The Two Marys

Look Closer

by Margaret Price

Conversation 1, a collabroative work by The Two Marys

The two printmakers heading up the art form’s growing movement in Dawson Creek could not be more different.

Mary Mottishaw, the thoughtful introvert, speaks calmly and deliberately, taking an almost bullet-list approach to her conversation with me, chewing over each word, savoring the taste. Mary Parslow, the excitable extrovert, winds around from point to point, tenuously, ardently, alighting briefly like a bird to a limb and just as quickly fluttering off again.


Mary Mottishaw, organized and disciplined in her trade, carefully plans each piece, starting with an idea and working methodically from research, gathering materials, reviewing notes and drawings in her journal, poring over her own writing for inspiration from years past.

Perhaps more intellectual and symbolic in her approach, Mottishaw’s work is informed by ideas, and behind each piece is an unequivocal cognitive process. Her space is arranged so that everything is just where she wants it, where she needs it. And it is this consciousness of space that is fused into her work, as she often works with mapping concepts and spatial and relational elements, knowing just where to put one or two special things. “I’m influenced by the sense of space and the change in our landscape,” she says.

There’s a subtlety to her work, generally more temperate in hue, her focused prints imbued with layer upon layer of soft color and palpable significance, Take, for example, the piece Beloved Valley, a delicate, painterly monoprint of the Peace River Valley, constructed with a transparent glaze of yellow, red and blue ink. “I wanted to do something very iconic and easily recognizable,” Mottishaw says. “The challenge was to use only those three colors and create as many colors as I could with the darks and lights and still have it be representative of what I wanted it to be.” Beloved Valley is a touching ode to the context that surrounds us, full of reverence for the land, and a gentle appreciation for the things we see every day.

Beloved Valley by Mary Mottishaw

Columbine by Mary Mottishaw

Another landscape-inspired piece is Columbine, one print in her series of Peace River area wildflowers. In Columbine, a linoblock print, Mottishaw again takes the commonplace and abstracts it to impart meaning. Soft washes of watercolors drench the canvas behind the stark black of the outline of the carved away image, a bit of blue for the sky, a bit of green from the foliage, and hints of red and yellow for the flower.

Inspired By Pat by Mary Mottishaw

Inspired by Pat is arguably Mottishaw’s most symbolic work to date. A mixed media piece incorporating elements of printmaking, Inspired by Pat is a remembrance piece of the artist’s friend, who passed away recently. And like all of Mottishaw’s work, it was carefully planned. “I wanted to do a piece to commemorate Pat, so I started by writing down all the things we’ve done together, things that I knew she liked, what colors she liked, who were her friends, on and on, and then I built those elements up layer upon layer upon layer.” The result is a serene homage to a loved one, every element possessing a deliberate place and meaning. Look closer. A photograph of a group of friends, four faces smiling from beneath the translucent blues and greens, shades of Pat’s favorite colors. Music notes run throughout the piece. A dancing goddess figurine celebrates life and happiness. Every element planned. Everything in its right space.


Wild Peace by Mary Parslow

Mary Parslow plans her pieces too, but it is almost as if she cannot plan until her hands are in the middle of it. To her, printmaking is a kinesthetic process. She has to get the materials out, see the colors, smell the ink, pick up the implements, and then get going. “It’s almost ‘ready, fire, aim’ instead of ‘ready, aim, fire’,” she says. “I have a sense of where I’m going, but it’s more of a visceral process to me than a cognitive process. I just have to jump off the cliff first, and the parachute will come out and I’ll land.”

Comparatively, her work is characterized by distortion, expression, and bold, almost violent colours. She works in metaphors, choosing not to give viewers everything handed to them on a plate, instead favoring an element of mystery, leaving the observer alone with nothing but his or her thoughts. Look closer. Things are not always as they seem, nor would we want them to be.

Much of Parslow’s work exists in the realm of the spirit, a realm not unknown to the artist, who, subsequent to teaching for 20 years, completed theological training and entered into the priesthood for five years. “I think I had a calling to be a teacher; I know I had a calling to be a priest; and I feel the calling to be an artist even more strongly than those other two callings,” she says. “It seems to be at a totally consuming level, in a way that I haven’t felt before. I couldn’t stop doing it if I tried.”

