To walk into their house is to wade into a sea of color.
Nearly ever hue, tint and shade imaginable covers nearly every square inch of Mirle and Judy O’Toole-Freel’s living space — walls, doors, even the ceiling. The kaleidoscopic display seems emblematic of a life lived for the sake of art.
“I accepted that art was an important part of life for him,” Judy said of Mirle, her husband of 41 years.
The couple sat in their living room last Wednesday, she on a multi-colored upholstered chair, he before a coffee table stacked with art books. Against a far wall stood a “fireplace” fashioned out of a bed headboard. Judy had placed three candles in front of it.
“I decided I wanted something warm,” she said matter-of-factly.
It wasn’t really a fireplace, of course. But that didn’t matter. The room also contained a chair shaped like a hand. In the foyer down the hall, Judy had painted a female figure on the corner to “greet” visitors as they enter the house.
Judy’s paintings and dozens of Mirle’s line the walls of their Continental Ranch home.
Mirle spent his working life teaching and making art, mostly at the college level. But, in Judy, he has found his longest-tenured student. She calls him her mentor.
Together, the pair recently published a children’s book — “Aardvark, Aardvark, How Do You Do!” — that endeavors to teach the principles of so-called non-objective, or non-representational, art.
In the book, 12 of Judy’s poems are paired with 12 of Mirle’s paintings, all in an effort to spur children and adults to think imaginatively about various concoctions of lines, shapes and colors. The couple want to get folks excited about non-traditional art.
In April, they gave a presentation on the book and the artwork they used to illustrate it to children attending the Marana Youth Festival. And, in June, they’ll turn their artistic attentions to adults with an exhibition and presentation at the Western National Parks Association Store in Oro Valley.
From Monday, June 2, to Monday, June 30, Mirle will display several of his landscape photographs at the store. The images are the only ones in his repertoire rooted in realism, he said. And Judy, on June 14, again will discuss the “Aardvark” book, relating how the animal’s design allows it to adapt to nature much in the same way people use the elements of design to process and produce art.
A painting in the couple’s living room, which to many might appear to consist only of shapes, lines and colors, led Judy to the idea for the children’s book. To her, one of the shapes in the painting looked like an aardvark, a peculiar African mammal with a long, tube-like nostril, a nearly hairless body, fat tail and massive claws.
Judy thought the design of the creature could lead to a discussion of the elements of design, all the basic components of any visual composition — point, line, form, texture and color. It’s basic stuff, really, but nonetheless vital to our “visual literacy,” she explained.
Understanding such root visual components prepares someone for the oft-challenging work of appreciating art outside the viewer’s personal experience, Judy suggested.
In a sense, it prepares one for a long, thoughtful look at the couple’s own art, which is full of otherworldly scenes populated by vaguely human figures and unfamiliar objects.
“Kids today are so obsessed with realism,” said Judy, who spent a career teaching a variety of subjects to students in public schools. “It’s so ingrained within them.”
She also sees an unwillingness in some adults to embrace what many might call “out-there” art.
The life Judy and Mirle live together is consumed with discussions — often “intense” discussions, Judy said — of so-called out-there art and the philosophies behind it.
In fact, a visitor’s tour of their home last Wednesday interrupted one of the couple’s vigorous arts discussions — but not for long.
Standing in Judy’s studio, Mirle looked to a small canvas hung on the wall. It was painted black with a small gray-blue triangle in the center.
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the triangle.
“It’s a shape,” Judy said. “That’s obvious.”
“But what about that?” Mirle said, pointing to the swath of black surrounding the triangle.
“Space,” his wife said.
Mirle smiled almost slyly, appearing to disagree with her conclusion. “See, this is the discussion we were having before,” he said to the visitor.
It’s probably but a small part of a larger artistic discussion the two have been having for decades and probably will continue having for the rest of their lives.
WHAT: Artist Mirle Freel will display several landscape photographs
WHEN: Monday to Monday, June 2-30
WHERE: Western National Parks Association Store, 12880 N. Vistoso Village Drive
DETAILS: At a reception from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 14, Mirle will discuss his work and his wife, Judy O’Toole-Free will give a talk based on the couple’s children’s book, “Aardvark, Aardvark, How Do You Do!
OTHER EVENT: The couple also will make a book presentation at noon and 2 p.m. June 14. Reservations are required. Call 622-6014 for more information.