Meet the Artist – Mary Byrne

How did you get into art/How did you get started? I’ve always drawn and painted and I did ‘A’ Level Art at school, but I really got into it when my children were small and I went to evening classes. One of the tutors there used to give me projects so I had a portfolio of work. She encouraged me to apply to do a degree and I was accepted onto the Fine Art degree at Loughborough College of Art. I did this part-time for 5 years.

What is your background and how has it helped you where you are today? When I left school, I did a degree in English and became an English teacher. I also wrote stories and poems, some of which were published. When I moved to London, I spent four years working at the National Archives. Both those experiences feed into my art which implies stories and is often based on history and people in the past. I’m also working on a historical novel at the moment and I’m Membership Secretary of Leicester Writers’ Club

What artists do you admire and who has influenced you and why? Caravaggio! The drama, the stories, the light and dark, the wonderful figures. More recent artists I admire are Paula Rego, Ana Maria Pacheco and Marlene Dumas.

The theme for this show is Light and Dark  – what inspired you to choose this theme? I love the drama of light and dark and the mystery.

Where do you make your work? I share a studio with a friend who also went to Loughborough. It’s in an old dye works near my home in Loughborough. There’s a mix of different things going on around me: a photographer in the studio to the left, a pole dance exercise studio to the right, and a man making dentures below me. It can be noisy especially the pole dance studio in the evening when there’s music and women falling off the poles!

Mary’s Studio 2017

What inspires you to create your work? My photos. I take anything unusual that strikes me (e.g. a Venetian palace mirror) and I also take photos of my family dressed up as characters e.g. my daughter features in this exhibition in a wedding dress and veil from a charity shop.

Mary Byrne_Mirror Reflection Daydreams_The Eye.jpg
Mirror Reflection Daydreams I

My daughter also features in this large acrylic painting of an artist trying to fly!

Mary Byrne_Artist about to Fly_The Eye another
Artist about to Fly

The photos generate ideas for the paintings and digital work. I also love old black and white photos of people which I sometimes get from junk shops and use as inspiration.

Maid, Lincolnshire, c1910

The charcoal drawing in this exhibition was based on a photo of a prisoner. I thought he looked shifty but he also seemed like a theatrical impresario so I gave him a real silk flower and a velvet tie.

Prisoner No. ?79

What is your starting point for a piece of work? What do you create? I think about it for ages, then find some of my photos that strike a chord or take fresh ones. I sketch and then draw and paint in oil and acrylic. Recently, I started using Photoshop for putting together ideas but I liked the resulting digital collages so much, I have started exhibiting them.

Have you always been an artist (ie are you part time/full time /what else do/ have you done prior to this if anything?) Yes, and I’ve done lots of different jobs to earn enough money to pay the bills too! Currently, I teach art to adults part-time.

Which aspect(s) of your work do you enjoy most? Getting lost in it.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out? You’ll do it if you have to – it’s like an obsession or an illness. Try to find a job that will give you some money but won’t exhaust you too much – I’ve never managed to pay all the bills through my art.

What are you trying to achieve at the moment in your work? I’m working towards a group exhibition with Artspace Loughborough titled ‘Odyssey’ for Stamford Arts Centre in Lincolnshire. I’m planning the idea of a personal journey.

What goals do you have and where do you want to be with your work in the future? I’d like to exhibit in London.

Where do you exhibit/sell your work? Galleries, museums, art centres, exhibition spaces and sometimes commissions.

What have you been doing/making this year? Plans for next year? I’ve just exhibited at the Atkins Gallery, Hinckley, with the Association of Leicestershire Artists, and the exhibition ‘Odyssey’ with Artspace is on for a month in June at Stamford. Next January and February, I’m in a group exhibition at Deda Dance and Arts Centre in Derby.



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