“I like the roughness of Maine, and the not-so-tidy way of life here,” says Mary Bourke. “I like that Maine is a place where one can just be, and feel at home.”
Bourke’s vivid, graphic paintings depict bucolic landscapes and happy groupings of families and friends enjoying the simple pleasures of life: treasured memories rendered in two dimensions. Her images are sourced mostly from her family photos taken in the 1950s and 60s. Looking through the photographs for inspiration, Bourke selects “elements that seem fitting” and recombines them “for a fresh composition,” she explains. She builds up thin layers of acrylic paint on birch panels and sands them as she goes. “Through this process the forms are given more definition and depth,” she says. “Patterns, textures, and varied tones arise, bringing the painting slowly to life.” The transparent layers of paint, in combination with the texture achieved through sanding, lend dimension—her figures seem to pop off the canvas.
The exuberant colors—deep red, lemon yellow, grass green, and sky blue—she uses are integral to conveying mood. Like a bite of cold watermelon on a hot summer’s day, her use of color is refreshing and exhilarating all at once. For Bourke, her subject matter radiates “emotion and nostalgia and importance,” and her use of bright hues brings those feelings to the surface. Rather than saturating her paintings with sepia tones and a vintage feeling, her color palette gives her subjects immediacy. This allows the viewer to easily relate to the images in Bourke’s paintings, which is probably why so many people are attracted to her style.
She is currently preparing for a solo exhibition of new work at Greenhut Galleries, which has represented her for 22 years. The exhibition will be on view this September. She notes that her work “has seen a gradual evolution over the years,” but that lately it “has become slower and more deliberate.” Bourke hopes that in this case, life imitates art. “I am in no hurry to get anywhere,” she says. “But I do feel more of an urgency to be closer to nature, the outdoors in all of its seasons.”