1. When and how did you start painting? 

I remember painting, drawing and sculpting with clay from a very young age.  I have a lot of positive memories of exposure to art that feel linked to the eventual path of becoming a painter myself. 

My mother is very creative and I remember her taking me to classes at Wayne Art Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I would sometimes get lost in the galleries. It was the 80s and kids wandered freely without parental supervision.  I have really good memories of that time, even if most of what I made exploded in the kiln.

My grandmother also had an incredible sense of design – her father was a gallerist and cultural critic (J.H. de Bois) in the Netherlands and she would take me local Cape Cod art galleries as a kid.  Seeing the beauty of a place expressed through art was just magical and that stayed with me. 

I remember announcing to her that one day, I would have my own gallery.  (I also told her I would be a marine biologist and a pediatrician.)  She told me, with characteristic Dutch sobering sensibility, that there were already too many art galleries on Cape Cod.

My first formal oil painting class was at Hampshire College in 2001, but at that time I was also doing a lot of photography working with a medium format camera.  

I always had a sketchbook of abstract watercolors that I would come back to, but I didn’t start to really explore abstraction with oils until I took at class with Yolanda Sanchez at Penland School of Art in 2015.  That class was a turning point for me.  Yolanda, like me, also worked in healthcare and was also a practicing artist.  

I began to see that I didn’t have to pursue only one passion.  I could practice acupuncture and painting. 

I also started to see how the practice of acupuncture and movement of qi (energy) and brushstrokes were in conversation.

2. What do you think is the most important influence in your painting?

For me painting is a space of total freedom.  It’s an expression of energetic movement and what as acupuncturists we call the Shen – heart qi – existing in that space beyond thought or the intellect.  Resting in this space during activity is so rare in our current times and that is what really excites me about the painting process.  Even if I tap into that space of consciousness for just a few moments of the painting, that is what feels most vital about the painting process.  

My wish is to convey that space to the viewer and continue exploring it in my work. It sounds very lofty but I think it shouldn’t be – I think we all have access to consciousness or a state of peace and is vital to cultivate it.  

3. Do you work from life, photographs or from imagination?

This varies but is usually a combination of imagination and the natural world.  Light and the drama of light on the landscape is something that continues to interest me.  When working indoors I may work purely from imagination or I might set up a still life of florals to spark the process.  Other times I will paint at the ocean or in my grandparent’s backyard – any part of nature that I feel a personal resonance with or want to convey. 

4. What is your creative process like?  

I typically allow a painting to evolve while I am making it and don’t have any set boundaries beyond the canvas when I begin.  I often work outdoors in warmer months, look for places where I feel inspired and set up my easel there.  

Sometimes I will get an image of part of a painting.  I’ll sketch that out to remember it and come back to it.  I find that when I am spending time in nature (particularly by the ocean) and am emptying myself of the busy-ness of daily life by taking time to meditate, do qi gong, and sometimes journal, an idea for a painting may come.  

When I’m painting during a busy week and haven’t made the time for much contemplation I just allow myself to explore by choosing a color palette, mixing color and working from there. 

5. What are you working on right now? 

Currently I’m working on several pieces – one plein air piece I began at The National Seashore in Eastham, another large abstract floral-inspired piece, and I am starting a new piece inspired by the incredible gardens at Chanticleer. 

All photos by Jie Deng In The Eye Photography

(This photo from MaryFatimah’s website)