Camoflage by Mary Parslow

In what’s become somewhat of a signature piece for her, Parslow, like many Canadian artists, draws inspiration from the earth and its people. Wild Peace, a reduction linocut, is a metaphorical landscape displaying her love of bold colour and tendency towards primitive, almost violent artistic movement. The Peace River flows over the face of the earth in a highly stylized personification of the land and its windswept trees and rocks. Parslow translates the wildness of the Peace into ink and paper, taming the elements.

For Parslow, art is often an emotional release. “There’s a lot in the subconscious that you don’t know is there until suddenly it’s on the paper in front of you,” she says. Take, for instance, the piece Camouflage, one print in a series of chine-collé monoprints of life drawings of the female form. In an attempt to soften the edges of an otherwise starkly primitive figure, Parslow’s art began to unveil itself to her in an unexpected way. “The figure was almost hiding underneath the chine-collé.”

Interior Fantasy by Mary Parslow

Events in Parslow’s personal life have had a profound impact on the way she creates art, providing inspiration for some of her pieces, and printmaking has become a much-needed catharsis. “I think some of this is grief work. It’s been very theraputic for me.” The piece Interior Fantasy is one such emotionally-charged work. Another chine-collé monoprint, the piece is a highly emotive, highly personal treatise on illness and changing body image. “[Interior Fantasy] has a lot to do with interior thinking about the body, and life, and how life passes and you change,” she says. “How two different personalities deal with two different issues.” The central figure, with its commanding presence on the page, serves as a steadfast bastion of strength and comfort to the two smaller figures, one quietly retreating into herself, the other defiantly challenging the viewer. Three figures wordlessly sharing one innate interior monologue, at once both intimate and transparent. “You are the hands doing the job,” she says. Parslow’s sense of self in the context of the world of people defines her work.

Mary Mottishaw and Mary Parslow

DESPITE THESE DIFFERENCES, the Two Marys, as they are lovingly and collectively known, are after the same thing: a growing awareness of printmaking as an art form and the joys of art as a whole in the Peace region, and beyond. “I try to educate people not to think of art as a frill, but as a whole cognitive and emotional process,” Parslow says. “To me it’s a way of living, it’s a way of being in the world, and we want to encourage that.”

Over the past few years, the artists have strengthened their bond, both personally and professionally. The Two Marys met while students in the Northern Lights College Visual Arts program, working side by side on various projects. Sharing a love of printmaking, the two became sounding boards for one another, experimenting with different techniques, providing suggestions and mutual encouragement. ”Lunch break” workshops with fellow students not familiar with printmaking became the norm. And that’s how teaching together began, so it seems.

Collaboration became the obvious next step, and the Two Marys just completed their second collaborative work. Entitled Una Voce, the linocut print is a wonderful culmination of their two disparate styles, existing in perfect harmony on one piece of paper. “I think it’s a good example of how we work,” says Mottishaw. “We’re on the same page, but we express our art differently.” On the left, we see Mottishaw’s spatial awareness, with topographic map contour lines delineating her space, and five deliberately-placed circles dotting the landscape of her face. On the right, we see Parslow’s gentle reverence for the human form and consciousness of the changing body, each cut violently expressive and full of emotion.

Una Voce by The Two Marys

Look closer. Two halves, no matter how different, make a whole, and, while one surely may be able to exist without the other, it would be an existence markedly unprofound. Una Voce responds with a single visual voice to proclaim the importance of the unifying power of art. It is a silent tribute to kindred, albeit distinct, spirits. “It’s quite exciting,” says Parslow. “To get two people who are so different on one piece of artwork is something. Our differences really are complementary to each other.”

We are all creative beings. Like all communities that come together,” says Parslow, we thrive upon the mutual encouragement, wisdom and growth that comes from collaboration. Creativity is universal, and collaboration is as natural a process as breathing. “We have a need to be with others who share our way of being in the world and benefit from the differences that each individual brings to the ongoing conversation,” she says. Art cuts into that universality, expounds upon the common medium that binds us all, and layers meaning into our existence.

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