“What I love about monoprints is that everything is a surprise. You have no idea what things will look like when you take the paper up off the glass. That’s fun for me,” Mary Gibney says.
Twenty-some years ago, using a piece of glass from an old picture frame, Gibney created a series of 30 monoprints she named “Ladies in Hats.” For these whimsical, one-of-a-kind prints she started by painting an image of a woman – wearing a hat – on the glass using multiple colors of paint. Then she covered the wet paint with a piece of high-quality print paper and rubbed the backside of the paper with a spoon. After lifting the paper carefully off the glass, depending on what she saw, she’d sometimes add more layers of paint or take paint away with brushes or Q-tips.
The process and intention of monoprints is not the same as other traditional printing methods, such as etching or engraving, where you make multiple copies from the same plate. Gibney describes it as more like making a single painting or drawing.
“I thought the hats would be fun,” says Gibney, who likes repetition as she creates art. “Monoprinting was a way to do multiples with different colors and faces. After each one was done they sort of had personalities and I would name them off the top of my head.” Delice, Emily, Francine. Besides hats, the women usually had big, red lips.
Showing her “hand” in her artwork – brushstrokes, multiple layers of paint, even mistakes – appeals to Gibney. “Smooth and accomplished does not interest me,” she says. She uses the word intuitive to describe her work, as opposed to highly skilled.
Although Gibney has studied and created art since high school, and received a BFA from the University of Minnesota, her artwork is her personal-time avocation. She has worked a 4-day week for years at the University’s Wilson Library in the IT and computer support area. “It’s not creative work, but nice, low-key.” She likes the intellectual atmosphere the library provides and the ability to use her creative energy for artwork on her time.
“Maybe being surrounded by rows and rows of books has subtly influenced my love of repetition,” she suggests. Discarded library catalog cards have made their way into some of Gibney’s artwork.
Images of empathy
Aside from the monoprints of ladies with hats, Gibney paints, draws and works with collage. She has created series of portraits using imagery of mug shots, doll heads, sideshow and circus performers, wrestlers and body builders, nightclub singers and street bystanders.
“I do like the peculiar, oddities, things that might make you feel a little uncomfortable,” she says. “It brings out empathy. They are just so human to me.”
In a portrait series of bar patrons at the “rough and tumble” Terminal Bar in New York City, Gibney painted from photographs the bar owner had taken in the 1970s and 80s. The regulars, heavy drinkers and prostitutes had “amazing faces,” she says.
“I felt like I was painting my own portrait in some ways,” she says, identifying with her subjects. “That’s part of what I’m doing I guess, painting my own portraits.”
Gibney describes her paintings as being an “act of looking as it borders on voyeurism.” As we look we become part of the show – and possibly, hopefully, “make an empathetic connection with those we are looking at,” she says.