From Her Safe Space to Yours, With Love

LAYERS OF MEANING
Mary Farmer is surrounded by encaustic.
Photo by Luke Van Hine

Mary Farmer dwells deep in encaustic, a layered, two-dimensional (but sculptural) painting medium that uses beeswax and damar resin. Following a stay in rehab for alcoholism in 1991 — “I’m pretty sure I’d be dead if I hadn’t sought treatment,” she says — Farmer turned seriously to art, earning a BFA from Georgia State University. Today she teaches both novice and experienced encaustic artists. Recently, Farmer was also one of 25 women (including actor Kristen Bell, TV journalist Katie Couric, NASCAR driver Julia Landauer, and musician Grace Potter) whose photographs were published in the Washington Post for a unique project, “The Disposables,” involving one-use cameras.

Clouds Embrace

About that disposable-camera project…

That was such fun. They sent each of us a disposable camera and our assignment was to just shoot stuff. My biggest problem was remembering to advance the film! Analog, you know …

How’d you get chosen?

In The Lily newsletter [a magazine for women published by the Washington Post], there was this little announcement and it said, “Would you like to do this Disposable Camera Project?” I responded ‘Yes!’ It was that easy. 

Too Far From Where You Are

Were photos juried or what?

I don’t know what the selection process was, and I have no idea how many people responded. But I imagine it was a lot.

Art wasn’t your first career, though …

I earned a nursing degree, but I still faint at the sight of blood. So I did medical consulting for a while, but wasn’t satisfied. Then I took art classes at an art center in Atlanta. I did drawing and painting and dabbled in pottery and loved it all.

Farmer at work in her home studio.
Photo by Luke Van Hine

How did you settle on encaustic when you got your degree?

During my senior year, I experimented with it and got to do intense, concentrated work. Then I went to an encaustic-paint manufacturer in New York and did a couple of programs. You’re there with the paint makers and the artists making art and learning how to use the paint; it’s wonderful.

What do you use for pigment?

All sorts of things: inks, watercolors, oil sticks, and I do a little with a shellac burn, using a small torch. 

Cool in the Air

How do you achieve such visual depth?

I’ll sometimes build up eight to 10 layers of the medium, then score it with a sharp object to create lines, and and fill those with pigment. During the shutdown, I kind of invented a new technique for myself, using an iron my mother-in-law gave me. I press it directly on the panel [to] build up layers. Then I fill the bumps and humps with an oil stick. I get these gorgeous edges.

The whole process sounds raw, but the results are delicate.

There’s a style I’m known for that is soft, floral, and about comfort, shelter, and beauty. There is no time that we need that like the present, and I feel like during the pandemic people are purchasing art to make home a safe space. 

A Garden In Babylon

Mary Farmer, Asheville. Farmer is represented by Haen Gallery in Asheville (52 Biltmore Ave.) and Brevard (210 South Broad St.), thehaengallery.com. For more information, including studio visits by appointment (184 East Chestnut St., #6, Asheville), call 828-712-3786 or visit maryfarmer.com. On Instagram: @maryfarmer828. To see Farmer’s work for The Washington Post, visit washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/the-lily/the-disposables.

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