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I am neither an artist in paint nor a critic of painters. I am a novelist who has been married to a gifted sculptor and painter for 57 years; and for all those years, I looked at painting under her instruction and guidance. Sixteen years ago, I saw a show of the paintings of Mary Beth McKenzie; both my wife and I were fascinated. Here was a realist painter in the best tradition of American realist painting, a painter who eschewed the assorted nonsense of some of the modern schools and who found the soul and heart of her subject and turned it into paint. But the most important thing about Ms. McKenzie is her growth - which promises, I believe, the maturing of one of the great painters and portraitists of our time.
We have one of her larger paintings, as well as 3 smaller ones. The large painting is titled Marble Fireplace and we see from the back, a woman sitting in front of the fireplace and staring into it; and for me, the painting is a bit miraculous. You see the woman and you know her without ever seeing her face. Somehow, in a manner I accept without understanding, Ms. McKenzie conveys the inner life of her subject in a manner no photographer can match. She has not simply continued the tradition of realist painting; she has explored it and raised it to new heights.
...As the years pass, her work changes. Her brush stroke becomes stronger and more confident, and her delineation of character reminds me of the best of the Impressionists. There is no sense of weakness or hesitation in her latest paintings. She knows what she is doing, and she does it superbly. Her Study for Bass Player, for example, reveals the soul of its subject in a manner that is simply superb.
The fact that the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired one of her paintings does not surprise me. More and more museums and galleries will collect them. Ms. McKenzie has always been a talented painter; now she is moving toward the area of greatness.