Mary Beth Drabiszczak (b.1999) is a pastel painter based in Wisconsin. She is currently an Artist-in-Residence at Var Gallery in Milwaukee, WI. Mary Beth graduated with a BFA in Painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and will earn her Master’s in Art History at the University of Wisconsin: Milwaukee in 2023. Mary Beth’s interests in material science and techniques, conservation, restoration and preservation inform her research-based practices. She hopes to focus her studies on gilded frame restoration and paper substrate research. Her artistic interests also include working en plein air and in an alla prima manner.
Image courtesy of Brian Sprague
As an artist, I find myself drawn specifically to the Impressionists, as I enjoy their experimental use of color and mark making. While I have struggled with perfectionism for most of my life, working in an “alla prima” fashion gives me the freedom to appreciate the quick decisions I make in short time spans. Mary Cassatt has been a huge inspiration for me and my work, both technically and conceptually. My mother passed away when I was four years old, but making work about my childhood is a way to try and “re-remember” this relationship I have forgotten. Cassatt’s work surrounding maternal relationships with young children was a lens I took on when digging up old family photos of my mother and I. These old photos serve as references for my pastel work, where I interpret colors from these low-resolution images.
Some photos are in better condition than others, but the fragility of both physical photos and immaterial memories is reiterated by working on paper - as this substrate is especially fragile. Paper is extremely sensitive to its environment, often prompting collections to be stored in museums for long periods of time before being displayed again. My professional aspirations include perusing a career in art conservation, so I like to juggle problems of longevity in my artwork. Conservation techniques also utilize color optics like those found in pointillism when inpainting losses, which is why I use mark making to offer up clues to my process of creating. The immediacy of pastel allows me to put direct colors on the paper which are independently distinguishable, but my painterly application could identify these works as “pastel paintings” as compared to drawings. These marks could even be characterized as crude or child-like scribbles, but I find this to be especially relevant when my focus is on depicting younger versions of myself as a child. Materiality and process are key to my practice, so I continue to explore deconstructions of colors and marks.