Mary Jo Major

Mary Jo Major was born in Edmonton, Alberta and since then she has traveled widely. In Australia she taught and studied painting at the Melbourne Institute of Technology. In Indonesia she learned the art of batik, then studied at the Ècole des Beaux Arts, Aix-en-Provence, subsequently earning her BFA at Concordia University, Montreal, Quèbec. In 1992 she received her MFA from the University of Calgary.

Mary Jo Major has achieved distinction as a painter and printmaker. Her work has been widely collected in such places as The New York Public Library, the Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Canada), the Whitechapel Library (London, England), the Canada Council Art Bank, and the University of Calgary Special Collections.

Artist Statement - The Geometry of Light

Mary Jo Major in the Studio

I treasure my experience travelling and seeing European and American painting, Indigenous art, Asian fibre art and many other marvellous cultural expressions. These influences have given me prodigious inspiration. After absorbing knowledge gained by my travel, study and work in many parts of the world I began to focus on creating artwork in my own, original voice, working in my studio in Calgary.

The wonderful thing about landscape painting in Alberta is the light. It is said that our high altitude and clear skies give rise to colours that resemble those of France at the time of Monet and the Abstract Expressionist movement. The golden forests in autumn vibrate against the bright blue sky. The dramatic white and black of winter brings a completely new palette as snow plays between earth and sky, also bringing havoc on the roads. Returning to the studio I work with the purpose of bringing the beauty of what I have seen onto the canvas and sharing it with the viewer. This process includes depicting other experiences, beautiful music and thoughts of travel through deep space.

When I paint, there is a great drama going on in my imagination. Colour itself becomes the story. For example: I use a particular vermilion but notice that it is not a good neighbour, it is objecting to a moving bright green. Perhaps vermilion is a snob so I should not worry about that first impression and use just a small touch, very gently. Possibly the cadmium yellow is noisy around vermilion or drowns out the viridian, and so an orchestration of paint will continue producing surprises. The story of colour is a geometry of light and energy that is always enticing for as long as we keep looking.

Narrative Biography

Mary Jo Major posing with "Cosmic Egg"

When I was little and saw the circus for the first time I immediately became horse-crazy and wanted to join. I watched the magnificent white horses galloping around the arena, graceful and strong. I longed to be the ballerina who could dance on their backs, who could share their beauty and their power.

Over the years, this desire to create beauty has remained, although the form it takes has changed. I became a visual artist, curious about medium and material, making pictures with paint, paper, metal plates in acid baths.

I began to learn about art in Alberta during the late sixties, which meant looking at pictures in art books and reading about the lives of the impressionists and other European painters. I thought if I went to the south of France and looked at Cezanne's view of Mont St. Victoire I could learn his technique. Needless to say, I was disappointed at the sight of that little hill after living with the majestic Rocky Mountain views in Calgary. I am still painting mountains, as well as abstract compositions.

At Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University, Montreal) printmaking opened my eyes to the world of limited editions. Since prints sold for less than paintings, nearly everyone could afford an original print. I was intrigued by the possibility of paid work in the world of high end publishing, where famous artists were commissioned by galleries and museums to create limited edition prints at price points accessible to the general public.

Once I moved to London, England, I worked for Christie's Fine Art and The Tate Gallery printing etchings, which were popular and I was paid by the piece. I was learning the craft and delivering artwork by bicycle through the busy streets of the metropolis, manoeuvring as expertly as a rider on horseback.

The American poet Faith Gillespie and I were planning to produce a limited edition hand-made book of her poetry and my etchings. We went to auctions of used printing equipment; the Fleet Street presses were going digital so their machinery was for sale. We bought a small Vandercook Press, various typefaces, took evening classes, and printed our book, Poemprints.

"The Thames 1" watercolour, 1990

At this time the London Docklands were relocated to Canary Wharf, leaving vast Victorian tea and goods warehouses empty. The great sailing ships brought cargo directly to the balconies and unloaded into solid stone buildings that functioned as refrigeration and storage. These spaces were divided into artist's studios, hosting the public on annual Wapping Open Studio days throughout the early eighties. The loading balconies were large enough to sit with materials spread out around me and paint the changing weather on the River Thames. Working on the balcony of New Crane Wharf H4 using watercolours was a dream-come-true for me; no road traffic or people, just the sounds of barges and river traffic on the tidal river.

Eventually the studios were sold to developers and I returned to Canada to complete my MFA degree at the University of Calgary. I set up my printing press in a converted garage, and many artists turned up to have limited editions of their artwork translated into the medium of etching. A renowned artist from the Inuit community, Germaine Arnaktauyok, worked on her copper plates commissioned by Arts Induvik. Germaine illustrated ancient legends of animals and the creation of the world which have been transmitted orally throughout Inuit history.

I also worked with Woodland Cree artist Fred MacDonald. Fred depicted tribal stories and customs in his drawings and painting. We interpreted his imagery into etchings commissioned by Virginia Christopher Galleries, in commemoration of Wolf Creek in northern Alberta. Two of my botanical etchings were also editioned for Virginia Christopher. A respect for authenticity led to Virginia and I trekking up to Wolf Creek to pick the gigantic weeds that grow in remote Canadian forests.

Purchase Information

Please contact me by email to enquire about purchase of any artworks not marked SOLD.

Prices are in very reasonable Canadian dollars and shipping easily arranged.

Thank you for your interest in my work.


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