Mollie Riggs shines as auction poster artist

By Kristan Huntley

[singlepic id=146 w=320 h=240 mode=web20 float=right]On April 10th, the talents and generosity of artists residing in Cooper-Young will be on display at the annual Art for Art’s Sake Auction at Young Avenue Deli. One of the artists who has contributed her work is Mollie Riggs, a painter and longtime resident of Elzey Avenue. Mollie has kindly donated her work, known for capturing the heart and essence of the neighborhood, in previous years, but what inspires Mollie, and why is this neighborhood so special to her?

To state simply that Mollie Riggs is creative would be a profound understatement. Since Mollie was young, she’s always had a vivid, fantastic imagination and artistic spirit coupled with a deep appreciation and love of nature. These two attributes have been the signature inspiration for her art and painting throughout her life. Like many residents of Cooper-Young, she has always had a soft spot for living creatures, though sometimes it was to the dismay of her parents when she was young. Mollie laughs that when her mother dropped her off at the mall and gave her $10 to shop with, that her mother likely thought, and probably hoped, that she would purchase a purse or clothing or something “normal.” Instead, Mollie purchased a small mouse in a cage. The animal was on sale, and though it was a thrifty purchase, Mollie laughs that her mother was not at all pleased. In fact, Mollie’s mother stopped going into her daughter’s room because she was notorious for bringing in all types of critters. Mollie’s father was not immune to the effects of her love of all creatures either. She vividly remembers her father’s attempts to squash the roly-poleys that covered the floor when he accidentally knocked their glass jar home from its perch (Mollie was intent on saving them all).

In her childhood, Mollie handmade little pouches to place her dolls inside. Mollie would construct these little dolls out of things she found in nature—rosebuds for a head, complete with a hand-painted face and sewn hair with little sticks joined together for a body—and place them in the pouches for safekeeping. Though Mollie laughs that these dolls somewhat resembled voodoo dolls, they were indicative of her creativity and her special view of nature at such a young age.

Mollie’s more formal start in painting, her medium of choice, began at the age of eight, when her fraternal grandmother, who was a painting hobbyist herself, gave Mollie a set of oil paints as a special Christmas gift along with one year of lessons from her own instructor. Her love of painting from that point on never waned. She gained a reputation in high school for being quite the artist and participated in the watercolor society at her school. Later, she attended Parsons School of Design in New York to study illustration, but Mollie quickly realized that living with seven roommates in a highly metropolitan area was not a good fit. After a year at Parsons, she decided to attend the Memphis College of Art, which, at the time, was transitioning from the Memphis Academy of Art. She graduated in 1987 with a degree in paint and printmaking.

Although she has always known her path concerning what she wanted to paint, Mollie has, like many artists, experienced times of challenge and self-discovery. Since her advanced education was first focused on illustration, Mollie became proficient at detailed and accurate drawings. As she moved to the Memphis College of Art, she was encouraged by professors to try to draw less strictly and instead be more freeform and abstract. Though after some time and practice Mollie was able to do this well, it was not as much her style. Her parents have always been quite supportive of Mollie’s pursuit of a career in art and painting, but they felt that college had changed her style but not in a positive way. Mollie sees this differently. Though college and finding her style has been challenging, she is appreciative of the depth of experiences that she can now draw from.

Mollie’s professional career has been multi-faceted. For 11 years, she owned and operated an antiques store at the corner of Cooper and Central, across from Toad Hall and the Mapco. She loves antiques, especially photographs and old handwritten letters. Since that time, she’s spent several years creating paintings inspired by 18th century European art. Additionally, she has painted several murals in homes and at businesses, ranging from simple vines to a full Venetian carnival scene, complete with gondolas, monkeys, and costumes. Last year, she was active with Art Impact in Memphis and contributed to the mural painting at Bellevue Baptist Church.

Given her druthers, though, Mollie would love to just create paintings that are personal to her, infused with fantasy and nature. For instance, one of her recent works depicts her as a child, surrounded by pitcher plants, Venus flytraps, and carnivorous plants three times her size. In the painting is also a spider the same size as her, as well as a gigantic praying mantis and monkey skull. Though it may sound unusual, there is a definite Alice in Wonderland feel and mystique incorporated that makes you want to step inside and look around. Her preference is primarily for acrylic, sometimes with gouache on top. Though she admits that she loves the smell of oil paint, it usually does not suit her style. Once Mollie is inspired, she paints “in a swirl,” only listening to music and painting constantly until the work is done. Friends know that if they call and cannot reach her that she is likely “swirling” and is dedicated wholeheartedly to her work until it is complete.

When Mollie moved to her residence on Elzey in 1994, many people from outside of the neighborhood asked if she was afraid to live on that street. She said absolutely not because there were so many fellow artists not just in Cooper-Young, but on the street itself. Indeed, just a few houses away are John McIntire, a Memphis sculptor, artist Jeanne Seagle, known for her funky realism and mosaics at some of the trolley stops, as well as Karen Capps, popular for her works incorporating bottle caps, among others.

Mollie’s work for the upcoming Art for Art’s Sake Auction features her own blue bicycle made beautiful; its basket filled with flowers, a nice bottle of wine, and a good book as if prepared to go on a visit with a good friend. It is propped against one of the new Yvonne Bobo gingko bike racks that are installed in the neighborhood. The sleek, shiny lines of the bright green bike rack play beautifully off of the sky blue bicycle and rainbow of colors in the flowers; the small metal skull adding a slight funkiness that is distinctive to the neighborhood. It is a wonderful depiction of, and comment on, the beauty, color, and life to be found in Cooper-Young.

To see this wonderful painting by Mollie Riggs as well as other CY artists, be sure to attend the artists’ reception at Otherlands on Sunday, March 28th 3–5 pm. The art featured in the live auction will hang at Otherlands until the day of the auction. Tickets to the Art for Art’s Sake Auction on April 10th at Young Avenue Deli will be available for purchase at the reception. The auction runs from 6–9:30 pm, and tickets are $20 for nonmembers and $15 for members and include bidding rights, refreshments and munchies, and a great time for a good cause!

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