"You need patience and mindfulness - light is everything."
Mary Lou Springstead is unequivocally not a nasty woman! Prior to meeting Mary Lou, on a cool July afternoon at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, I perused her website and laughed out loud at this analogy. She is without doubt one of the kindest, generous and warmest women I know, an accomplished woman and an accomplished artist.
Mary Lou, tell me what you’re working on at the moment?
I’m having an exhibition, with my husband, next year. This is my first two person show, so I’ve got some things that I’m working on for that; a self portrait, a portrait of us and I’m going to produce work that’s reflective of our relationship and our love of art. Also, I’m working on my third zine, ‘Take the Last Brexit to Trumpland.’ I’m going back home for three weeks and travelling inspires me, this will give me some good source material. I’m an acrylic lady, on canvas, although I sometimes use pen and ink and watercolours on paper.
When and where is your exhibition?
The exhibition is March 2018 at the Python Gallery, in Gosford Street Middlesbrough. It was going to be a solo show, but then Morbid managed to wiggle his way in. In fact, Peter Heselton, the curator, suggested it, he said, ‘oh, you both should have a show together because you met each other through art, and people love that!’ So now I have to share a show with Morbid. I’m collaborating with my Husband but essentially, I work alone.
Your paintings adorn my walls and, needless to say, I love them. What are you currently painting?
At the moment, I’m in-between, I feel. I’ve just finished off a large painting of the mythological river hag, Peg Powler, and then a few portraits of some artists who, you know, people may not be that familiar with, that I find inspiring. Right now, I’m like, what next? Apart from the show, I’m still exploring themes of identity and where I come from so I’m working on a mobile piece which involves having round, circular canvases with scenes of different places I grew up in, from photo references and maps. This will be incorporated with scenes from Middlesbrough.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Brooksville, Florida, and I lived there until I was eighteen. This is central Florida, just north of Tampa, small-town, I grew up in the woods; horses and cows.
When did you realise you were an Artist?
I can actually remember, around when I was sixteen, that’s what I wanted to do. I had always drawn and been creative, although when I was little girl I wanted to be a veterinarian, but then couldn’t bear the thought of animals that were hurt or suffering. I had a good art teacher, Gail Coleman, in high school who inspired me. My Dad immediately said I wouldn’t make any money unless I became a medical illustrator! My art teacher used ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,’ by Betty Edwards. What really cinched the deal for me was that emotionally, I was going through so much and drawing and painting soothed me, I could express something through art, it was calming and I was good at it.
What was your first artistic piece?
I wrote and illustrated a big, long-tooth alien story as part of a gifted programme at school. Then, in high school I won some awards and worked on a particularly large painting in my bedroom, listening to Kate Bush, of a model lounging in front of a seascape using unreal colours and spirals. I made artwork for my friends too, embellishing jackets, which had a great response.
How did you further your artistic education?
My parents didn’t allow me to go to an arts university so I went to a liberal arts university, meaning I majored in studio art, but took a variety of other courses too. I found this quite stressful, I wanted to focus on what I wanted to do, Art, and I did have some dark moments. But, I did get to do some exciting things, I studied in Australia for a semester. Then I moved back home with my parents, getting a day jobs, however working continuously on art, and I’ve never stopped. If I ever feel stuck, I just doodle. As an artist nowadays, you have all these things pressing down on you, you have to be a create entrepreneur but you want to create from your heart, and other struggles. In 1992, I could feel really isolated. In 2017, the internet and social media helps you to connect with other artists and receive valuable feedback too. In 1994, I began a Masters Degree in Art Therapy at Florida State University, I loved the practise of psychology, symbols and art, making my work become even more meaningful. I married and moved to North West Florida, showed some work, practised some commercial flip-flop art briefly, then quickly learned to do what you actually want to do!
And then you moved to Middlesbrough! How has this affected your work?
The first thing that changed was my colour scheme, I toned it right down. Instead of being psychedelic colours it became greys, brick colours and earth tones. The themes I paint have changed. For the first few years I took photos of the area, turned them into paintings and this vintage robot character emerged, from lowbrow art origins, representing a symbolic ironopolis outsider. Landscapes and urbanscapes completely changed too. I now have a Masters in Future Design from Teesside University and, in the painting studio, I did my best work. I’ve had solo shows and currently work at the Cleveland College of Art and Design. Interestingly, I’m almost mythologizing Florida lately and incorporating it into landscapes.
Can you describe your muse?
It’s an invisible force that’s also other-worldly, and when I don’t have that, I’m pretty miserable. When you get those ideas, you’ve got to listen to them and give them a go. As a teenager, I was really into surrealism. There was a Dali museum in Florida, Frida Khalo inspired me, punk rock art, lowbrow art, magazines and album covers. I love German Expressionism and outsider art from people who are self-taught, because it is so powerful! Teesside Poet’s inspire me greatly too.
If there were no boundaries whatsoever, what would you do now?
I would buy and renovate a building in Middlesbrough. It would be a massive personal studio, workshop and display space, with a performance space and, hey, I might even throw in a coffee shop and book shop! I would love to exhibit my art overseas, particularly in Berlin.
www.marylouspringstead.com visit for further information about the artist and her work