Mary Anne Reilly approaches life with dexterity. Like many contemporary women, the Bethesda painter has refined the skills necessary to keep multiple elements in motion.
She acquired these abilities early, tracing their origins to Corcoran School of Art classes she took on Saturdays at age 13. “It was the first time my complex juggling of inner art world and reality began,” Reilly recalled. That became the working model for the balance the native Washingtonian had to achieve as a consequence of choosing to have a family as well as a career.
After years as a self-described “starving artist,” doing the “downtown studio scene in apartments, warehouses, with fellow studio mates,” Reilly and her husband, financial manager Bill Dirlam, opted “to move to a quiet property” in Bethesda to raise their child. It was a place, she said, “where I could work when my son was in school and … have the ability to roll out of bed and go across the field – we have a few acres – and work late into the night if need be.”
In her large studio, constructed to accommodate her penchant for large-scale works, Reilly works eight hours a day, allowing herself to “take off odd days that I just don’t feel like it. The beauty of being your own boss is not having to set hours, and the downside is you won’t have a studio, equipment or eat if you don’t sell. You are the architect of your own art career!”
She sets short- and long-term goals, and pushes herself to meet deadlines. “Before a show, I have worked around the clock all-nighters, sometimes for days.”
“Eclectic though textural in nature” is how Reilly defines her style. “I guess, looking back, I can only say, like life, it continually changes. It’s in motion,” she said. “Sometimes I have gone for years on one subject or style, and then I get pulled mentally in another direction.” What is fun, she added, “is the unpredictability of the process, the surprise of a new thought. I don’t put barriers or overstress about direction. I don’t worry about the commerce or where the work will go.”
As such, Reilly has been successful, taking pride in having “always worked and paid for my own art life, studios and equipment.” To date, she has had more than 25 solo exhibits and some 200 group shows in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and her work has been on view in D.C. at the Sumner Museum & Archives, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the David Adamson Gallery, Addison Ripley Fine Art, the Willard and Hay-Adams hotels, as well as in New York City and Tokyo.
Her work is part of the collections of clients such as IBM, Fuji Bank, the Washington Post, Freddie Mac, Salomon Smith Barney, Nordstrom and Marriott, and she has a “loyal base of collectors [that] generally buy a work yearly.” Hyper-locally, in Potomac, the artist’s paintings adorn both Hunter’s Inn and The Old Angler’s Inn.
The multiple influences on her career, Reilly said, began with her father, a lawyer, and her mother, a piano teacher, who nurtured her proclivities. At the suggestion of their daughter’s elementary school teachers, they sent her for lessons with commercial artist Ann Hemmerich, “who saw something special in me” at age 9, and at Hemmerich’s direction, to the Corcoran four years later. Reilly also credits several academics with advancing her skills, beginning with her University of Dayton mentor, fine arts professor Dr. Bernard Plogman, who encouraged her in painting and anatomy drawing and “opened my mind to study in Paris … So I did.”
Her work in Montparnasse with ex-pat artist-printmaker-professor Rodney Abrahamson in Montparnasse, then back in D.C. with artist and Corcoran professor of painting Bill Newman and Washington colorist Leon Berkowitz, brought her further along. At this time, Reilly is completing a series of large paintings of the Capitol and continuing work on her ‘Dream’ series. When these projects are done, her focus shift to the opportunities for travel and exhibits she has been offered.
“In the meantime,” she said, “I guess you could say dreaming of the future is what sustains our present. It is the optimistic thought that ‘dreaming’ has an external pull for all of us.” As has been her wont, Reilly juggles with deftness.
“My ‘Dream’ series has to do with artworks that reflect more ethereal concepts, more fluid movements in brushstroke and an intentional distortion of imagery. It has to do with the in-between state of mind, say when one first awakens—the blurred vision of the mind, and the then focus of the mind to what reality appears to be.”