o painter Mary H. Case, everything seems more beautiful at dusk and dawn–from the evening sky of country roads by her studio in The Woodlands, near Houston, to the misty mornings along the bayous of her childhood home in Gulfport, Mississippi. “I love that moment when the light changes and everything becomes pretty and mysterious in one fell swoop,” she says.
That contrast between light and dark is the strongest visual element in the artist’s work. Although Case’s ink drawings are light and crisp, a more ephemeral ambience appears throughout her dreamy oil paintings. Her subjects range from family members to landscapes inspired by the familiar waters of Mississippi’s wetlands and the East Texas coastline. The details of Case’s paintings, however, are often blurred into a luminous haze, the overall effect aiming to portray nature in its purest form. “I try to edit my work down to an essence that feels universal for the viewer,” says the artist, who moved to the Houston area about 15 years ago.
Case often lets her mediums inform her process, using light and dark hues to create a sense of form. The pliable softness of oils caters to her twilight-tinged portrait series, First Impressions, in which “only the highest highlights and lowest values are emphasized,” she says. Watery sepia ink evokes a warm glow in the artist’s drawings of the iconic Texas Longhorn cattle, capturing the breed’s distinctive silhouette and dappled coloring. “I love the way ink puddles and drips–it feels more spontaneous,” she says. “I can lay down washes of ink and bring back some order with the pen. I love losing control and then getting a little bit back.”
Creating this gauzy appearance, however, sometimes requires greater precision. For her landscape series 20/20, Case began by drafting the composition onto graph paper, then transferred the drawing, square by square, onto a gesso-coated canvas or wood panel. There, she filled in the outline with a medium coating of oil paint. “I call this graphic, stylized version of the landscape the ‘underpainting’–the secret life of the painting no one sees,” she muses. To finish, the artist blended it with big brushes just beforeÂ it dried to create a soft, atmospheric impression.
Case’s expressive work has caught the eye of design aficionados. Austin’s Wally Workman Gallery showcases her figures on paper and landscapes; in Houston, Area carries her landscapes and drawings, and Found offers her shaped panel work. Her art has also appeared in projects by designers, including Marie Flanigan and Kevin Spearman–an early mentor with whom Case collaborated as a faux-finish painter before she focused on fine art. “I worked on some of his amazing projects, doing fine finishes, and then transitioned to selling my artwork,” she explains.
With a collection due to launch on One Kings Lane later this year, Case continues to play with her mediums and techniques as an artist. But nature’s illuminating example will always remain a cornerstone of her work. “For me,” she says, “nature is the ultimate composer and the authority on any kind of design.”
PHOTOS: JILL HUNTER
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