Mia de Bethune is a multi-media artist, writer and art therapist. She creates paintings in encaustic and oil, weavings in paper, plastic and natural fibers, and earthworks that engage the landscape. She says her visual work informs her writings, which range from fiction to travel blogs to clinical and theoretical writings on creativity and psychology. Her art therapy practice is both online and at her studio in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
The image above is Mia deBethune’s woven painting titled THE LAYERING OF TRUTHS. This works is 50×51 inches, created with acrylic paint and linen strips, and will be included in an exhibition I curated titled DRAWING THE LINE at the Pelham Art Center (February 16-April 2, 2023).
THE LAYERING OF TRUTHS has an open weave and is created as a grid. The white linen strips are wavy lines and the red, black white and tan cords weave through the white linen strips. Mia deBethune says she almost abandoned this work after a mishap during the beginning of the process. She said “I started with linen strips and imagined an uneven but geometric grid of varied grays and whites. I varnished the front and back with a clear water-based varnish to strengthen the weave to make it more rigid for hanging. This has worked fine with canvas strips, but the varnish distorted the linen strips. I was initially upset and disappointed thinking I had wasted all that material, but, then after letting it sit for a while, I felt I couldn’t lose anything by painting over it, so painted the strips with off-white paint. I saw the woven painting as something newly emerging rather than as something I had orchestrated. I hand-painted some white cord with red and varnished it to make it stiff and wove the painted cords strategically but haphazardly in place as lines within the deconstructed grid which brought a new meaning of many layers and multiple connections – much like the way we see truths or how truth has come to have many meanings in this crazy world.”
Mia deBethune will also exhibit 8 unique 12×12 inch mixed media paintings from her Magreb Series, created with acrylic, paper and cord. Each work in the Magreb series is inspired by her 2 trips to Morocco, and titled with names of places that bring back memories of the colors and flavors of the places she visited. See several images below.
The group exhibition DRAWING THE LINE will include Mia deBethune and 7 additional artists who create circles, spirals, grids, triangles, squares, dots and dashes and work with graphite, pen and ink, paint, mixed media, including wood, wire, wire mesh, fabric, embroidery thread, metal hardware, safety pins and chenille stems (knotted pipe cleaners). Viewers will see 2D and 3D drawings, woven paintings, quilts, sculpture, assemblage, collage, and several works that are installations.
The image above is Mia deBethune’s woven painting titled RABAT MEDINA, created with painted papers and cords. It’s 12×12 inches and one of eight works in the artist’s Magreb series and will be included in the exhibition.
Mia deBethune says people in Morocco call the sunset Magreb. It’s their name for the vivid colors of the setting sun. She says: “Morocco is a country of sensual imagery, sounds, smells and above all color – color everywhere from the intense white walls of the Hotel Splendide in Rabat where I stayed, to the bright blue sky, to stacks of cumin, turmeric, and saffron in the markets, the walls of ancient gardens, colorful weavings, and dyes made from artichoke, turmeric, indigo, as well as the deep colors of the setting sun over the red-gold sands of the Sahara desert. Morrocco was a magical place.”
The woven painting titled Rabat Medina includes confetti-like strips painted in purple, red, yellow, and orange that weave into, across and project through rows of circles that pierce the fabric in the bottom layer in this work. There is an amazing sense of activity in this work – like the crowded Medina.
The image above is titled MERZOUGA, created with mixed media with painted papers and painted cord. It’s 12×12 inches, and another in the Magreb series that will be included in the exhibition.
The image above is titled Dar Seffarine – FEZ, created in purple. It’s also part of the Magreb series and will be included in the exhibition. The artist says this painting is named for an ancient walled city of 8000 unmarked passageways (with no map) – a place of shadows, mystery, surprise, and hidden beauty. Mia deBethune compares the shapes and colors in the 2 collages titled MERZOUGA and FEZ and says “they echo each other as an aspect of the darkening sky in the Magreb desert.”
Every one of the 8 small paintings has colorful backgrounds, cut out circles and woven lines of painted cord. Each work is a memory of a specific place and time. The artist says “I lived in several cities in Morocco, going to the market or “medina” every day, riding out into the desert on the back of a camel, and absorbing the holy call to prayers. It’s a land I will never forget.”
The image above is titled CHELLA. It’s 12×12 inches, created with an orange background and deep blue cut out circles. It’s another work in the Magreb series and will be included in the exhibition. CHELLA is named for an ancient Etruscan, then Roman, and finally Islamic/ Moroccan garden in Rabat where the artist says she remembers the faded orange walls of ancient forts, orange trees, and storks nesting against bright blue skies. She says the large and small circles create rhythm and syncopation in repetition like music. The colors play off against the deep red and russets of the painting she titled MERZOUGA (above), named for a Moroccan fort in the desert where she watched the sunset and “the deep night sky open up among towering red gold dunes.”
I asked Mia deBethune if there is an artist she admires who is known for weaving who inspires her work. She said: “I think Sheila Hicks has been a big inspiration, and I saw a show of her works in Chelsea where she had large and very small weavings created with unusual materials like small jewels, and a whole wall of wrapped sticks and tree branches in bright colors. Also, Annie Albers, Ruth Asawa and many others.”
