Talk Tuesday: Looking North artist Mary Griffiths

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Looking North artist Mary Griffiths in front of her artworks Artist Mary Griffiths in front of her artworks. Mary Griffiths is one of the artists featured in Looking North, a new exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery that presents work by artists from the North-West of England. Mary is from the Wirral and lives in Manchester. She graduated from the MA Fine Art at Manchester School of Art in 2009 and is now Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Whitworth, Manchester. We caught up with her to find out more about how she works, ahead of her ‘Talk Tuesday’ event happening at the Walker Art Gallery on Tuesday 10th January…

Why draw?

A drawing shows everything that it has straight away to the viewer while painting is often about layers of paint obscuring each other. It’s the immediacy and honesty of drawing that appeals to me.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

One of Mary's drawings from the exhibition. From architecture, engineering and geometry.

Tell us about your work process?

I make figurative drawings all of the time in A6 sketchbooks. Some of these are strong enough to be developed into highly worked abstracts. Once I’ve worked out how the abstract will work, I prepare a panel of marine plywood with gesso. I then apply many layers of graphite, using a little bit of graphite powder and a lot of graphite stick and elbow grease. This graphite surface is burnished and polished so that it’s darkly reflective and quite beautiful. Once I can see myself reflected, I begin cutting thousands of parallel lines with an etching needle and a T-square. The way that these lines cross over causes visual oscillations and make the drawing shift according to the light.

What do you hope visitors will take away from your works in the exhibition? Do you hope for a certain reaction?

My drawings are very dense and austere but I hope that people get a sense of the space, angles, perspective and tone of the place or structure that I’ve worked from. Visitors admiring Mary's work Visitors admiring Mary's drawings.

Looking North focuses on artists from the North West. Do you feel like a ‘Northern artist’?

I love the North and have chosen to stay here very deliberately but many of the images and ideas that interest me are shared with artists that I meet from all over the world.  Saying this, some of my themes are drawn directly from the industrial North and this is a practice that I share with other artists from here. There is a Northern scene with artists being shown in galleries across the region and also making exhibitions of their own work in artist-run spaces. Because of the lack of commercial galleries in the region, the scene often depends upon friendships and the work of curators in public galleries. The work of Northern artists does need to be addressed more by curators, writers and artists themselves. People who are interested in looking at contemporary art are always keen to see what’s new, so if they hear that something innovative is happening in the North they’ll travel to see it.

What does having your work in the Arts Council Collection mean to you?

I’ve known the Arts Council Collection for many years and in my work as a curator have borrowed works from it for exhibitions. It’s one of the country’s great national collections so when my work was acquired by it I was truly delighted. It’s really important for me to know that my work sits alongside work by many great and influential British artists.

Have you been the Walker Art Gallery before, if so, what’s your favourite thing here?

I’m from the Wirral and the Walker is the gallery that I’d visit from school and later wander around by myself for hours on end.  My favourite work is Snowdon from Llyn Nantlle by Richard Wilson. I love the way in which he’s cradled Snowdon in the other mountains and made the painting full of pure, bright light. Find out more about Mary, her pieces and her work process at her Talk Tuesday event on 10th January at the Walker Art Gallery.