About Mimo Gordon Riley






Statement for projects at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Providence RI

What ties together the diverse subject matter of the paintings of  Mimo Gordon Riley is her unusual sense of color.  Yellow skies, turquoise pears, and orange water lines are the signatures of her paintings.  The content, though important, serves as a backdrop for other concerns, like dividing space, enhancing light, and reinventing the obvious.

Riley grew up in a family that highly valued the creative process.  She recalls her mother taking her out to paint when she was young and asking her what color that tree trunk was.  When she answered, ”’Gray,” her mother said, “Look again.”  That looking led her to an early career in photography.  She went to the Museum School in Boston when she was 18, and then returned to art school 20 years later, ostensibly to continue her study of photography. It was then, while earning her BFA at the Maine College of Art, that she realized that she wanted to be a painter.

The Italian painter,  Georgio Morandi was, and continues to be, an inspiration to her. as are Richard Diebenkorn and Edward Hopper.  Morandi’s perseverance in painting the bottles in his studio over and over throughout his life is probably what drives Riley to revisit painting the larger-than-life pears with which she has worked for 10 years, each series getting more minimal.

For the close portrayals of the old pastel colored houses in her neighborhood of Fox Point in Providence,  she looks to Hopper and his deliberate use of light to define his architecture. Reviewing Riley’s show at Gallery Agniel in Providence, Providence Journal art critic, Channing Gray, wrote:

“She’s got the touch when it comes to architectural scenes, something she honed    during her years in picturesque Portland, Maine. Her images are full of long shadows that break up the composition with triangles and zigzags … Riley’s palette is bold, and her buildings have charm and personality.”

Her more abstract water paintings, done in Maine where she spends most of her summers, are influenced by Diebenkorn who saw California cityscapes as a series of angles, planes and lines.

Riley has been painting trees for about five years, taking the surrounding green environment and translating it into her world of color.  She divides the color and light into small shapes which become the building blocks of her paintings. Her experimental use of multiple canvases ranging in size from 4″x 4″ to 12″ x 12″. Her “Family Trees” series culminates in her signature piece, an arrangement of  36 1′ square canvases measuring 6×6′.


Statement by Catherine Boisseau, Director, Roger King Gallery, Newport, RI

Backlit, 2009, oil on canvas, 20″ x 20″

Mimo Gordon Riley studied printmaking at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and later worked in advertising in Hartford, Boston, and New York. She left her photography business at age thirty-eight to return to the study of painting at the Portland School of Art, and considered herself a Maine landscape painter until moving to Washington, DC. and later Providence, Rhode Island. Riley still uses photography as a way to capture details that will become the basis of her paintings.

Riley paints in series, which offer her the opportunity to “become intimate with a subject” and to chart her own perceptions. Past series have included street scenes, pears, and waterlines; the Newport show features tree paintings, a series that plays with pattern and layering of detail. In these works, Riley refers to the sky as the “figure” and the tree as a negative shape. Her concern with shape, modulation of color, and interpretation of form is expressed by the use of flattened forms and restricted use of color — sometimes as few as one or two colors on a contrasting background .. She never makes sketches, preferring instead to “draw” with her brush, preparing her canvases with black gesso, upon which she layers up to six colors, which create the impression of a mosaic as they emerge and recede.

Riley sometimes plays with combinations of color patterns by putting together individual small paintings to create a larger work. From a distance, these groupings read as flat, abstract blocks of color, kaleidoscopic and monumental. But on close viewing the patterns gain depth and texture as the image, built up from segments, details, and silhouettes of trees, is revealed.

In the mosaic-like Backlit, the eye picks its way through dense foliage, following points of light, seeking to make 
sense of the patterns. In these paintings, the distinction between near and far, tree and background, is 
obscured as the interaction of color and form creates a moody, almost mystical life of its own.