Ojai-born artist Mary Weatherford is known for her mixed media, large, neon-and Flashe paintings of abstractions of landscapes both natural and contrived. Nature has been a touchstone for her work, whether depicting figurative tangles of underbrush, vine-encrusted arbors, or vaporous atmosphere. She approaches monumental painting on canvas as a sensuous species of watercolor.
Weatherford attended Princeton University where she was introduced to the work of conceptual artists who would make her rethink the nature of art. She was especially taken with the appropriation photography of Sherrie Levine and said of Levine’s “After Walker Evans” series that it “was end-game work . . Really strong, feminist work.”
After Weatherford graduated in 1984 with a degree in visual arts and art history, she settled in New York City where she completed the Whitney Independent Study Program. She later earned an M.F.A. from Bard College. Living in New York and working at the Paula Cooper Gallery where she organized the archives, she met artist Elizabeth Murray, who was supportive of her work.
She returned to Los Angeles in 1999, showing her art in galleries in L.A., Chicago, and New York. In 2008, she was featured in the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art. Waterford worked as a bookkeeper for artist Mike Kelly in 2012 during an artistic residence at Cal. State Bakersfield. It was here that she started placing neon directly onto her canvases. None of the linear glass tubes affixed to her gestural abstract paintings are straight. Instead, their slight ripples, meanderings or irregular curves emphasize the light’s tactile, handmade qualities.
Her Bakersfield paintings were shown in L.A. and New York. In 2013, she signed with the David Kordansky Gallery, and in 2014 New York MoMA included a number of her works in “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.”
Since this time, Weatherford has created paint-and-neon works which can be read as landscapes. Yet while she has titled many of her works with particular place names – “The Light in Lancaster,” “Oxnard Ventura,” or “Arroyo Walk” – a viewer would be hard-pressed to locate any particular identifying features of those locales. “Arroyo Walk,” for example, is a vertical canvas that features the steely gray of L.A.’s concrete river banks and a slash of orange that could resemble construction barricades. Inspired by tones and the lights of Los Angeles, she states, “I was more interested in the edges of Los Angeles.”
Her latest Color Field paintings, shown in 2017 at David Kordansky Gallery, continue in this vein. Pale shades of paint are layered over metallics and muddy grays. Three double-square panoramas measure nearly 10 by 20 feet. Others are immersive in the scale of their brush strokes. Her mural-size abstractions envelop a viewer’s field of vision. Clouds of vaporous color slide from thin to dense, shifting hues with tangled movement of brush strokes or paint applied with a sponge. In some areas, color has been scraped or wiped clean; the white ground underneath sometimes seems to overlap the color. Her monumental “Animals” is flash and neon on linen and is the most richly arrayed painting, heavy in purples and mango orange, flanked by gray and tan. Applied to the surface, one of two horizontal neon lines in bright yellow slips into deep orange halfway across. “I’m interested in the experiential quality of large painting,” she says. “Gigantic paintings that one can relate to with one’s body rather than with one’s eyes or mind.”
New year she will be the subject of her first retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Hammer Museum, MOCA San Diego, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.