Animal instinct: Artist finds wonder in the wild world

From the most delicate butterfly to galloping, powerful horses, the natural world explodes to life in brilliant color.

Mary Clouse can’t help translate the wonder around her into her artwork. Sunrise colors the cold blues and purples of winter morning with subtle warmth, over a solitary horse standing in an enclosure. A pair of deer stand silently, camouflaged in a densely wooded landscape.

Hawks swoop and dive in a whirlwind of color and movement.

“When I paint an animal, I really try to capture the essence,” she said. “I have a lot of hawks around where I live, and I’ve always been fascinated by them. The essence of a hawk is when you watch them swooping in for prey. There is a real power and focus and energy in that movement. So when I paint that red-tailed hawk, that’s what I want to capture — the feathers, that energy, the essence.”

Clouse brings her love of animals and her dynamic artistry together in her work. The Fountaintown resident specializes in watercolor work, mostly focused on animals but also including landscapes, flowers as well as what she calls “soul portraits” — symbolic images reflecting who a person is.

As the featured artist in November at the Southside Art League, she wants her paintings to present a unique way of seeing the world.

“I want them to know that art is more about how you feel when you look at something, rather than a particular technical execution,” she said. “Really great art is about the feelings that it brings up in the viewer.”

Clouse’s childhood in Ohio is where her love of animals and art first came together. She would draw birds, squirrels, insects and all kinds of other creatures, often spending hours working on her pieces.

In efforts to nurture her creative spirit, her parents enrolled her in art classes at the at the Dayton Art Institute as well as in art lessons with a commercial cartoonist.

“My parents would find places for me to take art lessons,” she said. “I just always did art.”

As a student at Marian University — known as Marian College at the time — Clouse majored in fine art. Her plan was to be an art teacher. But during her senior year, she changed gears, instead opting to go into interior design.

Clouse’ interest was expansive; she took drawing classes, worked in ceramic sculpture, did stained glass and silk screening, as well as painted in oils.

But one area she never worked in was watercolor — none of her professors specialized in it, even if it was what she found intriguing.

“After I got out of college, I got into the workforce and did some interior design for a few years. Then I got married and had kids, then found myself in financial services,” she said. “I’d say there was a good 30-year gap that I did crafty things, but not art.”

About nine years ago, though, Clouse found herself with an opportunity to immerse herself in watercolor painting. She was attending the annual Indian Market at the Eiteljorg Museum when she encountered another watercolor artist, Dawn Dark Mountain, whose work wowed her.

She decided to get back into painting, and signed up for lessons.

Along the way, Clouse acquired her first horse and became an animal communicator — a non-verbal form of expression used to understand humans’ relationship with animals, and the connection between all living creatures.

Since 2000, she has worked with professional racehorse trainers, veterinarians and pet owners in helping them understand their animals.

“That whole passion for animals never went away. They are part of my world,” she said. “When you look at my art, 90 to 95% of the paintings have animal subjects.”

Clouse’s inspiration comes from simply stepping outside. From the horses on her farm to the variety of birds flying around the property, she find no shortage of subjects to paint.

“Sometimes something will pester at me until I paint it,” he said. ”Or people will say something, and it will plant a seed that I need to paint that.”

Taking advantage of watercolor’s versatility, Clouse likes to push boundaries in her work. She embodies the contemporary American style in her paintings, using bold colors and near-abstract forms to bring the emotion of a scene to life.

“If you’re looking for photo-realism, that’s not me,” she said.

With the exhibition at the Southside Art League, Clouse plans to feature a majority of animal-focused paintings, though she does plan to include other types of artwork as well.

For her, being able to present her work to others is an opportunity to show that art can does not have to fall in one slot or category — everyone can interpret it in their own way.

“I think that’s something we need to teach our kids more in school; try not to be just like the next kid, express what you see your way. Use the colors that speak to you, use the lines, the curves that feel right to you,” she said.


Mary Clouse exhibition

What: A collection of original watercolor paintings, prints and an assortment of other items by Clouse, a Fountaintown artist.

When: Nov. 2-26

Where: Southside Art League Off Broadway Gallery, 299 E. Broadway St., Greenwood

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; closed Sunday through Tuesday

Reception: Clouse will host a public reception 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 4 at the gallery. Clouse will also be at the gallery 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 5.