ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Whirls and swirls dip and curve into the boulders and bluffs of the Sandia Mountains in the expressionist visions of Mary Jane Milz.
Shadows dive into canyons while the clouds mirror Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous bones.
Milz is one of 300 artists showing in the Fall National Exhibition of the New Mexico Watercolor Society in the Fine Arts Building of EXPO New Mexico beginning Saturday, Oct. 6. The show will hang from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 28.
Although painting took second place to Milz’s nursing career (she worked across the country in labor and delivery), art always lodged close to her heart. She took seminars whenever she could. An award at the Caribou, Maine, State Fair cemented her desire.
“That was affirmation I was doing OK, because I’m self-taught,” she said. “I always wonder if I’m on the right track.”
When Milz worked at Gallup’s Rehoboth Hospital, she was invited to show her work in a local gallery in Chinle, Ariz.
“From the time I was little, I wanted to be an artist,” she said. “But my mother said I could be a teacher or a nurse. When I started school, they didn’t have any good art classes.”
As her children grew, she took a six-month art class. The twin pursuits of nursing and art intersected well, she said.
“That gave me a perspective I didn’t have when I was only doing nursing,” she said. “So my paintings are more surreal or lean toward the abstract.
“My part of birth was to welcome the child,” she continued. “My paintings are like that; they’re my creations to give to the world.”
As her artistic view progressed, she focused on the patterns she studied within the natural world.
“If I paint a tree, I get caught up in the pattern in the bark,” she said. “If I paint a horse, they have a spirit about them.”
O’Keeffe was an inspiration; Milz took a seminar at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú.
“I was enamoured with Georgia O’Keeffe’s courage,” she said. “I would go over there (to her house) and try to figure out where she painted. I would sit in the paths and hope I could pick up some of her DNA.”
After 9/11, Milz helped Gallup children make peace flags from torn sheets and glitter, paint and sparkles to hang in the city.
“I think art is the one place where there are no borders,” she said. “If I see somebody do art it’s their soul work. It’s a reverent place that I have to treat with reverence and respect.”
Milz retired to Albuquerque in 2013.
“Working in labor and delivery is type A obsessive-compulsive,” she said. “I lived under that kind of adrenaline high. When I discovered watercolor, it was a gift that I couldn’t control it. There were happy accidents and bad ones. The part where it mixed and wandered around the paper and did things I hadn’t planned on was the best part.”