Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Narrative Model: Inhabiting the Dangerous and Beautiful Landscape of Mary Chiaramonte

Old Love Like Light, Acrylic on Birch Panel
June 2013

I first met Mary Chiaramonte when I was asked to write about her show, In The Land of the Strangers, for my blog in February 2012. Her work hooked me instantly. I've never had a fine arts vocabulary and I've given up on the language of literary criticism completely but I know a good story and a beautiful body of work when I see it. In a stroke of luck entirely my own, Mary was willing to barter a creative nonfiction class for a drawing I helped envision. In this I was doubly blessed. I got to imagine a land of danger and beauty in which I was the central character (the narrative in my head illustrated, finally!) and I got to hear her, disturbing, lush, gorgeous terrifying landscapes and characters drawn with words. As a bonus, one afternoon in the late spring she laid me out on the ground between her house and the woods (where she regularly chases down and photographs coyotes) posing my arms and hair this way and that for a painting. Within a few weeks, Mary had completed both pieces, confirming the grass-is-greener assumption I love to cling to, that masterpieces in the realm of art are faster, easier and more fun to create than any kind of writing. 

"No way," she was quick to assure me. "I didn't just whip this out. I sweated and cried and painted til my fingers bled (blood, sweat and tears.)"  But still, I like to imagine that while I was at my desk wrestling down the creative process, shredding my guts for a story, agonizing over a plot or line of dialogue, trying to allow my voice as a narrator to live on the page without a steady stream of doubt and second guesses-- that while I continued to navigate the complicated and sometimes treacherous terrain of a wife and mother and woman who lives with addiction and sometimes want to overthrow every single thing that is good-- Mary blinked, waved her magic wand and created me in a way I would love to be seen, in a way that I would love to see myself. 

Because both pieces feel like an interior world made real, drawn from the outside in, short cuts that tunnel past the periphery and straight through to the world of story. Will I remain asleep on the frozen ground clutching reeds in the snow as above or watchful and submerged in a mountain lake encircled by snakes as below? Will I wake up, come to, swim to shore, arise from slumber, save myself or be saved? Do danger and risk arise from the landscapes I inhabit or the choices I make that keep me there? I have to work these answers out for myself, but Mary's work poses all the right questions. As my favorite art does, whatever medium it takes. The drawing graces my writing room and the painting will hang on a wall of the Eric Schindler Gallery for a show that opens this week, on Valentine's Day. Originally, I was going to write a post about the fine art of fighting or learning to love myself or the idolatry of chocolate and roses or the myth of the brave knight on the white horse, but on this occasion I find that art speaks louder, and more beautifully, than words. 

The Valley, pencil, July 2013

           "New, slippery, lithe and young, the chorus we wrote that went unsung."
                                                         --Mary Chiaramonte 

"Love Song: New Paintings and Drawings by Mary Chiaramonte"
Opening: Friday, February 14, 7-9 pm
Show runs through March 8th.
2305 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA
Gallery Hours: Wed-Sat, 11 to 5pm

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful Valley....and Mary. I am in awe of your talents!
    Anita Crean