Minnesota Orchestra audiences were introduced to the artwork of Mary Pettis in June 2017, when the Orchestra hosted her Beyond the Surface solo exhibition through the OH+ program in conjunction with the Orchestra’s concert of French impressionistic music.
Audiences have clamored for more, and next month Pettis will present her third Orchestra Hall solo art exhibition, Sharing the Harvest, free and open to the public at the Orchestra’s November 15, 16 and 17 performances of music by Kevin Puts, Dmitri Shostakovich and Ludwig van Beethoven. Read on as writer A. Catherine Duthie (MA) describes the exhibit and a few of its paintings, and explains how they connect to the music on the concert program. Join us at Orchestra Hall next month for the full musical and visual experience!
Inspired by the works and themes in the November 15-17 concerts, Mary Pettis’ exhibition Sharing the Harvest complements the musical program by praising creative synthesis and culmination. Much like the pieces to be performed, this show is about the coming together of contrasts; of the inner and the outer worlds, of restraint and of expression; of honoring the past and of embracing the present.
The first work on the program is modern composer Kevin Puts’ Inspiring Beethoven, which pays tribute to Beethoven, imagines his unusual creative process and incorporates portions of his Seventh Symphony. In a similar manner, Pettis’ subject matter is imbued with familiarity and respect for works preceding it. A walking path bathed in dim evening light, water lilies draped across a gently moving stream, fields dotted with transient ponds; these are timeless motifs and have been employed by countless artists. And like Puts, Pettis has transformed and shaped these familiar elements to express the inner mind and sentiment of the creator. In fact, many paintings in this collection are not literal depictions of scenery, but an abstracted design to reflect their internalized spirit. While her painting Road to the Sea was inspired by the contemplative walk between the Scottish village of Stonehaven and its Dunnottar Castle, you would not be able to photograph its likeness in nature. And yet, it contains the experience of the path. Look long enough and you can feel the cool mist around your ankles, the air heavy with the smell of moss and sweet gorse. Road to the Sea expresses the internal experience of the artist, in the same way Puts’ Inspiring Beethoven expresses the internal experience of the composer.
Road to the Sea by Mary Pettis.
Beethoven differed from his predecessors in that he looked inward to express what was going on in the outer world. Most of his symphonies, including the Seventh Symphony heard in full at these concerts, broke the established musical boundaries and rules of the time to reflect his passion, his instability, his torture, and his triumph. Once he establishes the ideas and motives in his work, he explores them from every possible angle, employing every possible structure, voicing, and development. Pettis continues this dramatic tradition by infusing her paintings with tonal control and motivic development. The simplest motif of water is explored from multiple perspectives within the show. Her painting Molto Vivace is a compilation piece of about a dozen smaller studies that Pettis painted on location as notes to herself along the north shore of Lake Superior between Duluth and Grand Marais. It reminds us of the power that this precious, yet ever-present element holds. The many waterfalls have worn away at the heavy basalt as they continue to carve paths for themselves, and we as the viewer are placed in the middle of this continuing action. Minnehaha Falls in Autumn depicts this forward motion from afar, and we see the unity of direction and movement of the falls and rivers. Through this, we see a more orchestrated, purposeful portrayal of moving water and the constant push and pull it has with its environment. In contrast, the small pond in October Fields is a point of cool respite amidst the warm browns and reds of the long autumnal grass. And in Placido, the reflective stream serves as a living, breathing environment, nurturing lilies, reeds, and even a little frog (what a reward for looking deeper!). Pettis depicts her variations on the theme of water with environmental precision, evoking initial familiarity, awareness, and reverence.
Minnehaha Falls in Autumn by Mary Pettis.
Shostakovich’s mastery of orchestration and texture are the deliberate subjects of his Second Cello Concerto, which the Orchestra will perform with soloist Anthony Ross. At times, the sparse cello and percussive exchanges sound a simple line between the audience and silence. At others, the orchestration is so thick and lustrous that it is easy to get swept away in the wave of sound. Immediately when considering texture in visual art, we look for the physical tactile variation in the paint itself. In Pettis’ Edge of Twilight, we can nearly see the canvas itself through the shadows on the edge of the pond. This thinness further strengthens the heavy impasto highlights sparkling along the gentle windblown ripples of the roadside pond. However, just like in the Concerto, there is more to texture dynamics than simple physical layering of instruments. Shostakovich also uses rhythmic diversity and syncopation to create sharp, smooth, crisp layers and textures within his work. In similar ways, texture is also created in paint by layering different levels of chroma on top of one another. The contrast in chroma enhances the overall vibration and impression on the viewer’s eye. You can find an example of this in the lit warm violets and greens in Molto Vivace. In every form that comes forward, for example, the closest rock formation and the closest cascade of water, the vivid, purer colors were layered on top of a more quiet, subdued echo of the hue underneath.
Edge of Twilight by Mary Pettis.
In summary, Sharing the Harvest serves as a coalescence celebrating tradition, development, and integration. Pettis’ paintings play on the exploration of a theme, the reflections between the inner and outer worlds, and the balance between intellect, perspective, and expression. It is an invitation extended to us, encouraging us to experience paintings as one would experience music—through time, contemplation, and awareness of the long history and tradition that informs it.
Mary Pettis is the ninth American woman painter to be named an ARC Living Master™ by the Art Renewal Center. This distinguished honor is defined, in part, as: “an artist who has mastered all of the building blocks of great art...creating fully professional works of art, as well as some identifiable masterpieces...has successfully created a body of work which demonstrates accomplished facility in their craft that compares to the masters of prior centuries…”. She is also a Signature Member of the American Impressionist Society, American Society of Marine Artists, and Oil Painters of America. For a full biography and more information, visit www.marypettis.com.