Mary Larsen

There’s no getting around it: Mary Larsen’s artwork will make you look. There’s much more to discover than initial glances reveal in the unusual watercolor and ink.

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Yes, notice the girl on an undersized bicycle towing a floating baby. And the unusual looking man who stands atop a mountain of…something. The artwork’s title is King of the Sea Turtles. Sure enough, there is a turtle beneath the man-creature’s feet. Oh yeah, and the-girl-who’s-too-big-for-her-bicycle has a mechanical device with a wheel protruding from where one of her legs should be.

This is one of the tamer works in Ms. Larsen’s arsenal. Her surrealist-tinged artwork combines things that are rarely seen together. A scorpion body with human facial features is attached to a male’s head. A floating female face is attached to a snaking organ that winds into a stomach.

Overweight or old women preen in nipple-accentuating lingerie and thigh-high stockings. Cartoon women are locked into sexual poses with vague men. A dead Dr. Seuss-looking creature provides intrigue for a young woman in stripped lingerie. And, yes, there are ostriches involved.

Titles can provide clues and humor. For instance, the name of the painting for the disembodied woman is I enjoy long walks on the beach, sushi, and building model trains. A painting with a woman, small mermaid and pixie has the title She found them in the pool filter.

The quirky titles and characters that might star in a disturbing dream are front and center. But don’t be fooled—the art is executed with serious and traditional techniques.

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“When you’re dealing with the type of subject matters that I draw, you have to do it well,” Ms. Larsen said. “Otherwise, the paintings will end up looking like bad cartoons or smut.”

Ms. Larsen graduates in December from Savannah College of Art and Design with a B.A. in Illustration. Her unusual subject matter was a challenge for the conservative Southern art school, she said. In one student art show, her paintings were tucked in a back room behind a curtain. The exhibition space was in a shopping mall, so discretion was understandable, Ms. Larsen said. Having her art hidden had her wondering where her art could be seen.

Another clash came from the illustration’s intent. Illustrators typically find themselves telling stories in children’s books or selling products and services in advertising or marketing. Ms. Larsen’s art does tell stories—hers is of another ilk. She’s attracted to “grotesque beauty,” Ms. Larsen explained. Fetishes, belly dancers, religious traditions and sexuality all attract. Battle lines between male and female and sanity versus insanity hold sway. In all cases, Ms. Larsen is willing to go where her vivid imagination takes her. An avid people watcher, stories of possible lives and obsessions unfold easily.

Ms. Larsen’s art is meant to challenge. Satisfaction comes from the process for viewers when contemplating her art. They can move from uncomfortable and uncertain to pondering whether the art is pornography or maybe crazy on display. Discussions on unusual matters can often follow. Ms. Larsen’s intent is that beauty can be subtle or small and understanding begins when judgment leaves the room.

The question of whether her art could find an audience was answered last summer. Her artwork grabbed the attention of Shelter Island art gallery founder/owner Alexis Martino. Within two weeks, Ms. Larsen’s art was in a group show at the Mosquito Hawk Gallery. The solo show, Revealed: The Works of Mary Larsen, was held there in August. In January, Ms. Larsen begins a gallery residence that runs through April. Artwork made will be exhibited after the gallery reopens in the spring.

After that, Manhattan may beckon. Possibilities remain open as more people express interest in her art. For now, Ms. Larsen’s excited to return home to Shelter Island to paint, ride her imagination and continue telling stories that arise.

Mary Larsen’s art can be seen online at mosquitohawkgallery.com and maryklarsen.com. She is represented by the Mosquito Hawk Gallery at 24 North Ferry Road, Shelter Island.

pat rogers

Pat Rogers is a freelance writer specializing in arts and culture on Long Island. When not going to art openings or interviewing actors or musicians, she’s looking for the next interesting story.