Winky Merrill writer
Mary Jo Rines gently tosses an abstract watercolor painting on the carpeted floor of her studio and backs away. Studying it carefully, she walks forward and places a small red square of paper on a green portion of the painting. It adds just the right element of spark to the piece, providing an exciting focal point and enlivening the surrounding colors. A lifetime of experience has given Mary Jo a practiced eye with the gift to see just what is needed to bring a painting closer to fruition.
Rines seeks the mystery and discovery that come from letting her intentions collide with chance. “When you paint, you have to have the subject in mind,” she says, “but with watercolor, you have to let things flow and happen accidentally, and then you look again.”
Watercolor is one of the most demanding of artistic media, with little room for error. Mary Jo might paint and entirely re-wet a piece several times while it is in progress. After it dries, she looks at it critically, turning it upside down and sideways, looking for unexpected results that can add intrigue and depth. Holding homemade watercolor swatches next to parts of the painting, she will evaluate color relationships and consider additional locations for color. Then she will re-wet and re-paint areas until she is satisfied with the whole.
“I am interested in layering, in building up depth and richness by applying paint on top of paint. I didn’t used to be that way – I was a purist. If it wasn’t fresh and transparent, I’d throw it away. I’ve gone to the homes of my students and friends and have discovered that they have rescued my work from the trash can, framed it and hung it up!” Mary Jo smiles at the thought.
Mary Jo is a petite woman with a delightful sparkle in her green eyes. She and her husband, Mel, still live in the home they built in 1961 when they moved to Weston. She spends her summers on the coast of Maine painting and sailing. Her basement studio in Weston is brightly lit, comfortable and very basic. Paintings hang on every wall – an underwater study in purple hues of sea shells, rocks and kelp; a group of horses snorting and running wildly; a contemporary abstract of sail shapes and masts. Many of these works have won ribbons in past shows and exhibits. On a sturdy table, a large piece of clear plexiglas provides a water- friendly surface for her paintings. Around it sit piles of plastic butter and yogurt containers for mixing watercolors.
When asked why watercolor is her chosen medium, her first response is, “Because it’s easy to set-up and clean-up, it’s not messy and it dries fast.” These are the practical considerations of a woman who leads a full and busy life as well as being an award-winning artist. “Also,” she says, “the translucent quality and layering appeal to my spiritual side. When life goes awry, at least I have my painting to keep me moving forward.”
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in the 1930s, Mary Jo was already an artist by the time she was in junior high, winning a student art award called the Bamberger Prize. At Skidmore College, she majored in biology because her father insisted she would need to pursue something that could provide a living. She minored in art, and remembers an art professor telling her, “Mary Jo, if you end up working in a biology lab, you will be so boring!”
Her art professor need not have worried. Throughout her adult years, Mary Jo has been both art student and art teacher. She took classes at the DeCordova Museum School as well as many workshops with various watercolor masters. She taught “Techniques of Watercolor” for over twenty years, and conducted an annual weeklong “Deep Cove Workshop” from her studio in Maine. Her work has been shown in many solo shows and in group exhibitions throughout New England. Her paintings have won more than 40 awards including the Gold Medal of Honor from the New England Watercolor Society. She was the first woman president of the New England Watercolor Society and is still a member of their board. In addition, she is a member of the Copley Society in Boston and because she has earned three awards, she is recognized as a “Copley Artist.”
Not content to settle into a formulaic approach, Mary Jo continues to challenge herself to attempt different subjects and expand her technique. In her painting career, she has moved through various phases and explorations. A recent phase focused on tide pools and the ebb and flow of ocean water as it replenishes shallow pockets of sea treasures such as clam shells, pebbles and seaweed. A blend of realistic and abstract, these works give focus to the recognizable objects, while at the periphery the details are abstracted, and evoke the point of view of a beachcomber peering into shallow tide pools. She has painted flowers on a large scale – exploring their soft curves while capturing their essence and their mystery. Several painting safaris in Africa led to a series of African animals – zebra, oryx, elelphants - and savannah landscapes. And she has experimented with mixed media – using tissue paper to add texture and gouache (an opaque form of watercolor) to increase depth. Most recently, her focus has been on contemporary explorations.
“Right now, I’m interested in the movement between foreground and background using geometric shapes and colors. I think I’m making progress.”