Oil painter Mary VanLandingham’s muse is found when her camera, her car, and a winding dirt road all come together. She hunts for picturesque scenes awash in warm morning sunbeams or cool glimmering twilight. Her drives to find inspiration first began when VanLandingham was a commuter BFA art student at Valdosta State University.
Now, she and her father have made these trips a special outings. Every few weeks they plan day and weekend trips to find new coastal and rural areas to photograph. VanLandingham will snap anywhere from 700-800 photographs to use as source material for her oil paintings.
Her piece, “Mornings with Dad,” came from a photograph taken on their first road trip to Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach. She recalls her father getting misty-eyed when she first shared it with him.
“That was a special memory because it was the start of this tradition we created,” says VanLandingham.
Her exhibition “Recollection” at the Colquitt County Arts Center displays these memories both in the Vereen Gallery and virtually. Attendees can make an appointment to see them in person, or view them online through August 28.
“I almost always paint my own photographs,” she adds. “There’s an emotional connection and excitement because you can recall how you felt when you took that picture, and that’s a lot of what drives me to paint it.”
VanLandingham was born and raised in South Georgia and has had exhibitions across the country. While art was always her passion, it was not a direct route to her current life working as a part-time artist, part-time librarian. In high school she leaned more towards abstract works, and would throw paint at the canvas. She failed advanced placement art in her junior year before passing the class her senior year.
In college, she changed her major five times from undeclared to theater to psychology to business to biology, before taking a walk over to the campus’ fine arts building. She credits a little bit of chance and fate for placing art classes back in her path. Once she found oils, everything clicked.
“I love telling high school students [my journey] because it’s a bit more reassuring that you don’t have to be in this place right off the bat,” says VanLandingham, who has taught demonstrations and lessons at various schools. “Any kind of success I’ve had over the years is because I’ve had a lot of support and people behind me. Anything I’ve done, I’ve never done it alone.”
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