Mary Sims taught herself how to paint. She was the first woman accepted into the printmaking department at the University of Iowa, working under the master, Mauricio Lasanksy. She did further studies in Rome and at Tulane University. Sims got a teaching job at Rhodes College in the early 1970s. Then, pregnant with her daughter, she realized she could only afford the baby or her own printmaking operation. Not long after that decision she started teaching herself to paint.
I started saying I was going to be an artist when I was three years old -- as early as I could talk. Sims spent her whole life honing her craft and loving every day of art making. I really think I am a happy person. Not because my life is all roses and sunshine. But because I have exactly what I want out of the whole world and I get to work at it.
Her preferred subject matter was anything with eyes – be it a cat, dog, horse, pig, goose, toddler, adolescent or dowager. For Sims the eyes were the soul, and if she was able to recreate them well the rest of the portrait was a piece of cake. Portraits, however, were a small part of her career. She’s most noted for intricate, flat, stylized still life paintings chock full of flowers, fabrics, tsatske and spunk.
Working from meticulously built settings, Sims photographed every inch of the composition, glued the photos into a large study that she then gridded, and transferred that imagery onto a gridded canvas. Her final product was an elegantly simplified arrangement of colorful forms and textures. The paintings are very flat with nary a brush mark evident.
Sims exhibited coast to coast, she sold work to a big group of celebrities and also to museums and fortune 500 companies. She touched everyone she met with her wit, frankness, clever Southern patois and skill with a paintbrush.