Mary Russell was born in Aurora, Illinois, a small town outside Chicago and now resides in Tulsa. “From the time I received my first big container of crayons, I knew I wanted to be an artist,” she says. Her parents were supportive of her aspirations and arranged private instructions for her with a local artist.
While attending high school in Tulsa, Russell was fortunate to have a proactive art instructor who helped her organize a portfolio to submit for admission to universities. She received an art scholarship and studied until she postponed her art career to raise a family. Ten years later, she picked up the brush again and traveled around the country to study with artists whom she admired. “I have so much appreciation for my non-academic art education,” says Russell. “I studied with wonderful working artists of my own choosing who were making a living from art.”
Russell first established a career as a figurative artist before moving into the genre of still life to better understand special relationships. With still life, Russell says, “I realized my love of problem solving and that my compositions could contain anything I wanted: objects, images of figures, or even landscapes in the background, all painted from life.”
When composing her subject matter, Russell concentrates on weight and movement, starting with one subject of interest to her. She adds items that will provide balance or counterbalance between opposing factors, such as dark and light and warm and cool, creating movement and allure with changes in value and temperature to form a cohesive whole. Russell says, “Ultimately, I believe the job of a painter is to move the viewer’s eye around a surface, making composition the blueprint for the painting.”
Russell is loyal to a classical color palette, using only primary colors with black and white, adding an additional color only if the subject matter calls for it. “This way, I create color harmony,” she says, “starting with a basic color scheme and staying with it.”
Throughout her many years of painting, Russell’s personal goal has remained the same for her art practice. “I want to continue challenging myself. When I started, my lessons were big, and as I progressed, they became smaller but more difficult, yet I found myself better equipped to handle them. Now, I let the work lead me, and I trust where we go together.”
For Russell, painting is not only a way of expressing herself, but also a way of connecting to those around her. “As an observer, when I look at a piece of art that draws me in, I feel close to the artist, both physically and emotionally. There is an intimate communication that takes place. It’s special because it transcends language and culture. As an artist, I hope people will have a similar experience when they see my work.”
In this exhibit, titled A World at Play, Russell illustrates the many ways life is at play in the world. Play can mean many things, such as putting on a show or the playfulness of initiating a surprise. “It is also the alchemy of how objects interact with each other,” says Russell. “This is the perspective from which I approach my work. I see the play of color, values, or intersecting shapes.”
Russell works daily in her Tulsa studio where she constantly challenges herself to explore new subjects and approaches to painting. Her artwork is represented in the M.A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa; Broadmoor Galleries, Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Morris & Whiteside Galleries, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Russell is an associate member of the Oil Painters of America and a signature member of the Pastel Society of America.