“Risky business” is how Mary Lou Jaansalu describes what she does when she spreads her large Mylar sheets on the floor and starts squeezing tubes of liquid acrylic. Her gestural contours in primary colours coalesce to produce human forms. When she repositions them on a canvas of subtly articulated architectural backgrounds, they take on a new life. The figures complement the structural fragments, interacting and moving in different ways—standing, pulling, swaying, teetering, balancing, reclining. While working, Mary Lou takes on the poses of the figures to get the weight distribution right. The success of the works also relies on the contrast between line and tone, between spontaneity and calculation, between intensity and calm. There are eight images in this series, which forms part of the exhibition now at the WAG.
When I question Mary Lou about the figures in her series, she explains that she chose primary colours because of their purity and energy. For the architectural motifs—bridges, towers, cranes—she chose water-soluble graphite, which allowed her to define shaded areas in a painterly way. In fact, this series clearly reveals a dichotomy in Mary Lou’s artistic practice.
A selection of more traditional drawings and paintings makes up the balance of this one-woman show. Pivotal for the artist is an acrylic painting entitled Self-Portrait With Personal Imagery. It combines painterly elements with stencils and gestural line elements. In this piece, created a year ago, for the first time, Mary Lou tells me, buildings make an appearance, in this case in the form of fenestrated blocks of colour in the background. Mary Lou has a degree in architecture. No surprise, then, that she now uses Mylar in an inventive way and has incorporated built structures into her work.
At architecture school, life drawing was a requisite course, which, ironically, Mary Lou did not enjoy. Why draw people, she thought, even though she understood that humans populate architectural spaces. Perhaps as a counter to the exactitude of drafting, I suggest. Indeed, today Mary Lou loves life drawing, for the looseness of line it can afford, for the rapport she establishes with a model through intense observation, and for the energy a living being (versus a still life) embodies.
Mary Lou’s groupings of life drawings include black and white sculptural renderings of parts of bodies—forms suggesting a whole—as well as overlapping coloured lines that search out shapes in order to create a whole. The former are a nod to the technique she uses in her architectural fragments, and the latter are precursors to the human figures she draws on Mylar. By combining the two techniques she has taken greater risks, but also evolved in her search for meaningful ways of extending life drawing into her studio practice.
Dynamic Figures Static Forces in on view from February 13 to March 3, with a reception on Saturday, February 16, 2-5 p.m.