The Living Cloth

A Profile of Artist Mary Little

May 7, 2018

Text by Kyle Beechey and Images by Kyle Beechey and Tiff Payne Malkin

Mary Little is a breath of fresh air.

The Irish-born, Los Angeles based textile artist could not have been more welcoming when she took the time to meet with us a several months ago at her downtown Los Angeles loft. She greeted us with a warm smile at her light-filled work/live space that she shares with her husband, Peter. We quickly learned that Little is the real deal -- The rare combination of talent, sans ego or pretense. Not to mention a softness of voice that mirrors her preferred sculptural medium of textile.

“When asked about her process she cites the philosophy of “Intent and Serendipity” as key to achieving her style. Little devises systems in which to create but allows for “happy accidents” to occur.”

In creating work that is so singular, the question of her influences and process come to mind. She cites landscape as having the greatest weight in defining her work. This wasn’t something she noticed until she returned to Ireland to visit her family a few years ago. She took note of the similar patterns her canvases had with the country’s rolling hills and came to the revelation that her work had been subconsciously influenced by her childhood environment. To contrast, she has always been aware and had a very specific method of working. When asked about her process she cites the philosophy of “Intent and Serendipity” as key to achieving her style. Little devises systems in which to create but allows for “happy accidents” to occur. She meticulously measures her cloth, but when an element that she doesn’t foresee comes into play, she makes a judgment and sometimes she allows it to intervene and other times she does not. No fighting the circumstance. She allows and looks forward to the interplay of the opposing forces.

Little’s work has given her quite a nomadic existence. It has taken her from Northern Ireland to London with stops in Milan, San Francisco, Connecticut and for the past four years, she has called Los Angeles home. Her artistic trajectory began with training in furniture design, but recently she has seen a shift to create objects with less inherent functionality, large-scale canvas sculptures. The mid-career creative pivot from furniture to abstract art object has left her operating in a new space. Her pieces are finding a new home outside of the domestic sphere and on the gallery wall.

Her transition from furniture designer to fine artist has brought into the question the notion of the distinction of art versus craft. Why does a relationship to functionality cause an object to be viewed and consumed in a different context? It is a question that is central to The Arc. We believe that art and object do not need to be mutually exclusive. Everyday life is enriched when we choose to surround ourselves with items whose design is considered beyond functionality. Striking, aesthetically minded dinnerware, woven goods and, ceramics has the ability to dot one's home with joy.

As we happen to be avid fans of art history, we couldn’t help but draw the connection between Little and other female minimalist masters. Immediately, her work called to mind the oeuvres of Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse. Her choice of palette and devotion to clean lines bares resemblance to Martin’s canvases, while her choice of atypical materials and examination of three-dimensional space recall Hesse’s sculptures.

Little’s work has been acquired by The Vitra Museum in Basel, Musée des Objects Décoratifs in Paris and is currently on view until June 2nd in Mary Little: The Shape of Cloth at The Craft in America Center, in Los Angeles.

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