Born in 1979 West Virginia, Mary Chiaramonte was raised helping her family live from and farm their land in an isolated area. She had no TV or other distractions and was encouraged to entertain herself with objects in nature. Left with the workings of her imagination and observations of the world around her, she translated her understanding into paintings. She continues this practice today, taking much of her momentum from the people that surround and affect her. Hanging between darkness and light, Chiaramonte’s figurative realism offers a narrative that echoes a provocative daydream, communicating both the human disposition and the mysteries therein. Her unending exploration surfaces in her paintings with an ambiguity that asks the viewer to wonder at our world as she does.
Chiaramonte is currently represented by Abend Gallery in Denver, CO. A 2010 Master of Fine Arts graduate, Chiaramonte received the Best Graduate Thesis award from Radford University. Her work has been in numerous group exhibitions and collections throughout the U.S. and Europe. Her paintings have been published in American Art Collector, Fine Art Connoisseur, American Artist Magazine, and PoetsArtists Magazine as well as the New York Times. She has also been the recipient of awards from the Portrait Society of America (2016) and the International ARC Salon competition (2018). Chiaramonte lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.
Q&A WITH MARY CHIARAMONTE
How much time is dedicated to the execution of the work before you actually start the process?
I very much appreciate this question because a good chunk of my time for each painting is spent pre-planning, and I'm happy this part of the artist's work is recognized here. Everything starts inside my sketchbooks—I have too many of them—disorganized with information and thoughts from 2011 to 2018 in each. There is no order, and most of them are 80-percent what looks like the nonsensical writings of a madman and 20-percent sketches. I first have to construct the painting by my thoughts in writing. It is important for me to work with what I feel or have an emotion towards at the time so that I can maintain that spiritual energy for the work throughout its execution.
At times, I endlessly comb the internet in vain for a certain prop that I have in my mind to use in a painting, and when I'm exhausted with that, I typically end up creating my own as I have imagined it. I spent a couple days making the dress for the model in the painting Ophelia. I still have it although I did not take the time to sew it completely as I wanted to get on with the work. It kind of hangs in deep purple silky sections in my closet.
Tomorrow I am going to a photo shoot with two young girls and taking this dollhouse prop that I just finished yesterday. It took a week to complete in balsa wood, more glue than imagined, illustration board and acrylic paint. Houses are recurring visitors in my paintings. I fell in love with all or any of them in an American Architecture art history class. I feel homes are a mirror to ourselves, almost like a living structure, the same as our bodies and minds, and houses, to me, carry live energy—each one feels different. I have a loving attachment to them so I want to see them in my work.
For the painting Remember Me (detail, crop), I rifled through endless old photographs to include the "right ones," and even tore one in half just to patch back up with yellow masking tape, laying them out in a particular manner all around the model prior to photographing her.
Are you represented by a gallery?
Gratefully represented by Abend Gallery in Denver CO. I am having a three-person exhibition there in March 2019.
What is your ultimate goal for your artwork?
There are narratives and messages in most of my work, but I want the viewer to take with them what they will. I don't want it to be spoonfed, but for anyone to relate to it as they will. Such as individual people can derive different meanings of the same song. I want for this work to be a gift to anyone that sees it.
Do you ever venture out of your creative process to try out new things?
At the turn of 2018, I started working on pieces that mimic the idea of double exposures in photography. Photography has always been one of my greatest loves, and I want to incorporate some of its elements in addition to exploring two worlds at once. The sense of merging two spaces together appeals to that fascination of mine with time overlap like you may find in a dream, a hallucination, or a visit from your friendly neighborhood ghost. I am always trying to cross borders and keep from being hemmed-in by what I have done in the past by exploring more. The image of the woman in profile with the crow is a work in progress and incomplete at the point of taking this photograph. The painting of the house overlapping the woman's back is available now at Abend Gallery.¹
What other artists have you shown with?
What is the price range of your art?
Each piece can be anywhere from $300- $8,000 depending on the spent hours, size, and gallery commission. I always try to make them as little as possible.
What is the average size of your work?
Most paintings are in the 30 × 24 inch size, but range from 5 × 5 inches to 32 × 48 inches.
What is your education? Exhibition history? What awards have you won, and what collections are your works in?
MFA in Painting and Art History Radford University, Virginia, Summa Cum Laude, Best Thesis Award (2010)
Kirk Gallery, Denmark (2018) Abend Gallery, Denver, Colorado (2018)
Taubman Museum of Fine Arts, Roanoke, Virginia (2017), Bennington Center for the Arts, Bennington, Vermont (2017)
Lovetts Gallery, Tulsa, Oklahoma (2016)
RJD Gallery, Sag Harbor, NY (2015, 14)
ARC International Salon Competition Finalist and winner of PoetsArtists Publication Award (2018)
Portrait Society of America 11th annual Member's Only competition Honorable Mention Award (2016)
BP Portrait Award Finalist (2012)
The piece, The Faded, has since sold and is in a private collection.