The bright yellow and deep oranges of the sunflower in full bloom leaps from the canvas like flickering flames.
Viewers can feel the rough grain of a vintage hay cart parked in field, smelling the fresh grass and country air. The scent of a French vineyard seems to waft from a watercolor image of bunches of grapes.
One by one, Marianna Richards’ paintings evoke a strong response. The experience isn’t simply visual, but engages all of the senses.
Richards’ work is the focus of this month’s exhibition at the Southside Art League Gallery. With a wide range of themes in her work, Richards wanted the Southside Art League exhibition to showcase that variety. She has clustered different styles together, from her more rustic pieces to paintings of her travels to abstract images.
The exhibition reflects a lifelong fascination with creativity.
“I’ve been drawn to variety. I grew up around that kind of creativity, with my mom sewing and doing other things. I grew up in a supportive environment for experimentation, having that confidence that I could create something,” she said. “As a result, I appreciate that in others.”
Richards has made a career out of communications. For many years, she worked in secondary education, student publications and school communications. She is currently the director of communications at the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis.
But art lets her reach people in a different way.
“When I started out as a high-school publications advisor, I had to learn some photography so I could teach them,” she said. “I learned that I had a knack for that, so I’ve always taken photographs. I’m always looking at things in a little different way than most people do.”
Richards’ experience in photojournalism and graphic design helped in her painting, in terms of composition and visual aspect of it.
She tries to make time to paint two or three times a week. Though her work schedule is hectic, it’s important to carve out a few hours when it’s just her and the paint.
Art is a balance for Richards, an opportunity to take some time for herself opposite of her work life. She calls it her “play time,” and many of her hobbies — sewing, knitting, pottery — deal with the aspects of experimenting with color and texture.
“From the time I was young, my mother did things like that. Designing things, asking what would happen if we did this. I look at painting that same way,” she said. “I don’t take it too seriously, it’s more for fun.”
Richards started painting as an offshoot of a ceramics class. She was a student at the Indianapolis Art Center when the instructor teaching her to throw pots no longer was teaching.
She recognized the name of a Greenwood-based teacher who did watercolors. Richards had purchased one of the teacher’s paintings years before, and thought she’d give painting a try.
From the initial classes on the basics, she expanded her approach and found that she enjoyed it.
Richards is a signature member of the Watercolor Society of Indiana, exhibiting in its juried shows. When the Greater Greenwood Arts Council conducted a contest in 2013 asking local artists to design a label for a collaboration with Mallow Run Winery, Richards’ won. Her bright image of sunflowers graced the special release of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Her varied background in arts and creative interests has led her to develop a wide range of styles. Much of the atmosphere and look of a painting has to do with the subject she is inspired to capture.
Richards grew up near Bargersville and still lives in the area with her husband, Rob. Their agriculture company, Indy Family Farms, grows corn, soybeans and wheat on the home farm and other rented plots.
Living on a farm, Richards has painted many rustic, rural themes. Rusted metal, weathered wood and livestock create a folksy atmosphere.
Her creations from a workshop she took is more abstract and conceptual, with multiple textures adding to the depth.
But she’s also traveled around the world, and her work reflects those trips as well. Her work has captured the surf in California, found beauty in the intricate iron work around Charleston, South Carolina, and discovered full bunches of grapes in a French vineyard.
“I always try to be aware of what makes an interesting painting,” she said.
Richards’ work is up at the Southside Art League through the end of August.
When: Through Aug. 31
Where: Southside Art League gallery, 299 E. Broadway St., Greenwood
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.