Artist Wendi Mahoney Follows Her Passion in Nashville
Although the expression is “follow your dream,” for Wendi Strauch Mahoney, a representational oil painter, the operative noun would more likely be “passion.” The difference involves not just wanting to do something important that you’ve dreamed about, but dedicating yourself to it with a sense of commitment, realizing that it may conflict with real-world demands, a balancing act that’s always been particularly difficult for women. Self-confidence, Wendi says, took time. She was a quieter, Mahoney inward, older child with four siblings, whose parents were extroverted and socially active in whatever community they would move to, both here and abroad. Her mother gave her paint brushes and art books as well as encouragement to draw and paint. It took “the better part of her life,” however, to explore art — an activity that involves first committing to canvas and then to public exposure, not to mention down the line, attending to business — marketing, putting work online (most of her paintings are sold through Facebook), and running a gallery.
She had always loved to draw and had done some painting, much of it inspired by nature (“how wonderful back then when children would stay out ‘til dark and or go on nature walks”), but motherhood (five children) made taking on painting seriously an unlikely avocation, not to mention profession.
Moving to Singapore created the critical moment for change. Earlier, she had worked with adolescents and their families for a while as a counselor (her master’s degree is from the University of San Francisco) but found it difficult to juggle hours and the needs of her school-age children. The same concerns attended her work as a marriage family therapist, where she lead art groups and sand tray therapy sessions with battered women and their children, groups for whom the creative process can be crucial. “The process of creation is something no one can take from you,” she said. “Art — all art — visual and performing is one of the best roads to self-validation, so important to adolescents who are seeking identity.” But once again, she found herself trying to balance the domestic and artistic pulls in her life.
In Singapore, not interested in the typical recreational activities of the ex-pat community, she found herself attracted to the idea of painting the indigenous people she would see in her travels in Asia performing daily tasks, and by the countryside. She did not do plein air painting, but she did take photos, many of which became models for her paintings. Though she did not have a separate studio (rents are prohibitive in Singapore), the apartment was large enough for her to carve out an area for her art and also be available for her children. And so she began.
It says much about her commitment to her art that she is not afraid of acknowledging her early work as pitiful. Other neophytes might have quit. Today, she takes great pride in having her own studio and being a partner in a studio/gallery in the Edgehill Village section of Nashville, a community with a growing interest in the arts. It was a slow and challenging climb, however, augmented in the last few years by her practice of Yoga — which lends itself to a more present and contemplative state of mind, she said. Unlike Singapore, where people like portraits that reflect ordinary life, Nashville folks seem to like whimsical work. Men like paintings of cars, everyone likes dogs and fantasy, and everyone also seems to like her colors. “I cannot imagine my life without art,” she writes on her Web site. She would wish similar hard-won passion for everyone. #