Getting to know a friend through her art: A look at Mary Aday a.k.a Mefore Aday, THRU Gallery’s Debut Art Exhibit
When Mary Aday first moved to Portland from the South in 2005, a few of her new classmates at Oregon College of Art and Craft would ask her to repeat: Bright. White. Light.
In a high-pitched Mississippi accent, Mary would say, “Briiiiiiight. Whiiite. Liiiiight.” The I’s uncurling slowly, like they had all afternoon to be pronounced. Mary let it drawl out of her as they’d all giggle, and I suspect she overdid it at times to get a kick out of all the amusement.
She laughed recalling this for me a few years later, and how much she delighted in exhibiting her new found eccentricities away from home, taking stock in her real life potential to entertain. She could perform as herself and what an easy role that would be!
Mary has always been compelled by what makes us each different, what makes us weird. As a visual artist, she’s explored this by distorting and highlighting the oddities in the most recognizable, universal form: the human body. She merges the strangeness of imagination and awkward reality with nature. It can be ugly and magical at once and whether people laugh or cringe, they’re paying attention to the unusual.
Mary was pale and skinny, with dreads spilling over on the top of her head, when we met in 2006 in Pacific City, at the coffee shop where I worked. I had recently moved from NY and I counted her then as the very first weirdo I had met in Oregon. She had just dropped out of OCAC and hitchhiked to the coast with her boyfriend, Rob. They were camping on the great sand dune of Cape Kiwanda across the street from the cafe. They only had enough money to share one 16oz coffee. They ended up moving to PC on that trip and Mary came back to the cafe for a job.
The accent charmed me too, but that’s not what I deemed weird about her at that age, both of us 21 years-old. She was resourceful in a way that I never had to learn to be myself, by that time and it estranged and drew me to her. It was both physical and spiritual resourcefulness. She grew up dirt-poor in Iuka, Mississippi in a sprawling under-educated and unemployed family; siblings and cousins her age abound, swapping clothes and vying to be the loudest.
Over the summer, at the coffee shop she’d tell me that several of her classmates got knocked up before graduating high school, and in a story that came out like a comedy routine, she recalled becoming an artist. To hear her tell it, it was a sacred calling, a salvation that she was singled out to reconcile childhood trauma and hardship: She was blessed to make weird visuals and clay sculptures. It would rescue her from a fast food job, and from motherhood at 17. It was her ticket to Memphis College of Art where she discovered ceramics and then she followed the calling to Portland.
Landing in the city with 50 bucks, she spent the first year mostly living on fish sticks. I’d laugh at this and she’d tell me all the ways fish sticks were delicious. She got her art supplies in exchange for doing a work study program at school, made her own clay and would dumpster dive at Georgie’s Clay Supply on Lombard for more. She scored 300 pounds of bricks once, dried clay she moistened and reconstituted.
Mary skateboarded all over the coastal town of Pacific City, eventually learning to surf, and set up a home/studio where she and Rob would live for nearly a decade. I moved to Portland after a couple years, but I would visit and look out her studio window to catch a glimpse of Cape Lookout to the North, and a slice of the Pacific Ocean straight ahead. There was clay and canvas everywhere, a black cat named Bagby marching in and out and the smell of weed like the scent of pie that was perpetually baking. Her and Rob married out there on the lawn and I can’t remember a conversation where her gratitude for that place was not spoken at least once.
She now lives in White Salmon, WA and has art shows regularly in coffee shops and galleries in the towns around the Gorge. But I still remember the first time I saw her sketchbook on the coast, I liked the way her journal entries collaged drawings and words. And the first time I saw one of her paintings, I thought of the cartoon, Ren and Stimpy. The human figures were deformed, with bulging eyes and enlarged and stubbly genitalia. She especially favored a character without a head, with a belly like a giant hairy Russet potato and scraggly legs poked into two bright red high heels. Her style has expanded to include landscapes and a more abstract impressionist style, but the ugly human caricatures became something of an early signature style.
Over the years there’s been more mentions of comedians than artists as being inspirations. She loves Picasso but I believe Maria Bamford has a place right next to him. After watching Mary lose it when watching a comedian nail a bit about the wackiness of family or growing up, or watching an impersonation, I see those figures and the dysfunction, pain and absurdity charging her art like it does the comedian’s bits. The dark is shared and gets to be funny, the gloom is there but it’s as eerie as it is cartoonish. And the fact that it’s all just pretty weird eludes further explanation.
Her art has held more magic for me the better I get to know her. I encourage you to come. Really, one conversation with her is a joyful time, and feels like you’re a little less the same as everyone else, like you’re open to your own weird, yet feel closer to everyone else.
Mefore Aday will be displayed at THRU Gallery from March 2-31, 2017. Interested buyers should please inquire via our contact form.