VENICE — It’s the form of horrific portray that makes you wish to look away: Titian’s “The Flaying of Marsyas” depicts a satyr — half man, half goat — hanging the other way up as he’s skinned alive, whereas a canine laps up his blood and a musician impassively performs the violin.
However the artist Mary Weatherford wished to maintain wanting.
Captivated by the work after seeing it in Antonio Paolucci’s exhibition, “Tiziano,” on the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome a couple of decade in the past, the Los Angeles-based Weatherford resolved to at some point make a physique of labor based mostly on the portray. Now, that present — that includes 12 new canvases that Weatherford produced between January and March 2021 — opened Wednesday at Museo di Palazzo Grimani, simply because the Venice Biennale begins.
“I believed it was probably the most evil portray I had ever seen,” Weatherford mentioned in an interview on the palazzo. “Marsyas is resigned to his destiny. My works have been coping with destiny since 1986. I’m within the alternative of whether or not to show left or proper.”
Dressed merely in a black sweater and ripped denims, her straight hair parted down the center, Weatherford could seem extra understated than the spritz-drinking artwork fashionistas crowding the Giardini. However at 59 years outdated, with distinguished galleries behind her — Gagosian and David Kordansky — Weatherford really represents one thing fairly uncommon in as we speak’s overheated up to date artwork market: a middle-aged, midcareer feminine artist who has slowly, quietly earned her share of fame.
“Mary is like considered one of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Girls of the Canyon,’” mentioned Kordansky, referring to the music a couple of neighborhood of artists and musicians. “She’s completely, fully sensible and unfazed by developments. She’s simply at all times been doing her personal factor.”
That “factor” has been making lyrical summary work typically punctuated by neon rods, which at the moment are within the collections of the Museum of Fashionable Artwork in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork and the Tate in London — and which have bought for as a lot as $450,000 at public sale in 2018. That yr, the critic Roberta Smith, writing in The New York Occasions, known as the works “ecstatic, pierced by beams of sunshine, just like Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Theresa.’”
Weatherford has had surveys in 2020 on the Tang Instructing Museum and Artwork Gallery at Skidmore School, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and at SITE Santa Fe, N.M., in addition to solo exhibitions on the Aspen Artwork Museum and LAXART in Los Angeles. “Mary is unhappy in the perfect sense,” mentioned Ian Berry, the director of the Tang. “She’s a researcher who digs into artwork historical past, science, structure, gender.”
These aware of her work touch upon Weatherford’s technical exactitude — the actual linen she makes use of for her canvases, the gestural nature of her brush strokes, her layering of gesso.
“There’s something very particular about how she applies the paint,” mentioned Nicola Lees, director of the Aspen museum. “It has such a playful high quality to it, however it’s very exact.”
Whereas Weatherford’s work typically characteristic swirls of coloration, the Marsyas works — on view via Nov. 27 — are shadowy and somber, with dominant tones of black, grey, violet and silver.
The neon slashes perform as “a lower in your eyesight,” Weatherford mentioned, “a lower in your imaginative and prescient.”
With the Titian portray, which usually resides in Archbishop’s Palace in Kromeriz, Czech Republic, she wished to ponder the thorny questions that it raises, on condition that Marsyas challenged Apollo to a musical competitors, realizing he was prone to lose and pay a horrible worth.
“Is Marsyas ignorant or does he have hubris?” she requested. “What’s the distinction between ignorance and hubris?”
Weatherford typically waxes philosophical in dialog. With an unvarnished, personable method, her references veer from the writers Iris Murdoch, Haruki Murakami and Leo Tolstoy to the movies “The Godfather” and Luis Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou.”
Born in 1963 in Ojai, Calif., the place her father was the vicar of a small Episcopal church, Weatherford has been making artwork since she wove macramé together with her mom on the kitchen desk. She fell onerous for museums on a college journey to LACMA. “I beloved the odor, I beloved the sound,” she mentioned, “I beloved all the pieces about them.”
She was notably intrigued by van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows,” due to its menacing sky and hovering birds. “I believed to myself, ‘OK, I’m going to have to know why this can be a horrifying portray.’”
As an undergraduate at Princeton College, Weatherford traveled into New York Metropolis to see artwork, visiting the galleries of Holly Solomon, Leo Castelli, Paula Cooper and Annina Nosei. Pondering she wanted to pursue one thing “sensible,” she deliberate to main in structure, when a portray course taught by the professor Jerry Buchanan modified all the pieces. “I used to be a direct convert,” she mentioned.
After faculty, Weatherford joined the Whitney’s program in museum research. Within the meantime, she made drawings in her Higher West Facet studio condominium and attended artwork lectures.
In 1990, The Occasions featured Weatherford in an article headlined, “Recent, Sizzling and Headed for Fame, These Are the Faces to Watch.”
“Her willpower to show summary portray right into a crossover artwork kind, infusing it with each feminist consciousness and references to the performing arts which might be fraught with female stereotypes, is stuffed with prospects,” Smith wrote.
Weatherford mentioned she wasn’t ready for the eye that got here. Shifting again to California, she did some instructing at U.C.L.A. and Otis School of Artwork and Design, however discovered “I couldn’t paint and train,” she mentioned. “The instructing would take an excessive amount of out of me.”
So she did bookkeeping to earn a dwelling — first for the Santa Monica Museum of Artwork after which for the artist Mike Kelley. “I really like accounting as a result of it’s like a chemical equation,” Weatherford mentioned. “I really like astrophysics.”
She labored in an workplace 4 days per week and at her easel the opposite three, likening this to enjoying roulette. “I simply slid all of the chips onto one quantity,” she mentioned. “I at all times made the selection to make the time to make the work.”
Her 2012 present on the Todd Madigan Artwork Gallery, on the California State College in Bakersfield, “modified all the pieces,” Weatherford mentioned, incomes her extra consideration from critics and collectors.
Describing her as Dan Flavin meets Helen Frankenthaler, the artwork collector David Gersh — who together with his spouse, Susan, owns considered one of Weatherford’s items — mentioned the artist has “developed her personal vocabulary.”
But, stable because it now appears, Weatherford’s artwork profession was not one thing she ever actually deliberate or may depend on. “I solely actually began promoting work after I was 50,” the artist mentioned, including, “I simply wish to be a great painter.”
“It feels good to be this age as a result of I don’t fear it’s going to go away and marvel how I’m going to make a dwelling,” she continued. “If one has success younger, that’s a specter.”
Late success has additionally freed her up to not fear about staying common or pleasing audiences. Komal Shah, who’s on the board of the San Francisco Museum of Fashionable Artwork and collects Weatherford’s work, mentioned she admires how the artist continues to problem herself. “She is turning into an inheritor obvious to Joan Mitchell,” Shah mentioned. “Success has not come simply to her, and he or she has established herself as a painter of gravitas.”
A part of what drew Weatherford to the Titian portray was the way it directly attracted and repelled, embodying life’s typically painful complexity. She has tried to seize this nuance in works resembling “Beneath the Cliff” and “Mild Falling Like a Damaged Chain” — each of which had been featured in a Kordansky present in 2021. “The chic is the wedding of horror and sweetness,” she mentioned. “It’s like going up the river.”
If there may be an underlying darkness in her work, Weatherford mentioned, that’s as a result of there may be an abiding unhappiness on this planet. “It’s fleeting and I can’t cease time,” she mentioned. “Even right here in Venice, I look out the window at a ship going by on the water and I feel, ‘That is the one time we’ll ever see that boat go by.’”