The artist says she found herself incorporating weaving into her paintings ten years ago
because “I have always worked with a grid form and grids provide the structure within which unpredictable factors can play. It’s not a far leap then from grids to weave structures.”
The artist says “Weaving contains the elements of balance that echo a body’s natural
rhythms. I have become a fiber artist using a loom and yarns, but my first interest was how my paintings could be woven and what that said about the painted surface. This question fascinates me as I continue to explore the possibilities.”
The image above is an 11×12 foot weaving the artist titled LUMINANCE. It’s suspended from a tree and made entirely of recycled plastic materials. As you look through the weaving you can see the Rip Van Winkle bridge that spans the Hudson River.
Mia deBethune was attending a writing residency sponsored by Catwalk Institute. She said she went there to work on a novel in which the metaphor of weaving kept arising. The residency is located across the Hudson River from Olana, the home of the artist Frederick Church. She said: “When my computer broke down, I took a break and began a giant red wool spider web in the woods. The next morning at dawn there were 10 magnificent spider webs covered with the jewels of dew for a brief period of 15 minutes until the sun melted them away. It was as if the spiders were saying to me, ‘You want to know how to weave? Well, take a good look.’ Purcell Palmer, the wife of basketball legend Jim Palmer, started this colony she called Catslair as a place for artists to experience artistic freedom. It’s 75 acres of pure beauty above the Hudson River. She asked if I would make a weaving specific to their annual festival titled Reflections on Olana in which they collaborate with Olana in a day-long event.”
Mia deBethune says two workmen had to raise LUMINANCE by rope on the day of the festival and it suddenly came alive dancing in the wind like a spirit. It remained there for two months and was taken down in November 2014. The artist says she drew images of this woven piece before creating it, but mostly saw it in her head, and then worked for two weeks straight until it was done. She says: “It draws lines itself when it is raised and allowed to dance in the wind, and it mimics the lines of the beautiful Rip Van Winkle Bridge which spans the gap of the river as a gateway.”
The image above is a grid of 9 works, each 12×12 inches in the artist’s FLEMISH Series. Mia deBethune says the paintings were inspired by a weaving course she attended at Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Maine in the summer of 2016 where “we combined ancient techinques with new technology, working with a laser cutter and a 3-D printer in the Fabrication Lab.” She said she spent most of her time there figuring out how to create canvases with grids of cut out circles like the grids she had previously made by hand. She said: “I made circles of all different sizes and shapes (including ovals) and saved all of the cutouts that came from the process, immediately envisioning a layered collage and painting process where I would be able to weave lines.” As she laser-cut both canvas and linen, she found they reacted differently. Linen was more precise and did not distort; canvas stretched and was rougher and less even. As she worked with linen, she remembered her Belgian ancestors works in the linen trade. She envisioned a series based on all the places in Belgium she has visited, and used a specific color palette of Medieval or Renaissance colors: forest green, golden yellow, lapis blue, and burgundy red, remembering a woolen blanket her Belgian grandmother made for her in those colors. She repeated the same colors in this set of nine paintings in the Flemish Series. The titles in the series refer to family homes, cities where there is family history: Luvain, Bruges, etc.
The image above is a work Mia deBethune calls a PAPER WEAVE. It’s a woven grid, 21×20 inches, with wider white and narrower black strips that create horizontal and vertical lines within the almost square shape. Notice the white strips were painted over printed text. Notice the thinner black strips are inserted vertically and extend beyond the top and bottom border.
The image above is another work Mia deBethune calls a PAPER WEAVE. It’s 24×24 inches and has a lot of open spaces between the painted warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) strips. Some strips are unpainted newspaper and show text; some strips are painted in rich blue and red, yellow, green, brown/gold and white acrylic. Notice how some strips extend beyond the borders and how the weave is denser in the middle. Notice some strips are layered with one color over another. Link here to Weavings at the artist’s website. Mia deBethune says “Weaving has become the way for me to regain myself.”
Mia deBethune moved recently from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY to a new home in Rhode Island, and says this is a new season of healing and change for her and her family. Link here to her Art Therapy on Hudson website where she says “We are ready to put our rugs and our roots down; to plant seeds and bulbs in a new garden and orient toward the future.” The artist still maintains her art studio in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY and still works with clients online. She’s started a PhD program at Lesley University and will spend much of her time now devoted to research about “embodiment” in art therapy. She’s exhibited new paintings recently that continue to explore weaving lines with fabric and cord in group exhibitions at the Upstream Gallery.
This last image is a MANDALA – a spiral Mia deBethune created laying stones in the sand on the beach during an August 2014 residency in Eastham, MA. At the artist’s website I read “In ancient Sanskrit, the word mandala means sacred circle. People throughout the world consider working within a circle to be inherently healing. It can have powerful and lasting effects on one’s life.” Link here to see more images of her circles and spirals placed on the sand and sitting under water (after the tide came in).
Mia deBethune is a member of the Upstream Gallery in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. Link here to see more weavings, paintings, an altered book and woven paper grids. Link here to see site installations with weavings the artist created at various residencies over the years.
Thank you for reading about Mia deBethune and her work. Please save the date – Thursday, February 16, 2023, 6:00-8:00 pm for the opening reception for DRAWING THE LINE at the Pelham Art Center.
Your comments are welcome.