‘ve always thought of myself as a sculptor,” admits Mary Little. Working with unbleached, natural canvases in varying sizes, the Los Angeles-based artist explores the balance of proportion and scale, and of tranquility and rhythm through landscape themes drawn from her childhood in County Down, Northern Ireland. “I grew up on a farm surrounded by grassland and dotted with little hills called drumlins. There are boulders, lots of mud and cracks, but the landscape, like my work, is soft and gentle.”
To create the sculptures she calls tapestries, first come simple drawings and sketches. “They’re almost diagrams to help me develop what’s in my head,” she explains. “I’ll then select and edit.” Next, she translates the sketches into line drawings that function like paper dress patterns. “I cut these shapes out of artist canvas and sew them together,” she explains. “It sounds so straightforward–it’s not. I make many trails I then reject, or I may absorb them into a work along with other patterns or modify them. There’s so much trial and error, so much reflection.”
Moving from the East Coast to L.A. in 2014, Little wasn’t sure her work would fit in. Concerned that the aesthetic of her earlier pieces was too bold and bright, she sought a different voice and message. “The ivory canvases have a tranquility to them–a quietness,” she says, adding that the vibe wouldn’t have happened had she been working back east. The repetitive folds and irregularities stretch across each flat surface, creating shadows that transform with the light throughout the day.
Before Little worked in cloth, she was an acclaimed furniture designer. “I went to art school thinking I would become a fashion designer then took a brief furniture design class and was hooked,” she recalls. “It encompassed so much of what I was interested in–sculpture, fashion, making and thinking for myself.” Little still takes on client commissions, but her focus is on her tapestries and their endless possibilities.
Working from her sun-filled loft downtown, Little just debuted her fifth series in February. Influenced by her mother’s knitting, it features “complex patterns within patterns and textures within textures,” she shares. While deep sentiments permeate each piece, her motivation is to create an image where people can get lost and absorbed. “There is such surprise in the fabric once itâs hung up,” says Little. “I can never predict what will happen.”