Shelbee Mares has shown at the Michael McCormick Gallery for over a decade.
Her ethereal paintings that she made while living in Taos, conjure a perpetual Springtime in their glorious depiction of flowers in full bloom, New Mexican architecture and sweeping landscapes.
The first thing that strikes one upon spending time with her work, is the underlying composition and talent for line drawing that supports these magical, layered pieces. Her use of papers and metallic leaf to build up the canvas and throw light onto her pigments, has been compared to other artists who work with collage and multi-media, but the truth of the matter is that Shelbee has been working in this genre for more than twenty years.
Originally from Maine, she first came to New Mexico to visit her sister, also a painter and sculptor, who was then attending UNM in Albuquerque. After meeting her husband, a native of Taos, she became a resident of the state, returning to Maine to visit family, during the Summer months.
Her work was for many years, an intriguing juxtaposition of these two worlds. The lushness of the New England landscape, countered by the almost architectural shapes that one sees when one looks out at the vast and stark vistas of Northern New Mexico. The layered surfaces of these pieces drew one into their fluid and watery depths, as if the sea had somehow risen to great heights and swept a fine mist over the high desert.
Shelbee’s work is loved and collected by many, especially her brilliant poppy fields and the exuberant bouquets she painted while living in Taos.
“Those poppy fields were painted during summers in Maine,” she recalls. “They were an attempt to capture the abundance of the season here.”
“In Taos,” she observes wryly, “it was hard to find one flower.”
A few years ago, after separating from her husband, their son off to college, Shelbee moved back to Maine so her daughter could finish high school there, and has returned to school herself, for her Masters.
Her new studio is in the Arts District in Portland across from the Museum of Art. It’s an old converted theater and the floors are painted turquoise.
“There is so much light here,” she says, “plus the floors remind me of Taos.”
Her new work returns to her roots; probing watery depths and seascapes where the waves meet the horizon. Different, yet not that far removed from the paintings she once made of the desolate desert landscape here in New Mexico. Her singular style still evident even as she evolves as a painter, far from the High Desert, back on the Eastern Seaboard.
“For me, these days it’s all about simplifying and getting down to the essence of the work.”
“I’m thinking more in terms of the economy of line.”
A favourite of the late R.C. Gorman, Shelbee will be in Taos this weekend for the opening of a show of her new work at the Michael McCormick Gallery. For more information, please visit their site, linked below this post.
“I’ll always be inspired by Taos,” Shelbee told me when we talked on the phone recently, “there really is something about the light there.”
Photographs of Shelbee Mares’ new work care of the Michael McCormick Gallery