Name: Mary Ercoli Walsh (a.k.a. Be Creative Mary)

Studio location: South County Commons

Current/upcoming exhibits: This summer you will find me at the Narragansett Art Festival. I will also be selling my artwork out by the sea wall every Wednesday evening with the Narragansett Arts Guild. You can learn more about this weekly arts fair/collaborative at gansettarts.org.

What is your background? I had a bit of a bohemian upbringing. My grandfather was an illustrator in New York City, and when he retired he opened a picture framing business. Eventually, my mother joined the family business. As a kid I’d spend countless weekends and summer days in this uber-creative frame shop. My grandfather was friends with many artists in the New York arts community, and most of them used him as their picture framer. I’d go as far as to say it was an artists’ hang-out. Not only was I exposed to the arts community at a very early age, but my mother would barter art lessons for her kids in exchange for picture framing. So I learned to paint and draw by the artists around me. The Framing Gallery was and still is an amazing place to visit (theframingallery.com). When it was time to study, I went to the University of Connecticut and majored in fashion design and merchandising and minored in art. After graduation, I went back to New York to join the family business and was quite happy being in this community for several years. But eventually, the call to be a full-time artist became too strong and the call to be by the sea even stronger. My husband and I moved to South Kingstown 15 years ago. Now I carefully try to balance my days as a mother to a 10- and 12-year-old and as an artist.

Why create art? Such a good question. Because I cannot not create art! It runs through my veins. I have a very fast-paced energy about myself. I must work with my hands constantly or I become restless. I also like to work on many endeavors at once to suppress this restless energy. Astrologically speaking, I am a classic Gemini. I also am an eternal student. My quest for knowledge and to try things I’ve never done before are exhausting. They are almost a detriment, because as soon as I master something I am no longer interested! I always want a challenge. With that said, I have my hands in a lot of the arts. Currently, I am a potter, jewelry designer, painter, sculptor, print-maker and kid art teacher.

I also love to photograph my work and blog about it. My blog is becreativemary.wordpress.com. Here I write about my fears and insecurities as a student of the arts, my triumphs, discoveries and observations. I try to be brutally honest about my inner struggles, which I find to be quite unique among bloggers. It’s difficult to share with the world that you are not perfect, but in doing so, I hope to inspire. And herein lies the answer to why I create art. I have struggled with this question for many years. How does creating pretty little things make the world a better place? Sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes the world around me shows absolutely no interest. Sometimes making art can feel trivial and of little value. Until you answer the question. Why do you create art? I create art to inspire, and it took many years of soul-searching to figure this out. That is why blogging has become so very important to me. What kind of art I make varies from month to month, but my quest, my soul-search, my desperate attempt to follow my heart is the real form of art and creativity. I know this by the responses I get. Many are simple thank-yous. But then there are responses like “I thought I was too old but you are reminding me to go for it,” “I’m a teacher and I love your ideas, I’m going to try some,” “You do what I wish I could do, but I’m too scared!” I have made connections with so many people. I get to witness so much beauty in humanity.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even realize that what I do was inspiring. I just do what I do and I’ve been doing it since I was a small child. I thought everyone did this. I live in the #1 capitalistic society on this planet. A society loaded with status and titles and people who are simply valued by their monetary accomplishments, and I’m coming to realize many people are stuck and aren’t really loving their world model. So here I am. Daring to say there’s another way to be. I create things of beauty despite their societal value. I work with my hands the same way artisans have worked for a thousand years, and I recognize the beauty and simplicity in that. I remind people to look at the birds in their backyards, to love the flowers and fauna that are the free gifts of this earth. I teach people to not be afraid of color, pattern and things that do not match. I remind people to hold something hand-made and physically feel the difference between a human touch and machine made. I teach people to get up every morning and really do what they love. I don’t care what it is – no fear, no excuses. Do what you love and be brave enough to push through every reason you have come up to not to. This is how I inspire. Who knew this is what makes people unique?

What is your preferred medium? Why? I gravitate toward the water-based mediums: acrylic, gouache and watercolor. I love the intense color and speed with which they dry.

How would you describe your work? The number one attribute to anything I create is color. Everything is very bright, really busy and energetic. Guess what, I am very bright, really busy and energetic ;) My art is a pure extension of myself.

What was the inspiration for a recent body of work? For the past two years I have been delving deep into abstract painting. Before this I had been working in a photo-realist style, so it is a major departure for me. Abstract painting is so freeing and incredibly intuitive. You show up to the canvas without any preconceived notion and paint. It is very similar to meditation. You must stay metaphysically present in your mind at all times. Eventually, your subconscious brings concepts and patterns to life. I find myself very emotionally connected to this work and will definitely continue to explore this venue.

