“My sculpture explores narratives that are personal, yet globally informed meditations on our cultural landscape”.
This week we present Seattle based artist Mary Coss who makes artwork inspired by life’s stories. Born in Detroit and raised in an atmosphere of politics, art, and spirituality she has lived throughout the United States collecting stories and telling them through her artwork. Coss received her Master of Fine Arts from Syracuse University and has accumulated an extensive national exhibition record, focusing on alternative venues and community and public art projects. Coss has received residencies and grants from institutions such as the Candyland Arts Center in Stockholm, the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Juan Island Museum and Sculpture Park, James Washington Foundation, and Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. Mary Coss’s public art experience encompasses a wide range of commissioned installations and written community art plans. Her public work is in numerous collections including King County and Seattle Housing Authorities, McNeil Island Corrections Center, and Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. Coss’s curatorial experience includes exhibitions at METHOD Gallery, North Seattle Community College Art Gallery, the Columbia City Guest Gallery, Another Roadside Gallery, and co-curated projects for the New City Gallery.
My sculpture explores narratives that are personal, yet globally informed meditations on our cultural landscape. I am interested in the intersection of nature and the human made, nature and the sociopolitical. I explore issues through the universal commonalities of ancestral bones, feminist struggles, and artifacts from nature. Often my projects engage community or create interventions in nature.
I am working in the space between the real and the imagined; abstractions from our lives are reworked using metaphor, nostalgia, humor, and ultimately, reflection. Poignant interpretations use the unexpected, navigating scale or unusual material that reflects and builds on the intention of the work. The layering of text and sound has organically evolved from my use of story as inspiration. Integration of sound and story with the visual creates a third form of experience.
Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?
People are my inspiration. I have done a lot of work around issues of identity, both others and my own. I’m inspired by stories and also simple things I come across in life. Strewn broken umbrellas on the street in NYC inspired my umbrella formed skirts. A long saw blade in a trash pile inspired a protective hoop skirt.
Finding an incredible overgrown tree with thick Ivy growth inspired ladderwalk- I wondered how a calculated machined wood intervention would appear inside such rich organic growth.
How do you look at your previous pieces?
I see them in the same way I look at my memories, they are poignant, sometimes naive, sometimes worth revisiting and sometimes not.
How does your cultural background affect/inspire your work?
My recent work is a lot about this. Bloodlines is a body of work on cultural inheritance and an investigation into my ancestral history. Blood and Water was inspired by genealogical mapping. Plotting the emigrant points of my ancestors on a map revealed a pattern; most of my family lived near the coastlines. Water has guided my personal moves from the great lakes to the east coast to the west coast. Finding I had a commonality with centuries of ancestors living near the water inspired this work. The poem Blood and Water is recorded in four voices, dialects from my ancestral countries of Ireland, Scotland, and France, layered with the sound of waves crashing. You can read the poem here. Here is an excerpt from the soundtrack.
What’s the best thing about being a woman artist?
Haha well I do think women have a tendency to be able to multitask which is a required skill for artists. I think I have to think a while on this one.
What is the most difficult part of being a female artist?
Ha ha again, all the multi-tasking. because we can, we take on too much.
How do you manage in such a situation?
Lately not so well, I’m trying to say no to things. But I stay afloat by making lists and staying up very late at night.
What do you think is the artist in society?
To make people reconsider, question, it’s a way to communicate and have others rethink their assumptions on life. To understand the world in a different way to see it differently to push the culture forward socially and politically and through what we value and to keep in touch with what is important and has meaning- beauty, nature, life.
Did you ever feel like giving up? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given at that time?
Only say yes to the things you really want to do. No matter how difficult it is to say no to things- if they aren’t on your chosen path, say no, otherwise those very things you do not want to do will fill the path.
Once I started saying no to the things I didn’t really want to do, the things I did want to do started filling up my time.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Follow what has meaning for you. That is what keeps you going.
What is your dream project?
Not sure, have to think about this.
What do you want to do next?
I am working on some female imagery that is inspired by a mix of social issues and whirling dervishes.
Her exhibitions are going on now in Seattle. You can check them in our blog!