Written by Grant Looper
Photographed by Cameron Ohls
From a young age, Marylee Osborne has been interested in both art and the human form. Her original plan was to pursue a career in the medical field, but a perceptive high school teacher who noticed her unique talent and artistic eye intervened. “I took three years of biomedical science in high school. I would say, ‘I have to go to the career center,’ and he would just say, ‘Why? Why are you doing this?’” Marylee laughs at the memory now and her teacher’s bluntness. She is now majoring in both Art Education and Painting and Drawing and anticipates a career in teaching.
Marylee was raised in Belton, South Carolina, a rural town near Anderson. She appreciated the small town setting, and anticipates a similar experience when she moves to Traveler’s Rest with her fiancé after their wedding in June. However, place is secondary to Marylee in her art, as her primary focus is on people. “People are a big part of my work,” she says, “and relationships. Sometimes even people I don’t know but just people I see.”
Honesty is more important to Marylee’s painting than ideals. She would rather focus on details—the muscles and flesh of a figure. “I guess that goes back to biomedical science,” she jokes. Marylee believes that focusing on minute physical detail is a way to emphasize a person’s individuality and thus provide a reason for self-acceptance. She cites photographer Sally Mann as one of her influences, particularly in her reliance on honesty rather than aestheticism. She mentions giving her models few instructions during photography sessions in preparation for painting. She says it adds to her desire to capture the most natural image possible.
Marylee is also passionate about restoring legitimacy to watercolor painting, a medium she says many have come to associate with elementary school arts and crafts. She has adopted her own style and makes heavy use of negative space in her portraits. Family and friends have had a profound impact on Marylee’s artistic journey. She recalls visiting her grandmother several times as a child and her grandmother having various arts and crafts waiting for her.
“We actually did a lot of watercolor,” Marylee says, noting that this was likely the beginning of her interest in the method. Joe, her fiancé, has also been supportive and sometimes doubles as a model for her portraits.
Although being an art major without a doubt has its downsides (expensive art supplies to name one), Marylee is excited at the prospect of helping children develop their creative skills in the future. She instructed gymnastics from the age of fourteen to her second year of college. “I really fell in love with the children,” she says, “and I loved to watch them grow, not just as gymnasts, but as people.” She anticipates a similarly rewarding experience as an elementary teacher following graduation in December.
In the meantime, Marylee will likely be spending long hours in the studio, Trevor Hall or Bishop Briggs playing in her earbuds, hard at work creating other honest, meaningful portraits.