Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist

Signpost featured artist: Marie Maher

Marie Maher in her Placitas studio
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins

Garden of Ruin, by Marie Maher

The Tooth Dream, by Marie Maher

Seizing the illusive: The surreal worlds of Marie Maher

—Oli Robbins

Some art soothes and calms by providing visual respite. The French Impressionists, for example, fashioned paintings of leisure and idyllic landscapes. And while not always philosophically or intellectually stimulating, such images are generally agreed to be pleasant. Other art stuns by exposing ideas and visions that churn beneath the surface. Placitas photographer Marie Maher makes this kind of art—and it is arresting. It awakens the viewer and prompts him or her to meditate on subconscious emotions and memories. Despite her relative newness as a practicing artist (she’s been a photographer for only six years), Maher’s images are as effective at illustrating the realms of dreams and inner psyches as some of the most prominent twentieth-century Surrealists. 

Maher can’t remember a time when she didn’t love art. She fondly remembers going to a local bookstore with her mother and brother and looking at reproductions of van Gogh. She appreciated all of van Gogh’s work, but even then, when she was eight years old, she preferred his more obviously solemn and soulful works. Says Maher, “My favorite piece was The Potato Eaters. I remember just loving it, and thinking that I’d really like to try to create art like this.” Maher grew up in Dunkirk, NY, on Lake Erie. She took painting classes in school, but because she also enjoyed math and science, and worried that continuing with art may not be practical, she decided to study architecture in college. Soon after graduating from SUNY Buffalo, Maher moved to NM. She had family here and had developed a great appreciation for the state over years of visiting. She worked as a draftsman for a period in Albuquerque, but didn’t feel creatively challenged, so she quit and enrolled in art and photography classes at UNM. She was enchanted by photography, but still wasn’t convinced that she could make a living as an artist. Photography was placed on her to-do-later list, and she went back to school for a degree in pharmacy, working in that field for the next 13 years.

Maher’s life, career, and outlook changed in 2007 when she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Her doctors at the NM Cancer Center acted quickly and aggressively, and over the course of one-and-a-half years, Maher underwent chemotherapy and radiation and had multiple surgeries. Her fierce determination and the support of her beloved husband, Mike Schulz, helped her win the battle. She remains in remission six years later. Undoubtedly, the cancer forced Maher to reexamine her life and stop waiting for a better time to engage in the things she loves most. On a fateful day early into Maher’s recovery, she and Mike ventured out to Bosque del Apache. She noticed members of the Enchanted Lens Camera Club taking pictures, and realized right then and there that she wanted to go back to photography. She quickly enrolled in a photography class at UNM, and even though she had to do four more chemo treatments during that semester, she committed herself to learning all she could about digital photography. 

Back at the Cancer Center, Maher attended an art exhibit that, fortuitously, showcased works by the Enchanted Lens Camera Club. The photographers encouraged Maher to join them on a photography outing, and she took them up on it. “The first thing we did was go to the old Santa Fe prison. I loved it—that was the exact type of subject I was interested in.” She continues to be a member of that club, and in 2011 was invited to join Perspectives, a group that includes Placitas photographers Fernando Delgado, Joan Fenicle, Barry McCormick, Joe Cabaza, Tom Baker, and Ruth Butler.

While photography can be used scientifically, or to memorialize human interactions or passing moments of time, Maher doesn’t use it for such purposes. She respects all forms of photography, but has always been interested in manipulating and composing an image so that it becomes evocative. She tends toward darker subject matter—crumbling, deserted buildings, prisons, powerfully frightening mythological figures. And in order to devise truly illusive images, she uses Photoshop to composite multiple photographs. Some of her images are comprised of over a dozen photographs, while others required just 2 or 3. Says Maher, “I generally prefer to composite an image because that allows me to create another world. With straight photography, I feel too confined to ‘reality.’”

Many of Maher’s photographs are completed gradually, as she develops the idea and gathers all of the imagery needed to tell a visionary tale. For example, Maher began composing In Minerva’s Dreams after being drawn to “the movement of a curtain blowing in the wind in an abandoned building.” She knew she could build upon such an image, and began crafting an intense scene of vivid introspection, wherein the viewer becomes privy to the inner workings of the mind. Maher placed a woman—seated in an armchair, with severe features, and no hair or clothing—alongside the billowing curtain. Says Maher, “she is to represent Arachne, who was turned into a spider by Minerva, the Roman manifestation of the goddess Athena in Greek mythology. The title indicates that Minerva is the one who is dreaming—of the time when she can finally transform Arachne. I wanted Arachne to appear transfixed, perhaps frightened by the moon as it unfurls the web that will transform her.” Maher presents a dream within a dream, and the image is loaded with palpable anxiety. 

Maher will be showing at the Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show at EXPO New Mexico from December 7 to December 28, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (closed Tuesdays). She is also featured in the “Best of 2014” group exhibit at The Artistic Image (1101 Cardenas Dr. NE, Suite 202, Albuquerque, NM), which runs from November 1 to December 31, with an encore reception on December 5, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. You can contact Maher by visiting her website,, and view her photographs at Albuquerque’s High Desert Art and Frame and The Artistic Image.

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