It’s a chilly fall morning in the quaint corner of historic Gaithersburg that’s home to Square House Studio, and black walnut trees are shedding shriveled leaves and desiccated pods. Inside the gallery, though—a converted garage where husband-and-wife artists Maire McArdle and Steve Walker create, prepare and sometimes exhibit their work—the warmth of the French Riviera spills over a table in endless shades of blue.
“I’m a very reluctant exhibitor,” said McArdle, founding art director and current design director at Bethesda Magazine and an adjunct at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. “I’m new to this arena.”
Her husband, she explained, “has been an artist his whole life.” He’s also an art and photography teacher at Gaithersburg High School—and the man who accompanied McArdle on the trip to France that would color her world, and inspire her upcoming show, “Collage D’Azur” at Artists & Makers Studios in Rockville.
“My daughter is a translator,” McArdle explains. “Her major was French at Georgetown, and she went to France for a year to study, then decided to live there.
“That was 12 years ago.”
When McArdle and Walker went to visit this summer, they, too, were smitten by the culture, the color and the beauty of the south of France.
“We lived like we were Frenchies,” she laughed. “The baguettes and patisseries on every corner, the sea two blocks away—I’d never seen those colors before, those stripes and deep layers of blue. I drank it all in.”
And when she returned to the U.S., it hit her: those shades of blue, that water and sky, that offhand beauty and joie de vivre—all of it was calling her. She’d go to the studio, wallow in the blue, and make watercolor memories in mixed media.
“Every time I had a chance ‘to play,’ I’d come back,” she remembered. “It was rare, because life keeps on going, but I’d say, ‘How did I do that?’ And I’d start all over with a new technique.”
Which is part of what makes “Collage D’Azur” so compelling. The scenes and the colors unite each of the tiny pieces of art even as the techniques McArdle employs give them a spontaneous diversity, and the notes of frivolity—play, as McArdle calls it; jouer, en Français—serve to lift and lighten each one.
“I love the surprises of the composition,” she said. “I’ll ‘play,’ then I’ll start to look at composition and positive and negative space and go, ‘Ooh, I like that!’”
That’s when her experience as a designer comes into play, as she isolates and crops sections of her “canvas” that evoke sense memories of the azure sea, golden sand and merrily striped towels, chairs and beach umbrellas of Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Villefranche-Sur Mer and Eze.
“I love the tightening into a mini-pop of color and composition,” said McArdle. “I don’t try to create a scene from a photograph or from what’s inside my head; it’s more a combination of technique and creativity.”
And, of course, the freedom that comes with “playing” in the studio. McArdle says that her work’s light, almost effervescent feel reflects the beauty she found not just in the landscape of the south of France but also in its culture and its people.
“I love the French culture,” she explained. “It’s a simpler life: They don’t have credit card debt; they buy their groceries daily from little markets—it’s kind of contagious.
“Here, we’re a go-go society, but I love that joie de vivre.”
“Collage D’Azur” runs through Tuesday, Nov. 22, along with photographs by Pete McCutcheon and Min Enghauser in “Juxtaposed Structure,” at Artists & Makers Studios, 11810 Parklawn Drive, Rockville. An opening reception will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 240-437-9573 or visit http://artistsandmakersstudios.com.
View this event on CultureSpotMC here.