Born in St Catharine’s, Ontario, Marilyn McAvoy studied at the University of Guelph before completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where she teaches part time. In both those schools, McAvoy studied printmaking and drawing but not painting, leaving her free to choose her own approach to the medium.
For many years Marilyn’s work was inspired by Classical Dutch Flower paintings. This as well as cultivating her own garden led to a more traditional approach to representing flower imagery in her work for many years. This approach changed dramatically in the early 1990’s after she began working on film productions.
Although she did not study directly with renowned NSCAD painting instructor, Gerald Ferguson, she credits the inspiration of his work in the early 1990s, when he incorporated found wooden objects such as doors and boxes in his stencil paintings and film work with a shift in her imagery. McAvoy began to collage fragments of discarded scenic flats from film with her classical flower imagery and later use the flats themselves as her canvas. Collage and juxtaposition remained key compositional strategies for her for many years, combining classical flower compositions with abstract panels.
Marilyn’s 7 year stint working on film productions wrapped up with James Cameron’s Titanic. She became part of the crew when the movie started production in NS but was asked to continue on the shoot in Mexico as the film’s On-Set Painter. Part of her job required the creation of the Picasso, Cezanne and Degas look-alikes visible in Rose Calvert’s suite. During this engagement she also snagged the role as the Lab Technician in the movie who washes off the drawing of Rose discovered in the portfolio found in the safe. Since she had been the scenic painter who had aged down and stabilized the drawing earlier, James Cameron wanted her to be the person to handle it for this scene. During the 7 months of shooting the film she lived in Mexico and worked side by side with the shooting crew. Mexico became a place of particular importance for Marilyn and she later lived a year in the famed artist community of San Miguel de Allende.
Moved by her mother’s death in 1998, and with the help of a Canada Council grant, she studied Mexican aboveground tomb decorations. These featured centrally in her Viaje (Journey) series. For the backgrounds, McAvoy had combined projected details from her mother’s recipes with Mexican stencil designs and tomb decoration.Tomb imagery also found its way into her Vanitas series – shadows of flowers on tombs and paint splatters such as she saw in Mexico’s carefully maintained cemeteries.
In recent years McAvoy’s work has turned to Figure Painting.The inspiration for this work initially was fuelled by song lyrics and her connection to having lived a life surrounded by live music and the shadows cast through to the backstage. The individuals who are represented are women who wove in and out of her life during this time. The backdrop for these paintings reflects the atmosphere of this time and space.
In constructing these paintings, Marilyn develops scenarios using props, projection and lighting that create a filmic quality. As with her earlier flower paintings, these new works combine realism with rich and mysterious areas of colour suggesting objects and texture. They remind one of Toulouse Lautrec and Edward Degas and their backstage, behind the curtain depictions of dancers and theatrical performers. These women are the backstage players of Marilyn’s life.
Marilyn has been the recipient of both Canada Council Grants as well as NS Arts Grants.Her work is public collections including the Canada Council and Nova Scotia Art Banks, as well as the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa, Mount St. Vincent Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Royal Bank in Montreal, and Purdy’s Wharf Development in Halifax.
A finalist in the 2003 RBC New Canadian Painting Competition, McAvoy has exhibited in galleries across Canada and the United States. The former figure skater works on multiple canvases at once, always having a painting on the go that is technically demanding, another more playful and spontaneous. “It’s the figure skater in me,” says McAvoy: “freestyle and compulsory figures."