Artist Mary Hatch is literally a figurative painter, meaning her work is based on actual people in the representative form that speaks to the viewers mind on the conscious and unconscious levels.
“It's all figurative work. I became obsessed with the figure a long time ago,” Hatch, who moved to Kalamazoo decades ago, some years after graduating from Cranbrook Kingswood School, which she attended as a boarding student. “I think what I'm really trying to do is look underneath the surface of society. My paintings on the surface, everyone is good looking and nicely dressed, but there are strange things going on. It's not so much that I'm trying to do that, but that's what happens.”
Take for instance Hatch's “Wedding Book” series, which is based on wedding photos borrowed from friends or family. On the surface, the scenes don't appear out of the ordinary, but there's something deeper happening that's conveyed through the faces and posture.
“I start with one figure, and eventually there's a narrative or story going on that is outside of my ability to articulate, and certainly nothing I can control, but usually it's some kind of statement about society,” she said. “I don't know. I don't know how (viewers) react.”
Likening the paintings in a way to a Tom Wolfe story or a Robert Altman film, Hatch said she loves looking at the small sections of our lives that tell a larger story about society.
“It just sort of happens,” she said about her process. “It all sort of pulls together in the end, even though you have these seemingly unrelated things going on. It all makes sense. It's like when writers talk about their work, they say eventually that the character takes over, and eventually you're not doing it. It's a natural process.”
Recently, Hatch collaborated with poet Elizabeth Kerlikowske on a 114-page book titled “Art Speaks: Paintings and Poetry,” which includes writings and illustrations.
Hatch said she and Kerlikowske met at a party where several guests were telling the poet her work had many similarities with Hatch's paintings. The two began talking, leading to the collaboration.
“We are very much alike in the way we express ideas: subversively funny,” Hatch said.
Hatch said she has also been experimenting with printing and ink, as the process has become more available. That has allowed her to use the computer to design some of her work in recent years.
“I figured out how to use photoshop and could make pictures on the computer, which was a huge thing for me,” she said. “I've been doing that, and about once a year I make a print, and it led me to thinking about different ways of composing my ideas on canvas.”
While Hatch said she rarely works in series, she said the process led to her Wedding Book series. It's another example of how the artist's voice and process continue to develop over time.
Hatch got her start in painting when she was 14, after convincing her parents to enroll her in a class. At Cranbrook, she took a life art class, which she said clinched her interest in figures.
“I felt really lucky,” she said. “If I would have stayed in public school, they never would have let you work from a nude model.”
While her interest was strong, it took time to develop her work.
“I spent quite a few years trying to find my voice,” she said. “I just painted everything. Eventually, I found a way of expressing myself.”