Consumate Artist Mary Jo Bole “Tombs & Toilets” at Mount St. Mary’s College

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toilet worship, cast iron

Cleveland-born artist Mary Jo Bole reconfigures the past into a sublime present and a future where death is the beautiful certainty. For from morbid, Bole’s work is surreal, playful, thought-provoking, and exhibits a wide-eyed wonder and joy as well as an awareness that this all must end. But, as her art shows us, though we all die, we can enjoy the journey, finding beauty , humor, and amazement in each day.  “Tombs & Toilets” is on exhibit at the José Druidis-Biada Art Gallery at Mount St. Mary’s College in West Los Angeles through the closing reception on March 29, 2014, and the show’s catalog is also available at La Luz de Jesus.

Bole’s artwork often draws its inspiration from places such as cemeteries, prisons, cities and common, everyday objects like bathroom toilets, wallpaper, and cemetery monuments.  Her recent book, A former professor of art at the University of Ohio, she has exhibited nationally and internationally, and gracefully answered some email questions for us:

When do you first have the realization that you were an artist and this was going be what you “do”?

I guess I always knew I was going to be an artist, but not in an upfront sort of way.

You work in a variety of media–what challenges and rewards do you find in each?

I think of my materials with their connection to geology, and there are so many lovely and brutal parts to all the processes along the way towards making something. Paint, ink, iron, glass, enamel etc. can leech, fume and dissipate. Some materials react to rubbing alcohol or coffee also in geologic ways. I also like the element of transformation between the maker and the materials and the piece, that happens with very slow processes. The mosaic/bronze bench ”Winifred Ruth Winifred” was twelve years in the making. I pitted every mood and test of my ability, for and against the construction of the piece, pixel by pixel.

What is the background/theme/thesis of your current exhibition, “Tombs & Toilets”?

In retrospect, these 2 main headings come up time and time again in my work, so it just simply is, The larger heading could include the poignant, tender, reconciling work that tries to make sense of my life and times (tombs). The other is crasser, cheekier: I have made bathroom-related works and collected like subject matter as long as I can remember, and there are many unifying aspects. Both have humor imbedded within. In both I try to put forth a reckoning, a facing of what is difficult or silent by exposing a kind of underbelly. I trust my natural instinct to lead me to my subjects. I see the impact of leaching, fuming, oxidation and permeation on stone, metal, wood and cement monuments that were created in futile attempts to extend us past mortality. These words incidentally are applicable to plumbing as well. I have a natural eye for the perverse, like so many of us. It is through making and then looking back at the work that I deciphered my perspective.

How has your art developed/changed/transformed over the decades?

I am interested in things that are and therefore there has often been a photographic component in my work. It is the factual part. Non-fiction has seemed stranger than fiction. Please look at my Facebook page today to see what I mean.

What are your influences?

People I am thinking about today: Anna Mendieta, Wim Delvoye, Ann Hamilton, James Castle, Mark Lombardi, Lars von Trier, Bob Flanagan, Destroy all Monsters, Ohio Historical Society, The Lloyd Library & Museum, family photographs, Hopewell Culture Mounds.

What advice do you have for artists just beginning their careers?

People making & rearranging their world is the natural order of things, there are lots of us, get used to that idea, don’t be afraid to look at work very close to your own, it will help you distinguish your particular story.

Top: Toilet Worship. Cast iron.

For gallery hours for Tombs & Toilets at Mount St Mary’s please call, 310-954-4360


Portrait of the artist as a little girl

 “You Remember” enamel on steel, iron
You Remember. Enamel on steel, iron.

 “50 Turns”, enamel on steel, H: 34"

50 Turns. Enamel on steel.

 ! A Chain of Heritage, patte de verre gglass, soapstone, 30” across
A Chain of Heritage. Patte de verre glass, soapstone.

Winifred Ruth Winifred: my hair is my shelter: full-scale bench, mosaic, bronze

Winifred Ruth Winifred: my hair is my shelter. Full-scale bench, mosaic, bronze


Detail, Winifred Ruth Winifred: my hair is my shelter

“Like Sand”, gauche

Like Sand. Gauche

 TP facsimiles , resin, lead crystal, iron

 TP facsimiles. Resin, lead crystal, iron.

 “goodbye water bubbler, cast iron, small drinking fountain scale

 Goodbye. Water bubbler, cast iron.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 10.31.39 AM

Above and below, from Toilet Worship

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 10.31.54 AMScreen Shot 2014-03-14 at 7.32.29 AM

Tintypes from Toilet Worship

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 7.34.50 AM

 Bole shooting the toilet paper tintypes.

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