Briefly describe the work you do.
I make machines to help me make drawings… gears moving inside gears help guide my pen. My drawing process is fluid, and the individual curves are deceptively simple, but the drawings warm and complicated through repetition. Patterns pile on top of each other becoming value shifts and texture, dimension and movement. Sometimes the motion of the pen becomes less about any definite path and more about the disappearance of paper. I can geek out about the mathematics all day long if you’d like.
I want my art to appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers. There is a simple, optical pleasure in the work if you’d like to stop there. Beyond that I try to instill connections to repetitive devotional practice, meditation, a touch of the baroque, a nod to Op art, and pop art, and conceptual drawings, and even the folk art made by contemporary doodle tops and commercial drawing toys.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in a maker family. Mom crafting and sewing. Dad woodworking and mechanics. Everyone in my family of thirteen siblings did arts and crafts. Drawing and doodling developed instinctually, becoming a lifelong pursuit. I was also fascinated by math and science…dad had piles of Scientific America and Popular Mechanics. I even went to a few state math competitions in high-school. My university plan was an engineering degree, following in the steps of my oldest brother. Half way through the art and creativity won out instead. After a BFA and a career in marketing and graphic design, I’m back at the math and geometry from an artistic angle.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day-to-day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio is in my home, and is also the locus of my freelance design work. It gets a bit chaotic with my art spilling over into every room in the apartment. I’m hard at work most of the time; switching from design work to drawing and back again…avoiding stepping on the larger-scale drawings in the middle of the living room floor–which sometimes take a couple of weeks to complete.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
None. I like to do this. I want to do this. I never envisioned a “role” I was playing as separate from my own curiosity. Perhaps, on occasion when others see me drawing and become mesmerized by the hypnotic repetition of it, I become a performer, that is unexpected.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I’m a workaholic. I draw, sketch or work up plans for drawings most days. It seems I’m always scribbling notations or ideas on scraps of paper. When I’m in ‘the zone’ I’ll draw ten to twelve hours straight with a few breaks to stretch and quiet my rumbling stomach. When working on large scale pieces I have to pace myself, drawing in six-foot wide circles can be physically demanding, doing a few hours a day, over the course of a few weeks to complete a drawing.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My art has taken it’s greatest leaps in recent years. I moved from surrealism and subjective drawing to abstract minimal drawing which I call my ‘circle phase’ to designing and making my drawing machine. My current body of work consists solely of this new form of drawing. I’ve abandoned all other art forms except for bookbinding, I’m currently planning an artist book with my drawings.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Of course. Too many to count, let alone name. In addition to Sol Lewitt, and Bauhaus artists of record, random magazine illustrations, or a glance out the window, can have an accidental profound effect on creative output.
My strongest influences though are those most personal to me. My husband, David Pickert, is a rigorous and enthusiastic architect, who’s work is closer and more personal to him than the work of many artists to their art. His methodical, thoughtful approach, has a great impact on my work. My brother, Mark Wagner, and I have spent years questioning, encouraging, and supporting each other’s creative work. And I find continual inspiration in the lush art he creates.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Like most artists, I do have an occupation outside of being an artist. Like most artists, I’d rather ignore that and talk more about my art.
Mary Wagner hails from rural Wisconsin, the ninth of Roman and Hazel’s thirteen children. Along with making things, a favorite childhood activity was playing on the merry-go-round. Apparently she still has a fondness for going round-and-round as it is the central principal and action of her drawing practice. Mary earned a BFA from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. She lives, draws, and plies her trade as a graphic designer in Chicago. Her work has been exhibited throughout the midwest and is in private collections around the world. She relaxes with puzzle solving and organizing. Her current “to read” stack includes books on George Washington, Ciphers and Codes, Moholy-Nagy, and Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.