Mary St. Germain’s newest floral series lifts us out of predictability
Artist Mary St. Germain begins each day the exact same way: she sits in the sunroom of her East Arlington home with a cup of tea and watches nature through the window. What always ensues is “that childhood thing,” she says. “I find pictures in the clouds.” After decades as a painter, mostly of landscapes, St. Germain recently heard a voice inside telling her to conjure up the imagery she wants to see with more autonomy. When looking at clouds and finding herself repeatedly willing them to appear as flowers, she paid attention and chose her new painting subject. But these flowers would be different; they would float along with the clouds, bringing to life her morning musings. What grew from this idea is Of Ponderance and Muse, a series that is “both sanctuary and escape,” she says, “fueled by the natural world to create a space I want to explore and manipulate.”
In these works, St. Germain says, her flowers are a metaphor for humanity. The individual flowers are sketched from life many times before making it into a composition, and their natural environments are familiar through years of study and rendering, but when embarking on a painting for this series, she is operating from a meditative mindset. She navigates through her compositions intuitively, responding and solving problems as she works, rather than planning. Changes become the norm, she says, and her decisions are led by formal concerns, too, like trying to achieve as much perceived depth as possible on the canvas. “Nothing is sacred, there is always a push/pull dialogue between background, mid-ground, and foreground with adjustments being made.”
Likewise, her flowers are untethered, in constant, unpredictable motion and guided by the forces of nature. She sees them as people traveling through life. “I often think of a child at the beach, holding onto a kite and then suddenly letting go,” she says. “Where’s it going? What’s going to happen next?” There is a sensitivity present in the resulting pieces, and a poetic contrast between control and release. Even the two words in the series’ title perform a balancing act — “ponderance,” by definition, having weight; “muse” existing only in the realm of thought. As St. Germain has taken hold of the reins on her subject matter, she has then let it loose on the canvas, kept fluid in her process, and created pieces that are as contemplative and subject to emotion as a daydream while gazing out the window.
The entire Of Ponderance and Muse series will be on display, along with St. Germain’s new and recent related works, in a solo show at San Marco’s The Vault at 1930 from April 13 – 30. St. Germain says she gets asked so often to identify the flowers in her work that she lists the names on the backs of her canvases. Even though she has always gardened, this series doesn’t necessarily use local or familiar flowers, and she chooses them for their forms, colors, and
sometimes spiritual connotations. Her titles are declarations of growth or rebirth — We Can Bend, We Are More Alike — by the anthropomorphic flora. She says her favorites to paint are lilies, for their shading and pattern, and their religious significance to Catholics as the flower placed upon an altar. She’s quick to say that she has “no agenda,” however, for how her artwork is viewed. “I want [viewers] to see what they see,” she says, conceding that she does enjoy eliciting a stirring response. “I’m not an emotional person, but … it does come out. I have an emotional connection, and I hope others do.”