“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Is there anything with which we have more of a love-hate relationship than Time? When we speak of a life treasured, we think of individual moments we pocket and carry with us. Memories serving almost like a talisman, protecting us from losing hope that life will be good to us and to those we love.
Consider then the role of artist: Is theirs the job to freeze these moments, to snatch what is loveliest or most deeply felt, and stretch it out for all eternity, reminding us of the lessons and gifts that might otherwise wash out with the tides? To return to us what Time has stolen?
Or is the artist’s gift to challenge the very way in which we organize perception? To remind us that all experience is ours for the shaping and interpreting, stretching or morphing, that ultimately we are the artists of our lives and that life is not done to us, but by us. That Time is but a tool to assist us in the making of meaning.
INTERVIEW WITH MARY CHIARAMONTE
~Bon Air, Virginia
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Circles, we see a fallen young woman beside a trio of cuckoo clocks, which at first glance appear to be as much casualties as she. But on closer inspection, we find no actual injuries, nothing is broken. Rather, a sort of Time Out appears to be in place. And how often have we yearned for this?
Mary Chiaramonte: Yes, to just slow down in general. I aim to be this old crank holed up in the woods somewhere, disenchanted with all these newfangled devices and whatnot. I don’t like that we are always on.
About Circles: I’ve had a handful of very memorable, lucid dreams that then actually happen in reality a week or so later. Details down to the button that’s not done up on someone’s shirt, and the color of that shirt, everything they say, do, where we are, who is there, a little piece of hair out of place; everything all the same. It is really very unsettling to me.
Also when I meet someone who feels very familiar to me, but not in the déjà vu sense of way, more like an old friend I have somehow forgotten. [quote]I like to entertain the idea that we live the same lives over and over. This is the thought behind this painting: that we live our lives in these circles, and all of our time will be experienced again.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And yet in Saudade your relationship to time is very different.
Mary Chiaramonte: [quote]Saudade is a Portuguese word describing an intense longing for the past, nostalgia, and specifically, because there is the recognition that whatever the longing is for, would never be again. So the subject in the painting is seeking his old life, with a dying light, in the rain, and trying to make his way through boggy mire.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Please tell me about The Garden, in which a young man is attempting to adorn himself with a shriveled and discarded snakeskin.
Mary Chiaramonte: One of my favorite time-lapsed videos is of a mother seed which drifts to the ground, the thing grows, wilts, browns, seeds out, and expires ~ all inside of 30 seconds. I call this painting, The Garden because that is how I feel in this world at times, like everything is in exceedingly fast motion, or I’m spinning around aimlessly, in some kind of circus. [quote]In the back space of this painting, there are faint images on the wallpaper of mantises mating, the cicada nymph learning to fly, a snake eating its prey, the various positions of life and death. The shed skin serves as a ghost, some reminiscent energy that remains from a former time.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Sunrise, Sunset, we again return to the theme of time, and the reality of our lives being driven by its unstoppable progression. For me, these paintings also conjure up memories of visiting my German grandfather’s home, where his living room walls hosted a cacophony of these handmade wooden cuckoos, and no two of them swinging, chirping, in harmony. And isn’t that the trickery of time? That despite what we all agree about the rules of its behavior, nevertheless it seems to march to a rhythm that defies this contract we have made. Was this painted at a time in your life when you wished the days stretched out longer, moments not so quickly whisked away?
Mary Chiaramonte: For sure. And I love that you’ve seen one of these walls! I hope to be in front of one myself before I check out. I am in love with the cycles of things: the seasons, Persephone’s narrative, another day turns over, and days into a year.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me about The Color of Night? Is nighttime a source of refuge for you, a time for ideas to percolate undisturbed? Or when you feel the most unguarded and vulnerable?
Mary Chiaramonte: Yes, yes and yes. Night is when I feel the most of everything. The heightened sensations tend to come out.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Tell me about the favorite fables you had read to you as a young girl. Were there ones that haunted you? That continue to haunt now? Do you feel that fables play an important role psychologically for the nurturing of a healthy society?
Mary Chiaramonte: That one about the ship wreck. I couldn’t tell you the name of this story now though. But we had this record that went with it. You could hear the wind howling on this old 45 as you read it. I have always been wary of a hard wind. Mother Nature can be overwhelming beautiful, and beautifully cruel. As can anything else inside society. So, yes, I feel any over-mollycoddling of kids could potentially make them less prepared for some things that may be no fun in their futures.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How important has it been for you to be able to paint to your memories?
Mary Chiaramonte: In the past, I would work specifically with memories, narrating past events in order to better understand them. In the last few years, I have been inventing stories, mostly around the theme of grappling with time. Either way, painting is the way I make sense of a situation. I like to scrutinize things until they’re ground down to ashes and then just go ahead and eat the ashes. As soon as I am done with a painting, I have forgotten entirely about it and moved on to the next.
Born in 1979, in Harmony, West Virginia, Mary Chiaramonte began painting at the age of three. As a child, she helped her family farm their land. She had no TV or other distractions, and was encouraged to entertain herself with objects in nature. Left with the workings of her imagination and observations of the world around her, she translated her understanding into paintings and drawings. She continues this practice today, taking much of her momentum from the people that surround and affect her.A 2010 Master of Fine Arts graduate, Chiaramonte received the Best Graduate Thesis award from Radford University. Her work has been in numerous solo and group exhibitions in galleries throughout America, and collections throughout the U.S. and Europe. Her process involves layering acrylics on birch panel to create smooth surface quality coated in a gloss protective varnish that lends its appearance to that of oils. Chiaramonte lives and works in Bon Air, Virginia.
To view more of her work, please visit her website.
The Color of Night, The Fables, and These Memories Too Are Bound to Die, may be purchased through Richard Demato Fine Arts Gallery.