Let’s Talk SHOP: Mary Pat Wallen

Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director

Mary Pat Wallen is a full-time artist with an impressive resume: she is represented by numerous galleries across the United States, as well as internationally, and has exhibited her work at some of the most prestigious art fairs. She has also created countless custom works of art for four of the world’s largest yacht companies for over 30 years. Throughout this time during her accomplished career, notable private collections have acquired her sculptures and wall panels; but even if you are not a collector, you can appreciate and relate to the symbolic nature of her artwork as it signifies our resilience and ability to grow as human beings.


A posed photo of the artist in her studio, with her bronze and resin sculptures behind her.
The artist with her sculptures. Photo courtesy of Mary Pat Wallen.

I was born, raised, and remain in a small town in northern Indiana. Coming from a family that consists of a dozen kids, I found that my artwork was the one thing that set me apart from the other siblings. I can’t remember not having the “label” of an artist when referred to within the family. Having said that, creating art was my way to standout; and, eventually, creating art become my way to cope with all that life threw my way. Like many people, challenges have brought about unthinkable strengths. My life’s journey is documented within the sculptures and panels that I create. 

I believe, within us all, there lies a strength that helps us to remain whole, intact, and, above all, balanced. My wall pieces and sculptures are influenced by my own reflections of human struggles and the need to achieve balance. By stretching the legs and body, my figures depict the great lengths humans can be “stretched” yet still maintain the power to overcome the odds and achieve the near impossible.


RESIN SCULPTURE TECHNIQUE

Each piece is created by hand. First, I weld a steel armature for added strength and support. This framework is then attached to a unique base that is created specifically for each sculpture. The bases are often large steel forms or rocks. I then sculpt on top of the armature with resin. The resin forces me to work quickly, which creates movement and spontaneity. Working with resin also allows me to leave finger indents, and actual fingerprints, in the work!

The artist in her studio welding a steel armature to support her resin sculptures.

In the final stage, I will add a patina to both the sculptures and the bases. The sculpture patinas can be 25 layers or more that consist of acrylics, oils, enamels, oil sticks, and even salt; all of which interact with each other to give the lovely drips and polka dots that lend an aged look. A lot of my metal bases are rusted with ferric nitrate, a harsh acid.

The artist in her studio, paint palette and paintbrush in hand, working on layering colored paint to a resin sculpture.

BRONZE

For both my resin sculptures and my bronzes, I only create one-of-a-kind, never duplicated originals. I do not make molds intended for multiple runs. My process for creating bronze sculptures is very exclusive, and I am unlike most artists in that rather than sculpting in clay and creating traditional molds, I’ll sit over a hot crockpot and sculpt hollow figures directly from the wax. This is rather challenging when my figures get to be 5 to 6 feet tall, which is why I add thin metal armature for durability, just like the resins. The reason for this unusual approach is because I feel like I lose the fluidity when it’s placed in a mold. It also allows mishaps to reveal the beauty amidst the chaos…which is the trademark of my work.

After the wax figure is complete, it then goes to be dipped in a wet “slurry”, a coating material. This is dipped multiple times and kiln dried to harden. Once in the kiln, the encased waxed figure evaporates and leaves a vacant cavity for the molten bronze to fill. Bronze is then poured into the cavity by my team at the foundry. Once it has cooled and solidified, the encasement shell is shattered, which allows us to clean and sandblast the bronze. I then apply the layers of patina acids. The various acids can change the bronze’s colors. (Verde green is one of my favorites!) Lastly, the bronze is sealed with several coats of wax finish.

Sometimes my figures have rusty holes and exposed areas (see above). They convey grace amongst the rust and corrosion of humanity and demonstrate controlled chaos – a yin and a yang. For me, it is the absolute definition of Wabi-Sabi. Wabi-Sabi is “A perfectly imperfect life”. My work celebrates the imperfections of life….the little mishaps that add charm and resolve to our existence. 

WALL PANELS                                                                                       

I also create wall pieces. This technique is very similar to the resin sculptures; rather than using an armature, the resin is sculpted and placed on wooden panels. A lot of these are custom and can be any size. The majority of the panels are 4’ and beyond. When I work on a custom piece, I collaborate with the client and provide multiple sketches until it suits their needs.

Come visit the Paradigm Gallery to view Mary Pat Wallen’s newest sculptures (above) or to discuss your very own custom order: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm.

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