In our chat by phone, the artist Mallory Page turns to New Orleans to ground her airy, emotional layers of color.
Encountering a Mallory Page work is like entering a huge, beautiful room. A room awash in monochromatic color that twists and turns around the canvas then curves around and over- the floor blurring with the wall and morphing into the ceiling until it no longer matters because you’re inside the work at this point- and that’s exactly where Page wants you to be. The magic is subtle because Page’s work is by no measure structured or even demanding in terms of readership or scholarship. It’s an emotional experience that requires little more than personal sense of spatial understanding and emotional availability. In an afternoon interview with the artist that stretched over half an hour, I was able to get a sense of where Page’s mind is when she creates this sensory experiences and what it takes to create masterful works of abstraction.
With the slightest Southern accent that might slip by you if you aren’t paying attention, Page started by explaining her grand idea: exploring color as an informant for greater visual understanding and sensory experience. “Right now, I’m exploring scale. Scale is really important in the work because it’s the best vehicle for developing that enveloping experience.” But on a deeper level, Page is confronting challenges of being a woman who loves color, especially pastels and traditionally “feminine” colors like pink or taupe. “The first impression is that the work seems delicate or feminine.”
Page allows her femininity to come through in a different way: she cites Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel “The Awakening”, which dealt with female concerns without regarding them as being insignificant or petulant, as a powerful inspiration in terms of concept and color (Chopin details vibrant gardens and rooms in the novel).
“When work is created on an imposing scale, it can be powerful.” She’s right- the experience of a Mallory Page work transcends understanding of “feminine” and “masculine” by virtue of its scale and raw emotion. For Page, the canvas is merely her medium of choice for communicating a sensory experience. They are heavily layered works only achieved by Page’s physically arduous process- twenty to fifty thin layers of consistent color that amounts to a compelling and visually satisfying force- requiring the viewer to reconsider and redevelop their understanding of perspective and available visuals.
When asked how she starts a painting, she says, “It’s a matter of color first, then deciding which sensory element to explore”. The most challenging part is something that faces many abstract painters: communication. Abstract painters are expected to create conceptually challenging work that is often only able to be communicated effectively by its abstract manifestation… and then explain it using words. The issue is clear: if they were looking to describe the concept in words, they’d be a writer. This is not a new problem: “explaining art” has a long, controversial history that we may be reaching a tipping point regarding. “You’re not really expected to articulate abstract art”. Page clues viewers in by offering vague work titles that might help set the tone, but little else
Even though Page’s works are by no measure “flat”- they are fantastic performances; individual theaters of color- Page found working with more than one color on a page to be overwhelming. Her recent solo show at the Longview Museum of Fine Arts in Texas, called “Garden of Ambition” featured more than one color in one canvas, a break from tradition for Page. Perhaps unknowingly, she revealed her subconscious yet rare understanding of color when responding to that question. It comes second nature to her, but for non-artists or those unfamiliar with Page’s technique, Page’s challenge with color may seem contradictory. Remember, Page really does only work in one color at a time- but her layering and treatment manages to turn one color into hundreds
Though Mallory Page’s work is an exploration in self-discovery, there’s no question about Page’s sense of place: her soul lies in New Orleans. Her commitment to the Cajun way is remarkable and authentic and her interest in the New Orleans art scene is real. She gushed about Prospect.4, a city-wide event which involves 75 international artists having installations around the city (it ends 25 February 2018).
Page sees Prospect.4 as an elaboration of something that Page’s husband recites: “You have to look at New Orleans as an art piece in itself.” And more specifically, Page regards New Orleans has an intangible thing that no one else has- something that characterizes abstraction. A number of cultural signatures have popped up in her time. That’s not to say an interest in the arts “wentaway” at some point, but New Orleans has had its fair share of expensive challenges. Nonetheless, the city has always roared back, culturally stronger every time. “We’re getting nationally regarded shows now. That’s really amazing. The first paintings you see are probably regional. This is bigger. Our community can see global work firsthand.” A keen example of this is Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. It’s an important show, offering a story of African American art from 1940 to the present. It’s a timely and sensitive show that Page feels passionate about. “The Odgen is an institution doing forward, powerful work.”
As for Page, she’s just moved into a Midcentury Modern home, known as “Villa Venus” and a far cry from the ironwork French Quarter style that has defined New Orleans in the popular mind. She’ll continue to work in the space she’s carved out, mentioning her interest in lightness- specifically objects that incorporate transparent elements. In all cases, we can look forward to Page’s enthusiastic embrace of emotion and self-care, both critical in today’s turbulence.
Mallory Page (b. 1983) is a New Orleans-based artist specializing in large-scale, thinly-layered monochromatic paintings. In 2010, Page opened Mallory Page Studio, a gallery and studio space at 614 Julia Street in the New Orleans Arts District. Page’s work is held in private collections internationally and has been featured in Architectural Digest, Southern Living, House Beautiful, and Southern Living, among others.