The first thing that might strike you about Mary Vernon’s show at Valley House Gallery is the sheer, often startling beauty. Bold, brilliant colors quite pop from the smooth, whiter Yupo polypropylene sheets that the Dallas artist has used instead of canvas in recent years.
With no surface texture to absorb and soften the oil—Yupo requires no preparatory gesso—the paint’s own tactility enhances pinks, purples, blues, greens, and yellows. Vernon’s research into color theory informs combinations, and she admits to being inspired by Matisse and Bonnard.
There is considerable energy in the bold slashes, smudges, flickers and occasional oozes of paint. Quirky too, in some juxtapositions.
Vernon’s name is familiar to generations of Southern Methodist University alumni who have taken her art history and studio art courses. Hired in 1967, straight out of graduation from the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, Vernon taught at SMU for five decades, chairing the art department for eight years.
I took her Picasso class a “few” years ago and was delighted to meet her again at the gallery. She exudes energy and intelligence, both probing and clarifying, as born teachers do.
Besides his years of raising young children, Vernon also drew all the time. Since retiring from academia, she has been particularly active in her Design District studio. The current presentation of work from the past two years continues a long-running run at Valley House.
Landscapes, in mostly horizontal formats, predominate, layering land, vegetation, mountains and sky. Even if you don’t know Vernon’s New Mexican background—she was born in Roswell—you’re likely to recognize the Southwestern vistas, though some paintings recall other places from her travels. But don’t expect literal images.
“They’re usually not as documentary,” says Vernon. “They are about structure and memory, about the power of recall.”
She does no outdoor paint. “I hate the wind, the bugs and the heat.”
in Yellow table, a mountain range looms in the distance like a low zigzag, gray and blue. Below are suggestions for rocks and a strip of woods. The foreground is mottled with yellow, brown, dark green and red, with, of course, a yellow table – so It is what is – in advance. White spots with blue streaks may represent residual rainwater or snow.
in Red gate, recalling a Santa Fe scene, a low adobe wall and bright red arch provide horizontal counterpoint to the vertical thrusts and leafy explosions of the trees. Structure is a major concern for Vernon, who often draws the outline of her works before she sets about painting what we see.
Dogs appear in a number of paintings, lending a whimsical touch but also providing more tangible points of reference. in Still life with sourdough breada pink-headed dog extends a paw over a table holding a richly textured floral arrangement as well as the bulbous brown bread.
Other paintings explore dialogues between background illustrations and superimposed schemes.
Vernon’s titles sometimes focus on details we might otherwise miss. Without Bee in Bee City title, will we notice the small yellow and black figure among black and white floral outlines and possibly a beehive on the other side? Woods with his head down it looks like a study in abstraction, until our attention is drawn to the sculpted head, looking quite distressed.
In brochures for this and previous exhibitions at Valley House, Vernon recounts the inspirations and associations behind some of her paintings. There’s certainly a backstory to many, if not most, of the others. But she leaves us to guess, to imagine ourselves. And to enjoy beauties and energies.
“Mary Vernon: Paintings” is on display through Jan. 6 at the Valley House Gallery, 6616 Spring Valley Road, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. 972-239-2441, valleyhouse.com.