Mary Ann Chater

My breakthrough as an artist came when I realized I had something to say. I’d been painting landscapes and florals but felt there was something missing. I started to ask, “What concerns me in my life?” For some time I’d been thinking that people took their environment too lightly. I didn’t want to be heavy-handed in making this point; in fact, I wanted the people who looked at my work to be slightly amused.

I decided that if I made every element—human, animal, botanical and mineral—the same size, I’d challenge the viewer to look closely. The viewer would discover the human presence when he or she didn’t expect to. The human presence would be “found” as an object is found. And the painting would imply that just as every element—human, animal, botanical and mineral—has a place, it also has a value.

For instance, in my Aquarium series, a painting may seem to be “about fish,” but then the viewer discovers the people swimming alongside and above the fish. This is a mild shock, a humorous surprise.

Though my concerns about the environment are serious, I don’t take anything else in my art too seriously. Just as I play with scale and proportion, I play with everything. If a zoologist were to study my Aquarium series, he or she would be appalled: I have fresh and salt water fish swimming together; fish that are actually big are little; fish that are actually little are big. Every element—a person, a pebble, a fish—is the size I want it to be, regardless of what it is in real life. My paintings are exercises in artistic freedom. By playing around with scale and proportion, I question the distinctions between fact and fantasy. We live in the world of facts, but we don’t have to place our paintings there. After all, if we, as artists, can’t be free—,invoking poetic and every other kind of license—who can?

“Artists are the most fortunate of people. As long as we have a pencil and a sketchpad, we will never be bored, wherever our travels take us,” says Jean Grastorf. Celebrated as an artist and beloved as a teacher, Grastorf won the Robert E. Wood memorial award of the National Watercolor Society in 1999; this year one of her paintings won the Elsie and David Wu Ject-Key Memorial Award of the American Watercolor Society. When not on the road, she lives and paints in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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