Inspired by her travels around the world, Mary Brigman brings home a piece of these unique destinations in her pastel works on paper and board. Whether it’s Europe, the American Southwest, the Hawaiian Islands or her native South Carolina, Brigman possesses the coveted ability to not only capture the way a place looks but also the way it feels.
“When I’m impressed with a scene, it makes me want to paint it,” she says. Brigman refers to her pastel works as paintings because of the way she layers the colors and the fact that the pastel pigment is the same substance as in paint but in solid form.
Viewing her work feels like breathing a deep sigh of relief. The sensation of soul expansion that one enjoys when traveling is imbued into these paintings. They offer a welcome respite from our daily existence, especially as so many are confined to their homes nowadays.
“I really get into it and remember the energy of the moment or the place,” she says. “It brings back good, joyful memories. I hope my paintings remind people of places they love, too.”
In one of her compositions, the deep, verdant greens of a forested mountainside in Hawaii are offset by brilliant red clay soil. “I really enjoy when I go somewhere and there’s a totally different color to the environment,” Brigman says. “I couldn’t wait to get home and paint it.
“The thing I love about pastels is that you can get very bold with the colors, and it’s really interesting to see the layers in the art. A lot of people don’t realize that pastels reflect light. If you were to look at a pastel painting under a microscope, it has a prism effect. It’s a really beautiful medium.”
A juried panel inducted Brigman into the Pastel Society of America alongside museum-quality artists, all the more remarkable because she is largely self-taught, with some informal training. Another interesting tidbit is that Brigman only embarked upon art making as a full-time endeavor three years ago after a lengthy career in the Army and human resources at the Medical University of South Carolina.
“There was always an artist inside of me waiting to get out,” she says. “I was focused on making a living for so many years, but now I’m devoted to my art. It’s been a dream come true.”
One must commend her native talent and dedication to pursuing her craft, even as she worked in other fields. For many years, Brigman has participated in art shows held by entities like the Charleston Artist Guild, The Mount Pleasant Artist Guild and the South Carolina Pastel Society. She has also fulfilled commission requests from clientele over the years.
“Clients usually ask for a scene from their vacation home or from their backyard overlooking the marsh,” she says. “It’s always exciting to capture something that is important to them.”
Her deft skill with pastels is evidenced in the vibrant Lowcountry landscapes that populate her website. Brigman has expertly captured bountiful cloud formations reflecting luminous sunset hues, stormy seas meeting equally ominous skies at the horizon, and marshes that radiate a calm certainty.
Brigman’s love of her native land is obvious in her work. Although she’s spent so much of her lifetime surrounded by these scenes, she continues to travel around the state, gathering more photographic source material for her paintings.
“I love to go out to the marshes and beaches. The barrier islands are some of my favorite spots, especially Edisto,” Brigman says. “I absolutely love to paint waterfalls and rivers like Shem Creek and the Chattooga River. I spend some time walking around and getting a feel for the place.”
Patrons are invited to shop her works on her website or to inquire about specific works, like from her Southwest or Hawaii series, with the artist directly. Her work is also displayed at Perspective Gallery in Mount Pleasant, and she is happy to bring requested works to the gallery for patrons to view in person.
“Every painting has a little bit of me in it. I love to travel, and I try to put that sense of place into my paintings,” Brigman says.
“If people connect to it, that’s great.” *
Alaena Hostetter is a content strategist, editor and journalist who writes about art, design, culture, music, entertainment and food. She can be reached via her website alaenahostetter.com.