Whose work do you admire? Why? Pierre Bonnard, Milton Avery, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Gabriele Münter. All master colorists and impressionists of their time. Their contributions to the art world, I hold dear.

If you could experiment in another medium, what would it be? I am fascinated by glasswork. Mostly for its color and transparency. I’ve never tried it. Something tells me there might be a bit of chemistry involved. It could be a great challenge. I also admire over-sized sculpture/metalwork. I love the physical impact it has on people. Working at such a large scale, it looms over people questioning how one could even create something so grandiose. I think I may need a few more lifetimes to fit in all my dreams!

What is your dream project? Now that is a fun question. I love to think up big projects and then – go for them - despite how scary they can appear. When I finally got my youngest child into full-time school, I went wild. My restless hands were free for the first time in seven years. I came up with this crazy idea that I would make a creative work every single day for one year. Think about it – every day – including weekends, holidays, vacations, sick days, weddings, funerals and most importantly, still being present as a parent to young ones. I created a “Be Creative Mary 365” website and blog, publicly declared this crazy mission, and went for it. And you know what, I accomplished it. I created something artistic every single day for one year. I had two big art shows to celebrate and came out a changed person. I proved to myself I could accomplish anything I put my mind to.

A couple of years have floated by since then. I haven’t had a real calling to go in any one certain direction. But now I’m ready. I have an idea for a big personal project. It will be one year long. I will once again dig deep and focus on a true vision that I’m very excited about it. It’s a surprise. I plan on unveiling my mission in early October 2017. If you want to know more, I guess you will have to follow my blog until then.

What do you do when you’re not making art? I am the human taxi in the throes of tween-kid-mom-dom. Between music lessons, Scouts and sports I ricochet like a pinball!

For peace and solace I turn toward the home. I love to decorate. I spend countless hours sewing curtains, pillows and blankets. My other passion is gardening. Even here my focus is color, pattern and craziness. At any given time, 20 things are blooming in bright hues and exploding like fireworks. I wander through my yard enjoying its beauty and gather up all of nature’s bounty into the most beautiful flower arrangements. I fill my home with their beauty and enjoy giving them to friends and family. These acts restore my balance.

What are you most proud of? Why? Taking the road less traveled. When I was younger this felt very lonely, but as I mature, I see its gift. I have the ability to view the world from a different perspective. I am so strong. I have learned to chase my dreams with reckless abandon. I live with no regrets or longing. I am doing exactly what my soul wants to do and there is so much freedom in that. I’m living a joyful life. This makes me proud.

Do you have a favorite local art spot? I’m going to answer this in an unconventional way. A local art spot would be where you hang out with other artists and view art right? I do this. You can find me loosely affiliated with quite a few local artist groups, but very loosely. I’m a bit of a loner. But when asked what my favorite local art spot is, this is what first came to mind – thrift shops. This is my local art spot. I started rummaging through thrift shops during the early Kurt Cobain era. I was quite young and was striving for that authentic “grunge” look. That trend came and went and 25 years later I’m still rummaging. Thrift shops are where I go to find hand-made blankets, ethnic fabrics, clothing to pull apart and refashion, furniture to dismantle and turn into art, amazing books, thrown out art and some terrific people watching. This is my artist playground. I look at all the stuff people have deemed “disposable” as a sea of possibility. I dream stuff up, create and play. It’s another road less traveled.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? Listen to your intuition. As artists we can be sent so many messages from the outside world. How are you going to be a functioning member of society? How are you going to earn your keep? How do you compare to other artists? Are you creating art relevant to your time? How about public recognition? Is anyone going to want that? Why would you waste your time making that? These questions and messages can bombard you and send you in the wrong direction. Back to intuition, one has to go inside for the answers. Tune out the world and create what your heart tells you is right. A lot of being an artist is going against the mainstream. It doesn’t mean one has to have blatant disregard for our society and its structure, but one has to explore each and every construct and answer the questions for oneself. For me, the answer was that many of the questions above are absolutely irrelevant. I create beauty because that is the gift god gave me. If my gift was math, I might have become a banker and could easily give society all the answers it wants. When I tune out all the questions, I have an inner voice that gives me my truth. I trust it. If you have a calling to carve designs into cantaloupe rinds, go with it. There’s a good chance your society is going to consider you a crazy outcast. Until maybe they don’t. But either way, answer your calling. That’s being an artist.

Artist Profiles feature area artists and craftworkers, highlighting their backgrounds and creative projects. Profiles run periodically in the Arts & Living section. For more information, or to recommend an artist, email artsliving@independentri.com.

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