'A Minute and a Half of Summer: 90 New Miniature Oil Paintings by Mary Norman'
At Gallery Ten Ninety One, WKNO Digital Media Center, 7151 Cherry Farms Road in Cordova, through Jan. 17.
There will be a reception Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. Call 901-458-2521 or visit wkno.org/gallery1091.html
How does an artist follow an absence of almost 14 years from the local gallery scene?
In Mary Norman's case, it's by mounting an exhibition called "A Minute and a Half of Summer: 90 New Miniature Oil Paintings by Mary Norman," on display at the WKNO Digital Media Center through Jan. 17.
The fact is, Norman, 56, had not painted at all in 12 years, being occupied as a single mother, caring for her aging mother, and, more recently, renovating a house in Midtown. In fact, the first decade of the 21st century was particularly difficult, involving a bout in 2004 with low malignancy potential ovarian cancer and in 2005 the breakup of her marriage to local musician Rob Junglas. (Her legal surname is Norman-Junglas.)
When the impulse to paint struck, in the last week of August, "I didn't even have anything to paint on," she said. "I took a saw and cut up some pine planks and painted on those."
That frugality characterizes Norman's life.
"I just made certain sacrifices," she said. "For years I didn't drive a car. We had no heat or air conditioning. I'll admit that I got some help from my family" — her father died in 2010 — "and I was a landlord for a while, but mainly I decided to freelance and do odd jobs and keep expenses low."
For the past few years, Norman and her son Robert, now 11, have spent summers in New England with the man currently in her life. "I would come back with thousands of photographs," Norman said, "and finally I realized that I needed to paint from them and in something like the same size. The first ones were kind of rough, but it just started flowing."
That sensation was a relief. Norman had made some stabs at painting last spring, "and it was really hard, and I was afraid that I would never paint again."
In April and May, Norman participated in a group show with nine other women artists called "Domestic: A balance between art and life," but, she said, "that didn't feel natural. This exhibition — well, I got to the place where there were no more excuses."
Inspired by the images of New England landscapes, architectural details and snapshot portraiture and painting in what is, in effect, haiku-like brevity, Norman's painting style changed and became looser and freer. Each piece is about 3.5-by-6 inches. "It didn't have to be perfect, with an impeccable surface," she said. "All these voices in my head were saying, 'You should be more serious,' but I thought, No, I'm just going to paint. And, you know, small paintings aren't any easier to make than large paintings."
"A Minute and a Half of Summer" feels like a comeback for Norman. "Actually," she said, "I feel like a human being again."