Mary Little A New Approach To A Humble Material

Artist Mary Little is not cut from the usual cloth. Her canvas is canvas, panels of a historically humble material that she manipulates into sculptural wall hangings that adorn the walls of homes, galleries, and museums across the globe.

Her furnishings, in fact, are part of the permanent collection at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Little’s studio in Downtown L.A. is a long way from her native Northern Ireland, though in distance only. One finds in her fiber forms a storytelling quality ingrained in her homeland. In telling stories, she evokes a swelling emotion, the sort that seems to expand.

“I think that people love stories and they love to be told things,” says Little, who comes to her current medium from a pragmatist past, in furniture making, but brings the romantic, even poetic sensibility of the Irish to her three-dimensional forms.

“Fabric lets you do something that really touches a lot of people. I have a real feel for working with cloth, and have been working with it all my life. It’s a very gentle aesthetic.”

And in the right hands, something absolutely magical, equal parts contemplative and expressive, minimalism with maximum impact. An art. Something that feels good when you look at it. 

In recent years, Little has spent more time in Ireland, taking in the landscape, the lighting, and the abstracts of land. “It’s more my sensibility,” she explains. Her work evokes the textures of this terrain, one widely celebrated for its color. Little prefers neutral territory—no color at all, which is all the more affecting somehow.

Structure is the tool of her trade, she says, pattern over palette. Precision is terribly important, as is unpredictability. Her meticulously finished pieces, all of which share a certain strictness, belie this rather fascinating fact, but Little will often put months into a piece without any reassurance it will work. Sometimes it won’t. Hers is an erratic medium, the fold and tuck of canvas a remarkably capricious thing. 

But how canvas can call to the soul. “Sometimes you just enjoy things on a depth level,” shares Little. “My works hits some people that way.” Some people? Many people, including reviewers from The New York Times and Architectural Digest, along with those who recognize in Little’s art, a truly tremendous craft—fashioners, costumers, architects—the work in the work. Little’s gift is that she makes it look so effortless.


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