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Artist Danielle Mailer, daughter of Norman Mailer, displays vibrant legacy

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

Danielle Mailer is first and foremost an artist. Well, actually, she's first and foremost a wife and mother, so let's say art is a very big second and foremost.

If you make some subliminal association when you read her last name, you would be correct. Yes, she's connected to that Mailer, Norman, the famous writer who died in 2007. She's grateful for whatever wedge her surname might provide to help pry open a professional door but she certainly doesn't blow the door down with it. If you want to talk about her dad, you have to bring it up and she'll be gracious. She has no exploitation stories to sell, no Daddy Dearest secrets to reveal on TV. She loved her father and he apparently loved her and her eight siblings, even though he was divorced from five of his six spouses including her mother, the artist Adele Morales and Mailer's second wife.

Mailer, 51, a painter and sculptor, is exhibiting at Art Festival Beth-El on Sunday and Monday and will also be at the show to discuss her art and meet patrons.

She talked about her life and art in a recent phone interview from her home in Goshen, Conn., where she lives with her husband, jazz trombonist Peter McEachern. They have three children who are now young adults.

You aren't a regular participant in art festivals and this one's a long way from home. Why Beth-El?

A friend lives in St. Petersburg part of the year and knows about it and told me I had to be a part of it because it's so good. I'm also coming for a visit with her. And I have a show in March at a Naples gallery so it was a good chance to deliver the art.

Your paintings have such a Latin American aesthetic, like the magical realism of many South American writers. That must come from your mother (who is South American by birth).

I've been to South America many times. Isabel Allende is one of my favorite female writers. It's in the bloodlines and I have a lot of that heritage. But I also grew up in New York with a Jewish father.

Many of your paintings are self-portraits with elaborate symbols and borders.

Someone called me Frida Mailer. I do that kind of self-portrait (as Frida Kahlo did) but mine aren't dark. I can't say I set out to do biographical pictures that were also works of fiction. I realized I'm trying to put together two worlds, the figuration and the complicated patterns around them. I didn't make the connection to magical realism until someone else did and it rang true. It was a relief in a way to have someone recognize there was a universality to my voice.

You're an art teacher, too?

I am, at a middle school in Lake­ville (Conn.). I love that age; they're still young enough to take risks. But it's draining. I don't have a trust fund. I'm lucky that my work's selling and now I can afford to teach three days and work in my studio on the other days. I like that balance.

Has being the daughter of a famous man affected your art?

The older I get, the less attached I am to being his daughter, or the daughter of a famous man. When you're young and you have this giant parent, surrounded by lots of people, you tend to become this very nice, quiet person. There's such a desire for normalcy. Now I'm proud but it doesn't define me in the same way.

You're bringing your signature paintings and flat sculptures of women but you also mentioned a horse.

I'm bringing a steel horse that's really big, 8 by 5 feet, steel, painted with acrylic and baked with an acrylic glaze at an autobody shop. I live in horse country so I use them a lot in my work. This one was very expensive to do but I got a grant that paid for it.

What's your price range?

The horse is $16,000. That's really high for me. It probably won't sell at Beth-El but I'll take it to Naples where it probably will. The paintings range from $800 to $6,000 and monoprints from $400 to $900.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

About Art Festival Beth-El

If arts festivals were fashion emporiums, Art Festival Beth-El would be a small boutique compared to the Nordstroms such as Gasparilla or Mainsail.

It's staged inside Temple Beth-El so space is always limited, never growing beyond its current roster of about 150 artists working in most mediums. Artists don't staff individual tents or separated areas so they aren't required to attend. Organizers are committed to keeping it at the temple so it will remain intimate, which is one of its charms.

This year's judge is Lynn Whitelaw, director of the Leepa-Rattner Museum in Tarpon Springs, who will hand out $7,000 in prize money.

. IF YOU GO

37th Annual Art Festival Beth-El

The art exhibition and sale, 400 Pasadena Ave. S, St. Petersburg, is free. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. The Avenue of the Shops, a one-day sale of crafts and gifts, will be open Monday only during festival hours. Also Monday only, docent tours at 2 p.m., live entertainment at 11 a.m. and a served luncheon at 12:30 p.m. which requires a $15 advance reservation. Tickets to the preview party Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. are $20 and may be purchased at the door. (727) 347-6136 .

Artist Danielle Mailer, daughter of Norman Mailer, displays vibrant legacy 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 3:30am]
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