If you’ve frequented the fine art or painting section of your local book store, you’ve likely seen one of Mary Whyte’s Books. At least here in the Southern United States her books are a common sight. Watercolor Artist Mary Whyte may not be on the lips of every professional art connoisseur drawing breath, but something tells me that she will be spoken of more and more in years to come (If only by us “real folk.” Sorry art snobs. That probably doesn’t refer to you.) And in those years to come I wonder if we may one day speak of Mary as we now do wildly popular American artists like Andrew Wyeth. You know with that same reverential, wide eyed, understanding nod that makes us feel like we know at least a little something about art. “Oh yeah. that Andrew Wyeth, he’s the best.” But lets not trivialize her work. I have my reasons why I think the air around Mary’s work is rare. I may not be an expert on what makes notable artists notable in the years to come, but it won’t surprise me if Mary ends up as one of them. Who am I kidding, she’s probably half way there already.
Mary Whyte began her artistic life as many of us aspiring artists do, displaying evident talent early on, accompanied by an idealistic passion to pursue it, but thats where the similarities end for most of us. While real life and distraction often brush our grand art dreams aside, Mary persisted, was prolific and sought to infuse her work with key ingredients, namely story and meaning. Her art journey has been almost relentless in that pursuit. Ironically, she found some of those stories strewn right across her path, not because they were obvious, but because she was looking intently for them. Does art like this ring a bell? Oh yeah, thats right, Andrew Wyeth. Ok, so the styles are completely different and perhaps there are many other artists I could more closely compare her to, but both Mary’s and Andrew’s work present visual narratives that vibrate with intimacy and authenticity. Iconic artists that elevate past obscurity, past snobbish pretense and stroll unapologetically across the popular art stage, have discovered that telling meaningful stories with art, about places and lives we never knew existed, embeds those images into our souls. And when its done as prolifically and masterfully as Mary does it, a pedestal rises up to meet that body of work.
More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte is the latest of books about her work. While the other 6 books either present artistic process, instruction, or focus on a specific collection of works, this book is a larger overview of her life, her artistic journey and a good cross section of her artistic projects through the years, not to mention deftly voiced descriptions of the images, compositions and sources for her inspiration thanks to art historian Martha R. Severens. In short, its a good art read, especially for anyone ever wondering what sets apart merely good artists from really important ones.