Mary Anne Carter Embraces Her Quirks With Candy Colors and Explosive Patterns [Interview]
“I’ve never been able to blend in,” says Mary Anne Carter, who bears a conspicuous port-wine stain on her left cheek, a maroon-colored splash that marked her face even as a baby. “[The birthmark] fast-tracked my need for self-acceptance and my embrace of self-expression,” she continues. “I’ve gotten comfortable standing out.”
Even without the birthmark, Mary Anne is hard to miss. Suited in chunky boots, fishnet stockings, rude color combinations, and animal prints of every stripe and feather, the Seattle-based artist softens the line between art and artist, extending her practice into daily life and vice versa. “In art, I’m always about candy-colored pastels and metallics,” says Mary Anne, who uses an assortment of materials—fabric, balloons, furniture, hand-pulled screen prints—to create immersive installations that look good enough to lick, right down to the ooey-gooey center. “In fashion, I wear a lot of black but am embracing more color as of late,” she continues. “In home décor, everything I own is thrifted, and by a bizarre, unplanned coincidence, most of it is orange. Which I love because orange is one of those colors people are a little bit scared of, and it’s fun to just wildly embrace it.”
Craving even more color in her life, Mary Anne co-founded alternative gallery Party Hat in 2017 with producer Adj McColl. Reborn after the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaborative space now specializes in site-specific art “activations,” live screen-printing events, and a monthly art walk that promotes underrepresented and emerging artists in the Seattle area. “I am always exploring new ways to present art that breaks down some of the barriers people encounter when viewing,” says Mary Anne, who acts as Party Hat’s creative consultant. “I feel like a huge majority of the population feels daunted by visual art because we’ve been told that the task of the viewer is to immediately uncover some secret meaning or find beauty in something obscure.”
While Mary Anne strives to create work that “draws the viewer in and lets them relax around it,” her curatorial projects build a bridge between artist and audience, no matter the medium or message. She encourages emerging artists to keep working, regardless of fame, wealth, or luck: “If you have an insatiable desire to create, a difficulty shutting your mind off from your artwork, or the feeling that art is the one element in life that makes sense,” she says, “you are an artist.”
In Today's Q+Art Interview…
Mary Anne Carter discusses Pamela Anderson’s recent memoir, the simple pleasures of a good fart joke, and the giant jewelry box that will become part of her next installation.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Mary Anne Carter: I loooove staying up late, and I looooove sleeping in. About once a week, I loooooove waking up early and feeling morally superior for the rest of the day until I get tired way too early and am like, “Why do we hold this to such high esteem as a culture?”
What’s the last good book you read?
MAC: I’ve been on a big Pamela Anderson kick in general. I read her memoir Love, Pamela, and love that she’s finally getting the opportunity to take control of her narrative.
What’s the planning process like for your installations?
MAC: I always have a few ideas knocking around in my head, and when I get the opportunity, I match one to the theme and space. Then I assume that because it's “all planned out in my head” it will take no time to complete, and I am totally wrong. But hey, the work gets done!
What’s your all-time favorite installation you’ve done?
MAC: Last summer, after the fall of Roe v. Wade, I collaborated with Shout Your Abortion to create an installation with over 100 soft sculpture balloons clad with smiley faces, abortion pills, and affirming messages including “we’re doing it anyway” and “we will save us.” Suspended by monofil, the balloons floated above a pastel living room. Guests could lounge in the space and gather risograph and screen-printed posters in support of abortion access.
I loved it for a lot of reasons—the balloons looked eerily real, despite being screen-printed canvas stuffed with Poly-Fil. The space was inviting and warm and provided an opportunity for viewers to physically interact with art and it delivered a really effective message that was both gentle and unapologetic. It captured everything I want my work to do—recontextualize art, use it as a vehicle for efficient communication, reassure people that their bodies should be governed only by themselves, and throw a silly, fun, bright pink party while doing it.
Cats or dogs?
What is the most memorable piece of art you’ve ever seen?
MAC: Elton John.
What’s your go-to drink order?
MAC: I love a shot of whiskey and a shitty beer, but I spend all of my money on Yerba Mate.
What’s currently playing in your studio?
MAC: ’90s country music, so sue me!
What makes you laugh the hardest?
MAC: Humor is my love language. I especially love love love humor that dangles between realism and absurdity—Patti Harrison, Tim Robinson, and Maria Bamford come to mind. But I also love fart jokes. I’ll settle for anything, I am a glutton for laughing and sometimes it’s the simplest joke at the perfect time that makes me double over.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
MAC: I just started a series of massive soft sculpture charm bracelets that I’m really excited about. Each link is about a foot long, and they snap together so they can span a room or hang as a smaller collection. This summer I’m going to make an installation that includes a giant jewelry box to display them, and it will double as a space where people can sit or stand or pretend to be a wind-up ballerina.
Mary Anne Carter: Website | Instagram | Purchase Work
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist(s). Studio and headshots: Amber Fouts; Shout Your Abortion installation photos: Ben Lindbloom.
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