Above, Mary Mirabal works on a painting. Photo by Dino Mirabal.
By Krista Lyons, AliveTampaBay Correspondent
Mary Mirabal didn’t start painting when she was three years old. She didn’t throw paint on a canvas in a fit of rage during her teen years. Nor did she “paint herself” through art school at 22. Mary Mirabal’s story is even more inspiring than that, because her story teaches us that your talent may just be hiding inside of you, lying dormant until the right time.
Mirabal loved art as she grew into her 20s, 30s and 40s, but she had a job in the corporate world, and she and her husband had children to raise. She worked hard to raise children and then grandchildren, but when she was 55, she found herself suddenly with more time on her hands. A collector of Native American art for 30 years, she felt the itch to try painting for herself.
Now, only a few years after her first brush strokes on the canvas, Mirabal has been featured on WEDU and is looking forward to her first solo show on Sept. 15 at the Bunker in Ybor City. Her art features rich colors, distinctive textures, and a unique style that many artists spend a lifetime trying to find. In the midst of working on her latest project, Mirabal was kind enough to sit down with AliveTampaBay to answer a few questions about her art.
Q: What inspired you to start painting later in life? Did you ever know you had such a talent hiding in you before you started?
A: Prior to that [age 55] I didn’t know I could. I was working in the corporate world and got downsized several years ago, and then I was just working part-time at my own pace for friends so that I could help take care of my grandchildren. That gave me some free time, and then as my grandchildren have gotten older and started school and preschool they didn’t need me. So I was figuring “Well, I don’t want to go back to working the corporate life.” I had gotten used to not doing that and I wanted to explore something I had never done.
Painting had always been something that I wanted to try — I have been an art collector for a long, long time and I always admired painters but never thought that I had any artistic ability because I never really did anything artistic during all of those years when I was raising my family and had my career. But it was just something nagging at the back of my head and I had time. So one year I finally decided that I was going to give this a try. I asked “Santa” for a paint set for Christmas one year and he brought it, a little beginner’s paint set, and it took me about six months to break it out and start using it. But once I did, I realized that I really had a talent for it. So that is kind of how it all started.
Q: You’ve built a successful career in such a short amount of time. Do you have a secret to your success?
A: I think it might be because for a few years I did make some garden art when I was working part time and watching my grandkids. So I was pretty good at social media and had a Facebook page for my garden art, and I had over 400,000 fans on that one. Having been in the corporate world, I had a background in marketing and sales, which has probably helped me a lot on the business end on this new adventure.
Q: It seems like some of your art is inspired by the Southwest. Is the Southwest a place that you love?
A: The Southwest isn’t always exactly what I am going for when I am painting, but I love the Southwest, especially Santa Fe and that area. We collect Native American art, and we have been collecting art for 30 years, so it just kind of translates into what I paint. It is hard to describe, but my art doesn’t necessarily start out to be [Southwest], but those are the colors that I love and that I gravitate to. It is those color palettes that lend themselves to more of a Southwest influence.
Q: What inspires you the most when you are painting?
A: A few things inspire me. Sometimes it is just working in my garden and some of my floral art has been inspired by that. Most of my pieces are inspired by a color palette that I see and love, or just our travels to New Mexico.
Q: Is there an artist that inspires you?
A: I have my own distinct style, but I would say that the artist I identify the most with even though our styles are different is Georgia O’Keeffe. She was a famous New Mexico painter from the area that I love. I do primarily abstracts and she did some of those, but her style is different than mine. But I would say her determination and strength, her vision, is what inspires me.
There are other artists that are more to my style of painting that I admire. I would classify my style as abstract expressionist, and there are several painters along that line that I admire. Mary Abbott is one, Joan Mitchell, Elaine De Kooning are famous expressionist painters that paint more in my style, but I identify more with Georgia O’Keeffe because of her love for New Mexico even though she wasn’t from there, she was bound and determined to live there and paint the countryside as she saw it and that is kind of what I do. I paint how I see it, so mine comes out differently than hers.
Q: Your style is so unique — did it take a lot of experimenting for you to find your specific style?
A: It developed into this style. When I first started painting, I was painting florals and landscapes. But, the more I started painting, the more abstract my work started getting, and the more I started enjoying creating the abstracts. So that is really what I am enjoying doing now.
Q: Do you have any advice for any new emerging artists or new painters?
A: I probably have lots of advice for them because I am still learning and picking the brains of everyone that I can — people who are well ahead of me. But the best advice that I would give them is to follow their heart, and if they feel that this is something that they want to try, then by all means do it. Don’t let anyone say you can’t do it. Because I would never have thought in a million years that I would be doing it. Join whatever local art groups you can because you learn so much from other artists. Most of the artists that I have met are so generous and so giving of their knowledge and their time, and you form such a wonderful camaraderie with them.
Mirabal’s first solo art show will at opening on Sept. 15 at the Bunker in Ybor City. The opening reception will be from 7-10 p.m. To view Mirabal’s art, visit www.marymirabalart.com.