Editor and contributing writer for this monograph published by Whale & Star
Excerpt from Alchemy of Light: Kathleen Loe with Mary Conover in Aspen, CO
A CONVERSATION WITH THE ARTIST
The interview takes place in Aspen, Colorado, at the red and white farmhouse of Mary Conover. I drive in between four-foot walls of late March snow. Inside, light is the most dramatic impression, illuminating Conover’s paintings, drawings and monotypes. These pieces share a mysterious fusion of buoyancy and gravity. Many have a kinship to water or weather, but are dense and physical - more oceanic metaphors than formal abstractions.
There is a force of concentration also in her photography; black and white images of her son Nicholas hang near a painting of a girl by Enrique Martinez Celaya. The boy in the photographs is serious and beautiful. The girl in the painting is standing alone, wearing only a transparent chemise, the lower half of her right arm missing. A Wolf Kahn landscape of cobalt-violet and cinnabar green bands hangs across the room.
In this attractive space, soft, sand and shell-colored surfaces mitigate the sharpness of the high altitude sun. Neutral walls are mobilized by the movement in Conover’s paintings. Each piece has a slow-release palette of blues and grays scumbled over hot under-painting. This complicated energy is also exuded by Mary Conover. A devoted practitioner of yoga, Mary has an elastic presence that is both confident and diffident. Piles of books on exotic locations as well contemporary art suggest a passion for travel. I am drawn to a seductive title by the late Kirk Varnedoe, Pictures of Nothing, a sensationally reductive Robert Ryman on the cover.
On the way to her studio, we walk through spare, airy rooms containing poetry and philosophy books, subtle, translucent textiles, and art. Mary has skillfully created an interior world of elusive, nuanced color very different from the graphic landscape transitions around her in the Rockies. A startling, acidly lit image of a tropical storm rolling in, tall coconut palm leaning against the wind, occupies an entire wall. Impressionistic and strange, a closer look reveals that the scene has been photographed through a screen. It is one of Mary’s archival pigment prints of a moment after she scrambled out of a kayak on St. Barth, running just ahead of a squall.
Sitting over coffee in the sunroom, Mary quickly becomes comfortable with the presence of the tape recorder. Her talk moves like her work, between the abstract and the empirical. Throughout the two days of our conversations, she remains focused, investigatory and quick to laugh. Life has often been diametrical for Mary, and like many artists, she makes work to find balance and to accept the shadows.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. ~ Carl Jung, from Alchemical Studies
As I’m leaving Mary opens the door of a modest room containing a family treasure—first editions of the celebrated Bolligen Series, founded by Mary’s grandmother. The collected works of Carl G. Jung are the core of this important library, named for the village in Switzerland where he had a rural retreat.
Conover’s paintings are luminous heirs to Jung’s theories on psychological transmutation and the union of opposites. She slips Varnedoe’s Pictures of Nothing under my arm as we say goodbye.