Catherine Marshall, former Head of Collections at IMMA, has written of Mollie Douthit that she “shows extraordinary maturity for a very young artist. She paints objects so commonplace in everyday experience that they would be comic, were they not painted with such seriousness and such careful study…… Douthit’s wonderful little canvases ask us simply to look at them, at the painting process, at existence itself.” (The Irish Arts Review, Winter, 2014).
Douthit places her work in the tradition of 18th century still life painters, most notably Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and his depictions of everyday objects. She is also drawn to the stillness found in the work of Giorgio Morandi and Gwen John. Contemporary influences include Alice Neel, Chantal Joffe and Peter Drecher. “These painters allow paint to speak for itself, for the subject and for a moment in time,” she says. “With their own language, they each extend something beyond the surface of a painting.”
Although technically more challenging, Douthit likes to work wet on wet, enjoying the fluidity of the medium. If she is unsure of the direction a painting needs to go in she will put it to one side, ruminating on it, before deciding on the direction it needs to take.
Born in the US, Douthit studied at the University of North Dakota and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She completed her MFA at the Burren College of Art 2014. Douthit won the Hennessy Craig Award at the 2013 RHA Annual Exhibition and has been shortlisted for the Saatchi Art New Sensation Prize and the John Moores Painting Prize. As well as two solo exhibitions at The Molesworth Gallery, she has also had solo shows at the RHA Ashford Gallery and at the Northwest Arts Centre in North Dakota. She has shown at the Saatchi Gallery in London and is a regular exhibitor at the RHA Annual Exhibition.
My creative process begins with a memory; it could be a drinking glass from childhood or a funny story. Often ideas for paintings arrive in my mind during states of daydreaming — possibly during a walk or after a conversation that elicits memories of the past. My work re-examines all kinds of memories: happy, difficult, bittersweet, nostalgic. It is simply the filing cabinet of my mind being slowly pulled out and exposed through the medium of paint.
To begin a painting, I might develop little more than a signifying shape or memorable colour; if other details are vague in my mind, I allow them to be vague in the painting. For example, I remember eating a bowl of cheerios at my babysitter’s house as a child. The bowl I was eating from was plastic Tupperware — olive green with steep edges. This information led me to paint a simple olive-green isosceles trapezoid, mimicking what I see in my mind’s eye — the result is a simple, yet precise image of what I remember. I was four years old, eating this bowl of cereal. I was homesick and frustrated with my lack of autonomy. My stomach ached, knowing it would be hours before I saw my mom or dad again. Over time, though, emotions evolve and now this achy memory also comes with a rush of gratitude because I know now that I was deeply loved and cared for by my parents and babysitter. A painting is, in this way, a space to depict what I felt in the past as well as an opportunity to develop new emotions upon careful reflection.
My process is rarely efficient. For example, I might paint my favourite reading chair from childhood only to remember the colour of the wall behind it is different from what I had initially thought and painted. Pleased with one part of the painting, I must carefully navigate my brush around it to correct parts that are not working. I have come to love this aspect of painting, because I am caring for something flawed, working towards improvement and a feeling of contentment.
As I develop the work, I wonder, ‘how can I make this object or space just as emotive as it is in my mind?’ Often, I consider the divide between the actual event and its existence as memory — one operates in the physical world, the other in the mental plane; I like to think that the act of painting bridges these two. Though these memories are my own, I trust that their vulnerability and honesty will allow a baseline of universal emotion to come through. A painting is complete with a sense of crisp, clicking closure — suddenly the emotions I feel for the subject parallel what I feel when looking at the painting—it is like a door locking shut. This finality to the image is also difficult because it means I more than likely will not return to this particular subject.
I intend the paintings to have an arresting quality, holding the attention of the viewer; I want them to ring with familiarity and mystery simultaneously. The title of each work is like a trail of breadcrumbs for my own mind — it might reference other events related to a particular memory, or moments that are connected to the time when I made the work. It’s important to me that the titles are nonlinear and that the viewer is left with more questions than answers. In this way, I bring the viewer into a state of wondering about these spaces and subjects. Because none of what we remember is certain or ever fully known.
Mollie Douthit, August 2021