A! Magazine for the Arts

Maria Willison works on one of her figurative sculptures. (photo by Samuel Burns)

Maria Willison works on one of her figurative sculptures. (photo by Samuel Burns)

Bristol native specializes in figurative sculpture

December 30, 2015

Maria Willison didn't discover until college what her artistic medium was, but she sought to make art a part of her everyday life from an early age.

"I did some woodcarving as a kid, and I took some drawing and painting classes in high school, but I was never passionate about it until college when I realized sculpting figures in clay is what I love. I thought "Wow, so this is how I think.' The other forms of art I did before were just a shadow of my true love of sculpting."

The first thing Willison sculpted was a figure of Adam for a group project when she was a freshman at Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

"Sculpting the figure is one of the hardest things to do, so I love the challenge," she says. "I also love anatomy. Everyone can relate to figures, so I love having sculptures with concepts that people can connect with.

"To truly see something in nature, while often ephemeral, is a crucial element in my work. A conventional aspiration of humanity is the attainment of truth, but the dedicated artist can play an extraordinary role.

"Through the medium of sculpture, I am constantly discovering and digesting new ways to convey the true beauty of the human form. Whether through a divergence from the "ideal' form or the careful depiction of a subject at vulnerable stages, it is the routinely unseen that my work strives to underline. I maintain a genuine ardor that lies in the negative space, dramatic lines and the dichotomy between peace and tension.

"One of my sculptures, "Enervare,' (on the cover) explores a stage of physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Specifically, the piece investigates a depravity of strength, reluctantly imparted to the power of addiction; the utter loss is synchronized with an expression of the exquisiteness of the female figure. Each strained muscle carries with it the vernacular of enervation, and the unrefined beauty of the model is inseparably entangled with this universal notion.

"An extensive understanding of anatomy is required when communicating that which can be seen in a figure. The body is full of remarkable aspects, each deserving attention to detail. The sternomastoid (a neck muscle), for example, is a muscle with eminent qualifications to reveal elegance, strength, motion and pain - both physical and emotional. The fact that a single muscle can demonstrate so many characteristics is unmistakably significant to an artist scrupulously integrating the somatic strands.

"While the presentation of the human form is crucial, my undying love for the examination and pursuit of the verity in sculpted forms invariably chronicles the caliber of work to which I aspire. My hope is that those who view my work will be confronted with an honest and observable semblance of the real."

Her style is classical with a contemporary twist. Her influences are Gian Lorenzo Bernini, particularly his "Apollo and Daphne," Michelangelo, Jean-Antoine Houdon and Auguste Rodin. Rodin's "composition for his figures are one of the main inspirations for many of my pieces' poses."

Willison prefers to work with water and oil clay. She then fires the clay or casts in plaster, cold cast resin or bronze. She also draws and continues to carve in wood. She recently began painting in oil. "But all of these are hobbies compared to figurative sculpture in clay," she says.

Her latest exhibit was the Fresh Emerging Artist Exhibit at the Association of the Visual Arts, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Other exhibits include the Townsend Atelier, Hunter Museum of American Art, Northshore Gallery of Contemporary Art and Gallery 301, all in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the Old Courthouse Arts Center, Woodstock, Illinois.

She received an honorable mention at the Chelsea International Fine Arts Competition and was chosen Emerging Artists at the Four Bridges Arts Festival. She also received an honorable mention and first places prizes at Real People.

Willison teaches sculpture at Covenant College and Townsend Atelier. She grew up in Bristol, Tennessee. Her parents are Tom and Marjy Larson. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband, Timmy.

When she isn't working on her own pieces, she creates molds and casts for nearby artists.

Her artwork is available through her website, www.mariawillison.com. She can also be contacted for commissions through her website.

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