Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Remembering Harmonies: The Art of Mary Louise Dean

Mary Louise Dean, Rather Nebulous, 36 x 36", oil on canvas
In her previous life, Mary Louise Dean worked to distill a boatload of information into just enough material to fit on a single printed page. The resulting "essence" was handed off to The Creatives to work on PR and marketing.
    When Mary Louise retired, she returned to her home state of Kentucky, where she found a picturesque house in picturesque surroundings.  In this appropriate setting, Mary Louise rekindled the art flame that was smoldering through the years. She began painting the landscape just outside her windows. She joined the local plein air group and painted scenes all around the Central Kentucky environs. Mary Louise honed her skills with oil on canvas. Treks to New Mexico were sketched, images rendered.
Mary Louise Dean, Sky Shadows, 36 x 36", oil on canvas

  As she worked on her skill and her ability to distill the landscape, Mary Louise became increasingly aware of her personal vision. Working on large canvases (36 x 36") she began to paint from memory, letting her distinctly harmonious distillations shine through. Artist Edgar Degas said "It's all very well to copy what you see, but it is better to draw only what you see in memory. Then you reproduce only what has struck you, that is to say, the essentials..."* 
   Naturally, Mary Louise Dean has been practicing the distillation process for years. Now she has added the storytelling element. As Ms. Dean says herself: "My desire is to create art with the full illumination of all I know in the present moment--what I have learned, and what I have seen and what I know about myself...The a blend of landscape abstraction and my search for a greater connection with the world. These are memory paintings about beautiful places with an invitation to the viewer to recall his/her own experiences." The result is a brilliant celebration of harmony.

  I am very pleased that Mary Louise Dean's work will be on display with mine in our exhibit at MS Rezny Studio/Gallery through the month of March. I hope you will have the opportunity to experience her work.

Mary Louise Dean
Kathy Rees Johnson
MS Rezny Studio/Gallery, 903 Manchester Street, Distillery District, Lexington, KY
28 February - 31 March 2017
Reception on Gallery Hop Night: 17 March 2017
For more information:

*Shapiro, Barbara S. Edgar Degas: The Reluctant Impressionist. Boston: Exhibition catalog for the Museum of Fine Arts. Boston, 1974. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Bartok Harmony, 8 x 10", mixed media
Over these past eighteen months or so, as I have been creating for the upcoming harmony exhibit, I have given a lot of thought to harmony...naturally! What exactly is harmony and what makes something harmonious? Why do certain notes work together, while other ones grate? Why are some colors yummy together and others vibrate violently against each other? Textures and pattern can hum sympathetically or jar us awake.

The bottom line, I have decided is that harmony is a completely natural phenomenon. That is the only way I can explain it. Getting to the underpinnings of what works together, you can find patterns that apply to more than one sense of perception. For example, the golden mean which is a way of determining pleasing proportions also shows up when considering intervals between pitches.  A perfect fifth has ratio of 2:3 between the sound waves, like the golden mean*. The golden mean is based on the Fibonacci sequence, which is a sequence of numbers starting with 1 and adding the previous two numbers to determine the next: e.g. 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144... This pattern and proportion can be found all over in nature; in pinecones, nautilus shells, sunflower seed heads. Perhaps this is because of how things grow, unfurling.

So nature is the bottom line. Still, ideas about harmony have made shifts throughout human history. What seems discordant to humans can become accepted and desired later. Kay Gardner, in her book Sounding the Inner Landscape, speaks of intervals (and mode nomenclature!) that dance dangerously close to the divine, according to the earlier church. Now, our attitudes and ears are more open to the experience. Even with our relative openness now, we still find comfort in the fundamental harmonies that exist in nature.

Throughout my time of exploration, I have sensed the broadness of harmony. I have tuned into composers and artists and picked up on their individual harmonic sensibilities. Landscapes have sung in harmony. I have discovered that musical modes can align with energy centers of the body in interesting harmonies. When I asked Mary Louise Dean to join me in creating for this exhibit, she asked me what I meant by harmony. I had not thought so much about a definition, but I said it is about relationships. That definition is perhaps still the best.

Mary Louise Dean, Koi Pond, 36 x 36", oil on canvas
An interesting thing happened when Mary Louise showed me her work for the exhibit. Besides being thrilled by the visual delight before me, I immediately began to make pairings of our work. We were working in harmony without even knowing it!

Kathy Rees Johnson, In the Night Garden
12 x 12", mixed media

Paintings by Mary Louise Dean
and Kathy Rees Johnson
MS Rezny Studio/Gallery
903 Manchester Street
28 February - 31 March 2017

* Gardner, Kay. Sounding the Inner Landscape. Element Books, Inc. Rockport, MA, 1997.