Mary Beth Kushner www.marybethkushner.com is a self-taught abstract artist "engaged in the creative process that is continually inspired by nature." As the artist states, "Most recent influences, specifically the use of found objects/items, challenge me to further re-engage and re-invent myself as an artist."
Kushner is also a member of Manhattan Arts International. Her work was selected for membership because she is an intuitive self-taught artist who is pushing boundaries with abstraction, texture, and found objects. She has also proven her professional commitment by having many solo, juried and group exhibitions. Currently her work is being exhibited at the High Falls Art Gallery in Rochester, NY and the Arts Council for Wyoming County in Perry, NY.
This interview with her was such a pleasure to do. I know that readers will appreciate her authenticity and will glean some inspiration from her sense of adventure and creative experimentation.
RP: Mary Beth, I can sense inspiration from various sources in your art and a desire to communicate to others through self-expression. When did you first become interested in art and why?
MBK: I have always enjoyed different types of art even before I began painting. My parents had (I say ‘had’ because many things have made their way to my house now) many interesting pieces from Turkey and Ethiopia. I actually began painting a few years ago somewhat by chance.
After being quite ill my mother suggested I try either yoga or painting. I was very skeptical about the yoga, but painting stuck. Shortly after I bought two 24" x 48" canvases, a starter kit of acrylic paints and one brush from Utrecht. I slowly began dabbling.
|"...And Relax", mixed media on canvas, 11" x 14". Artwork is copyright protected by the artist. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without the artist's permission.|
MBK: Many things influence my work and I find it changes depending on the day. Nature has and continues to be very inspiring. I am slowly transitioning into more of a mixed media journey so found objects are popping up in my pieces with greater frequency. Plus, as a self-taught artist, I just enjoy the process of experimenting with different mediums to see how it transforms a particular piece.
Many of my pieces have inspirational words, phrases or quotes which I attribute to my continued work as an Occupational Therapist at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Each day I see people probably at one of the worst moments of their life. A few core components are an essential part of being an Occupational Therapist. These are the ability to be compassionate and empathetic while motivating and pushing people to progress each day. I believe as an artist, I am striving to equally as hard to not only inspire, but also reach on many different emotional levels.
RP: As you point out, there is healing power in creating art. I believe when artist-healers like you channel that energy into art the benefits for the viewer are equally powerful. As an artist who is evolving and reflecting your life's experiences in your art, I'm curious to know what is your current art project?
MBK: My current pieces have definitely transitioned into more of a mixed media and almost somewhat of a graffiti vibe. I am continuing to use recycled canvas and tiles, however I am also using bits of tissue paper, recycled nails and signs. I continue to very much enjoy using the combination of different mediums and objects to create texture followed by acrylic, spray and metallic paints. I am also challenging myself a bit and have painted many smaller 6" x 6" pieces – it has been a challenge to achieve the same ‘feel’ on a much smaller surface.
|"Treacherous Terrain", mixed media on canvas, 48" x 60". Artwork is copyright protected by the artist. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without the artist's permission.|
RP: I admire you for seeking new directions and challenges as expressed in your painting aptly titled "Treacherous Terrain". I look forward to seeing your new small paintings. Mary Beth, who has been your greatest motivator and/or cheerleader for your career and why?
MBK: I would say I am fortunate enough to have two people in my corner. I think without a doubt my mom has been awesome. We call her the ‘roadie’ because she packs the cooler with all the snacks and has traveled to all of my shows with me. After a few practice sessions in the back yard, we enjoyed my first and very successful outdoor festival last year.
I am also very lucky to have a really supportive partner who always knows when to give me a few inspirational words. She travels to most of my shows and always pokes her head into my painting room to see what the latest project is – it has definitely been great to share this journey with my entire family.
RP: Beyond the valuable support of your loved ones, I’m sure you’re received many positive comments about your art work. What do you consider to be the best and/or most accurate comment made about your art?
MBK: I would have to say one comment in particular that my mom told me about awhile ago. One of my former teachers that has known me since elementary school said that when he looked at my paintings he didn’t see just one style…he just saw me in each piece. I have always tried to be authentic and put 100% into everything I’ve done and painting is no exception.
|"Sunset", mixed media on canvas, 40" x 30". Artwork is copyright protected by the artist. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without the artist's permission.|
RP: That's commendable and is sage advice for us all. I'm sure you enjoy interacting with viewers of your paintings, especially at the fairs and festivals where you exhibit. What is the most memorable exhibition you have experienced?
