"Art Still Has Truth, Take Refuge There"

"Art Still Has Truth, Take Refuge There"

A R T  S T I L L  H A S  T R U T H . . .           

T A K E  R E F U G E  T H E R E

Art-making can be an avenue of healing and social change. Over the past few years, my home state of Wisconsin has been overwhelmed by explosive politics. Now United States and much of the rest of the world is engaged in a great divide among people.  Social racial and gender injustice, the crises of climate change and the fragility of democracy and its social protections has caused families, neighbors and friends to become estranged from each other during this tumultuous time. Artists across the world have taken up art-making to bring people together, to use art to mobilize and advocate for change. I also believe art can unite those of us who hold different viewpoints and find common ground to heal our broken hearts. Can we find our truth by taking refuge in art?

I am an artist and a feminist psychotherapist. Both involve the search for what is honest and true….to make meaning out of chaos. For over 30 years I have been a trauma therapist specializing in sexual abuse and incest; this has deeply informed my art. While painting or doing psychotherapy I move back and forth between the painful and the joyous, witnessing the dignity and bravery as people strive to heal from trauma. The political strife we face in our world today also causes untold trauma for masses of people, and we must seek to acknowledge how this harms us all in order to recover our strength and mend what is broken in our lives and our world.

 The meaning of my paintings of flowers, tidepools, landscapes and fields of flowers under turbulent skies are not merely pretty pictures. I deliberately infuse my intensely colored paintings with emotional struggle, depicting the battle to overcome subjugation. These underwater gardens, flowers, landscapes are portraits of survivors involved in the effort to emerge from confusion and tyranny… the drama of the human spirit resisting oppression and seeking control over one's very life. The images that emerge from my brush reflect this struggle to exist, to matter, to be seen….to be set free.  I show the dignity of imperfection, the beauty present in the life force as it reaches for the sun.  These paintings are a celebration of survival.

 My watercolor paintings are created using the wet-into-wet method, allowing me to express feeling, energy and motion with vibrant color.  I flood the paper with water and pigment, and incorporate a variety of visual textures pushing the boundaries of traditional watercolor methods. Working wet-into-wet requires that I exert control over a technique that by its nature resists control; this is an essential component of my work. There is both great freedom and challenge in the manner I approach my paintings; mirroring the healing path itself.

Advocating for social change has been part of the fabric of my life as both artist and therapist. As a feminist, the personal IS political.  In that spirit I donate 10% of my sales from my paintings for ongoing research on long term monitoring of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.

 “Art still has truth, take refuge there” is a line from a poem by Matthew Arnold. It has great meaning to me and I experience that phrase as a clarion call. I invite my audience to take refuge in my paintings. Thank you.

-Mary Kay Neumann


Mary Kay Neumann uses watercolor in bold and unusual ways, using vibrant color as language to convey emotion and energy. Using wet onto wet techniques requires simultaneously being in and out of control of the medium, which is an essential component of her work. Her paintings have been featured in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and art centers throughout the United States. This includes the Rhonda Schaller Studio in New York City; the Mendocino Arts Center in Mendocino, CA; Woman Made Gallery in Chicago,IL; Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, WI;  the Center for the Visual Arts in Wausau, WI, the Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, WI; Arts Center on Main in Garden City, KS;  and the Pyle Center of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

She has had numerous solo exhibitions, including : Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton's Office at the Wisconsin State Capital; Hudson Hospital's Healing Arts Program (in collaboration with the Phipps Center for the Arts), Hudson, Wisconsin;  the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison, WI entitled "Art Has Truth, Take Refuge There". She has exhibited in group shows at Wisconsin Arts Board, in Madison, Wisconsin, and the 25th Annual Artful Women Show at the UW Hospital and clinics where her painting "Falling Slowly" won an honorable mention. Her paintings have been published in Her Mark 2009, a journal of art and poetry, published by Woman Made Gallery, Chicago, IL and in Small Rays of Hope and Fragments of a Larger Idea, published by Blue Pearl Press, Rhonda Schaller Studio, New York City.

Mary Kay currently has a traveling exhibition "The Flowers are Burning: Incandescent Watercolors by Mary Kay Neumann and Helen Klebesadel". Helan and Mary Kay have exhibited this art and climate justice project at the Overture Center in Madison, WI, the Center for Visual Arts in Wausau, WI, and the Portage Art Center. 

Mary Kay's paintings are held in numerous private, public and corporate collections throughout the US and Canada.



Meriter Hospital, Madison, WI

Petkovsek & Moran, CPA, Madison, WI

Red Sage Health, Madison, WI

D&K Pattern, St. Charles, MI

Dean Clinic, Janesville, WI

West Bend Mutual Insurance, West Bend, WI



University Hospital and Clinics, Madison, WI

The State of Wisconsin Collection: Dept. of Transportation, Waukesha, WI



"Falling Slowly (for Scout)" watercolor painting awarded Honorable Mention in 2011 Artful Women Show, University Hospitals, Madison, WI

Selected for Wisconsin Arts Board Percent for Art Direct Purchase Program for 2010

"Double Fantasy" watercolor painting selected for purchase in 2010 by State of Wisconsin DMV

"Creatures of Love" watercolor painting selected for Her Mark 2009, a journal of art and poetry, published by Woman Made Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

"Naked Truth" watercolor painting selected for 2008 calendar Small Rays of Hope and Fragments of A Larger Idea, Blue Pearl Press in conjunction with the Rhonda Schaller Gallery, New York City



Isthmus Picks July 2015

Isthmus Newspaper July 10, 2015 Flower Power

Wisconsin State Journal- ON VIEW: The Flowers Are Burning

Art Still Has Truth: Madison Magazine Preview 2012

Helen Klebesdal: A Muse and Her Artist: New Paintings by Mary Kay Neumann March 2012

Wisconsin State Journal- EYEWORTHY: Works by Mary Kay Neumann

Interview with Madison Magazine 2008