Mary McLorn Valle, best known for her vibrant oil paintings filled with blossoms, buds, and her own modern take on a generally traditional subject, has dedicated her life to art - a pleasure in life which ought to be celebrated.
Born in rural Ontario, Mary received her undergraduate degrees from Western and Queens University and holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Regina. Today, Mary is running her own interior design business in Toronto, which she has since made her home. But she hasn’t let an urban address stop her from embracing the bold and brilliant colours of nature, and finding inspiration everywhere, whether it's fabric, travel, friends’ gardens, or local fruit and flower market on Bloor Street.
Both of your parents are visual artists, how did that influence your view of art?
I grew up in rural Ontario in a fun and outrageous art-filled house. My parents taught us to feel grateful for everything around us. I was encouraged to really appreciate my surroundings with all of my senses. With this mind-frame always present, art became a constant practice. Making art was a part of my everyday experience, so it always felt like a natural part of my life.
You hold a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. What are the most important things you learned during your studies?
If you want to get good at something you need to practice. Practice often, and then keep practising even more. I already had an inclination and love of art, but when I was in school I was spending six hours a week on the discipline of life drawing. This level of time dedicated towards my craft truly helped me develop my skills. And my time spent learning art history showed me its importance for context.
I consider myself very lucky to have had some amazing teachers to inspire me throughout my formal education, who opened up a world of speakers, other artists, and exposure to galleries for inspiration. It was then that I discovered how fantastic a medium art is to connect with your own community.
I’d encourage anyone pursuing art to find good teachers, and surround yourself with serious people with positive energy, who are better artists than you to help you push yourself. We are all so self-critical it’s important to find your own cheerleaders. In addition to this, I’d recommend everyone take a business course to prepare themselves for the road ahead as an artist.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Just make it and then make more of it, and don’t worry about anyone liking it, or selling it. There is no right answer, just keeping working at it!
What is, on the other hand, the worst piece of advice you have ever received?
Someone once told me to make art like someone else because it sells. They said, "Look at their stuff and sell something like that". This was awful advice, as it’s best not to be like someone else, but to focus on what makes you unique instead.
We've noticed you mostly paint nature and floral inspired pieces. What draws you the most to that?
In addition to my upbringing in rural Ontario, I spent five years as an illustrator for The Grand River Conservation Authority. When I worked there I spent a lot of time in the nature centre near Brantford where I illustrated what was around me and taught children about nature. This has been a huge influence and I have been working on flowers for 20 years. Since flowers change so quickly, as they wilt and loose petals, the art can become so different within the time span as small as a day. I like the pressure of that, and I also love that flowers come in so many colours, shapes, and sizes, not many subjects allow for such a range of colours, and it’s something you don’t find elsewhere. And in making this generally traditional art form more modern and vibrant, it’s the size and my use of colour that really adds the boldness to my work.
How does your typical artistic process look when creating a painting?
For me, having a deadline is a good thing. It forces me to execute and not spend my time second guessing myself. I work from life as much as possible, using flowers or still life in my studio. When I work on a piece I tend to work through straight to back, sticking with it until I’m done and I don’t work many individual pieces at the same time. I am working wet-on-wet and it’s just how I like to work - this is known as Alla Prima painting, which is Italian and means at first attempt. Right now I’m excited to be working with large ribbons of colour mixology, having rows of colours mix with other intersecting colours, in addition to some experimentation with resin.
You have an exhbition coming up, which is very exciting! What does it mean to you as an artist to be preparing your solo exhibition?
My upcoming solo exhibition makes me proud of myself because I set out to do this and had the grit and execution to bring it all together. I have been an artist my whole life and with continued practice, I am one. But being an artist is not about calling yourself one, it’s about continuing to make something, which is what I’ve always done. I’ll admit that the show has felt a little overwhelming at times, but has definitely been worth doing.
Your work can also be seen at The Teddy Bear Affair to support Children’s Aid. Can you tell us more about your community activities?
I have some friends who work on The Teddy Bear Affair committee to raise money for the Children’s Aid Society and they asked me to donate some art – it was easy to say yes. It’s also my eleventh year participating in an ongoing annual show, Art for Goodness Sake, at The Kingsway-Lambton United Church every April, where 30 percent of the art sales go towards a good cause, like local hospices. For all of these events, someone gets art for their home and a great cause gets some support.
What do you think about the modern possibilities of art?
Technology has been a huge and amazing factor within the art. Art has never been more acceptable or accessible! Sites like Instagram can have people sharing their work in real time. I am participating in a project called Partial Gallery which is an online art that can be searched by city, country, and worldwide. It’s invigorating the ability to paint something today, snap a picture of it, and share it on a larger scale in a matter of minutes. 3D printing and graphics programs are another fantastic facets of how technology is influencing the trends of the artistic world.
Who are your favourite artists?
I have so many that it’s hard to decide, but a few come to mind: David Milne, Betty Goodwin, Matisse, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Kim Dorland (a Canadian landscaper who is on fire right now), Steve Driscoll, and James Turrell who works with light and has stunning work.
Where would you recommend to go to really experience the wide range of art that Toronto has to offer?
There is a lot going on in Toronto. AGO is a must - if you’ve never been, go! Then there's the McMichael Gallery, which is an excellent Canadian day trip. Recently the city opened MOCA, Museum of Contemporary Art, which is on my to visit list this autumn. There is also a website called Instant Coffee that features everything that’s happening in the city’s art world, where people can subscribe to in order to keep abreast of what’s going on around them.
I’ve been also participating in contemporary art fair The Artist Project every February in the Better Living Centre. It’s an amazing show with over 250 artists. You get to see all of these artists in this one spot, and if you connect with someone’s work you can contact them after the show, check out their studio and really get to know them and their work. It’s a unique opportunity to meet the artist.