MBK: I would have to say this past year in New York. It was a memorable exhibition for a number of reasons. A couple hours into the show a young lady and her mother came into my booth area. She immediately gravitated towards one 24" x 48" piece and just ‘got it.’ It was almost as if she was in my head as I was creating it. She ended up purchasing the piece and it was just exiting for me to see the joy in her face.
Also, during that exhibition several folks that I had met earlier in the year at the outdoor festival made it a point to stop by my booth. Even though they didn’t purchase any work that time around, I loved and appreciated the fact that they took the time to stop by and say hello and check out some new work.
RP: Thank you for sharing your rewarding experience with the woman who "got it". Being an artist for many of us is so much about the desire to connect with other humans on a visceral level.
Mary Beth, what are your thoughts about the importance of living with original art?
MBK: In a nutshell, it creates a story. I have never forgotten where I was, who I was with and how I felt at that moment I saw a piece and that particular piece ‘spoke to me.’ That is my personal ‘story’ to the work, but as I enjoy the funky pieces I have purchased along the way, I continue to enjoy the connections and smiles that other people have when they see these pieces in my home.
|"Autumn Leaves," mixed media on canvas, 40" x 30". Artwork is copyright protected by the artist. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without the artist's permission.|
RP: I'm delighted that first time art buyers are approaching artists directly now more than ever although many have have reluctance about making a purchase. What advice can you offer a first time art buyer?
MBK: Pretty simple – let the art find you. I have never gone out actually looking for a specific piece of art, but rather I wait for a piece of art to find and speak to me. When I travel, I also love purchasing original work from local artists. I pretty much know it when I see it and at times I have literally said out loud ‘that’s it.’
RP: Being an artist who enjoys implementing words in your art work, what is your favorite quotation by an artist and why?
MBK: “There is no must in art because art is free” ~ Wassily Kandinsky
RP: I can see why that quotation appeals to you. You approach your art work with such freedom and a sense of adventure and exploration. Many young artists today face uncertainty. What's your advice for emerging artists?
MBK: I would say as a self-taught artist I have tried to keep things in perspective – both the good and the ‘not so good.’ Reflecting and building on those moments of disappointment has been as, if not more, helpful than reflecting on the ‘good’ moments.
Also, having recently relocated, I am discovering how important it is to get involved in the local art scene (thank you Renee, you really emphasized this point when we had our first phone consultation). Seeking out guidance and building relationships with other artists has been invaluable on many levels.
Lastly, I think having patience is huge – maybe it makes it easier because I have a ‘full time’ job as an Occupational Therapist, but taking the time to enjoy the journey has been a wonderful part of this adventure.
|"All You Need", mixed media on canvas, 24" x 48". Artwork is copyright protected by the artist. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without the artist's permission.|
RP: Mary Beth, what upcoming exhibition(s) do you have scheduled for 2013 and/or 2014?
- "6x6x2013", RoCo (Rochester Contemporary Art Center), June 1st – July 14th, 2013 (Rochester, NY)
- Berkshires Arts Festival: July 12th – 14th, 2013 (Great Barrington, MA)
- MandT Bank Clothesline Festival: September 7th and 8th , 2013 (Rochester, NY)
- Contemporary Art Fair NYC: October 25th – 27th, 2013 (New York, NY)
- I have also submitted for several other local gallery exhibitions and festivals, however am awaiting the jury results at this time.
RP: What is your favorite music to listen to while you create and why?
MBK: I am a big fan of alternative music, however during college basketball season I often have a game on in the background. At times after a hectic day at work, I may just open the window and enjoy the sound of birds chirping, cars passing by, wind blowing or the nearby train crossing the tracks. It seems to completely depend on my mood at that moment.
RP: That sounds terrific and as energetic as your artwork! While in the studio do you have a favorite snack that you like to munch on?
MBK: Anything that has a little crunch such as gluten-free pretzels or granola.
Visit Mary Beth Kushner's website www.marybethkushner.com
View her art work on the Manhattan Arts International website