” said another.
Page’s work, like all profound artistic statements, suffers this human preoccupation with imagery. In her case, the obvious also complicates matters, as it’s hard to ignore the beauty of these works, often prompting mundane observations such as,
Furthermore, she inspires in viewers the need to analyze:
“Reminds me of Frankenthaler,” noted an art student.
“Agnes Martin,” added another.
The comparisons in particular peak my interest because Page accedes these influences. Yet if we close our eyes and erase the connections to Abstract Expressionism’s legendary figures, no matter how flattering they are to Page or any artist, we might open our eyes and look, perhaps even seePage’s paintings anew.
All abstraction is not alike. By its nature, if sincere, it reveals the artist. If effective, it simultaneously mirrors the viewer. In other words, the meaning vacillates, depending as much on the person standing before it as it does on the person holding the brush.
The great thing about Page is that all of it — the search for imagery, the power of the obvious or literal, and the link to her predecessors — is valid.
Regrettably, at times this reduces meaning to meaninglessness, and artistic messages to the esoteric. Yet surrounded recently at a museum by the figures, flowers, and still lifes of Matisse, Monet, and Cezanne, I overheard repeatedly, shouted by headphone-affected voices, “I love the colors!” and similar nonesuch, proving that it takes less than abstraction to blind us and more than the recognizable to transport us.
Mallory Page’s paintings, like all great Abstract Expressionist works, challenge finite descriptions. In Page’s case, they are unique expressions of a single soul revealed, exposed, turned inside out. The imagery, the “light in a window,” is no more real in Page’s paintings than the rabbit formed for a few seconds by the clouds in the sky. Yet the vulnerability within her statements is raw and brave, creating something that, even if it does complement one’s decor, emotes the depth of her person and, just maybe, poses questions of the viewer, forcing us to look inward.
Most of us are slaves to meaning. I recall years ago reading a book, found among a university library’s stacks, about Mark Rothko’s paintings for the de Menil Collection in Houston. Despite Rothko’s insistence to the contrary, the author argued that the paintings, now installed at the Rothko Chapel, are the Stations of the Cross. The author went further, breaking down the subtle brushstrokes and applied paint into the actual imagery of Christ carrying the cross.
Even then, new to the academics of art, I wondered at this forced attachment, all the while pondering myself the meaning of these black paintings.
Abstract Expressionism, however, exists as a pure assertion of the verbally inexpressible, a stripped rendering of color, shape (or lack of shape), and composition that, upon analysis, remains enigmatic and something other than those parts.
Mallory Page is a master of the mysterious and the now, drawing us into her works, utilizing a language that transcends time, gender, and place. Yes, the colors are beautiful, and Page is for many decorators a dream. Yet through her unique application, she exposes her soul in an intimate painterly act that reveals, in these atmospheric works, the universal.
If we allow Page’s paintings to exist on their own, further beyond our objectifications and comparisons, then we experience them fully, risking, blissfully, our ability to discuss them. With the loss of the verbal comes the mystical and the boundless. It is this heightened awareness that supersedes “nice colors” and sends us, helplessly, into the quiet, conscious expanse.
*Mallory Page’s monograph, The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops received a Runner’s Up Award for Best Art Book at the 2015 New York Book Festival; learn more about this beautiful publication here–
-Visit mallorypage.com to learn of exhibitions, book signings and available paintings-
-All artwork in this post by Mallory Page, as listed below, mixed media on canvas:
The Alchemy Never Starts or Never Stops, from “Broken Snow Globe,” 2013, 72×96 inches
Melting with the Moonlit Sky, 2014, 87×96 inches
Venus at Rest Somewhere Beyond Understanding, from “Married in a Fever,” 2014, 60×84 inches
Truth or Consequences, from “Forces of Change and Challenge,” 2014, 87×96 inches
Maudeville, 2015, a series of works on paper, 22.5×30 inches