Fantasy and reality

Mary Jane Begin's ponies and McDonald Wright's jazz
By GREG COOK  |  August 14, 2013

DAZZLING DETAIL Begin's 'Narwally Saves Arrow.'

My Little Pony: Under the Sparkling Sea is the story Mary Jane Begin was born to illustrate. While the Barrington artist has illustrated books like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Wind in the Willows, and R Is for Rhode Island Red, the Ponies’ bedazzled, girly, undersea land of seaponies, mermares, glowing jellyflies, and crabbits (part crab, part rabbit) unleashes her visual invention and electric rainbow-bright feel for color.

The tale, also written by Begin, is a bit of fluff. My Little Ponies and their young dragon pal Spike get invited to attend the annual underwater Aquastria relay race. Happily, a magic spell allows them to swim and breathe under the sea. Of course, one of the land ponies gets to join the competition when a racing seapony is injured at the last minute.

It’s Begin’s illustrations in watercolor, pastel, colored pencil, and acrylic — on view in the gift shop of the National Museum of American Illustration (492 Bellevue Ave, Newport, through August 31) — that knock your socks off. Begin uses dynamic action and forced perspective to create two-page spreads that you feel like you could fall into.

Like the glowing picture of Narwally, a white narwhale with black spots and big cute eyes, saving an injured seapony from being sucked into a foaming whirlpool. Or Begin’s illustration of the cute little pegasus Rainbow Dash looking back over her shoulder to see the mermare Electra, with her tail pinned by falling rocks during the race through the undersea cave. Of course, the rainbow-maned pony turns back to rescue the mermare and they cross the finish line together — “the first time in history” that the Aquastra resulted in a tie. After a big party, with medals for heroism, everyone lives happily ever after.

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INSIDE THE MUSIC Wright's 1999 photo of Wallace Roney.

For a couple of decades, McDonald Wright has been photographing jazz musicians, particularly at the Newport Jazz Festival. But the Providence artist tells me, “I didn’t want my work to be a repeat of what I’d seen in jazz photography.”

Instead, as his exhibit “Rhythm Flows In the Moment” at the Newport Art Museum (76 Bellevue Ave, through September 2) shows, Wright developed a kind of cubist photography while studying at RISD in the mid-’90s and fine-tuned it while shooting on the streets of Providence.

He has long shot on color film but, instead of capturing one picture per negative, he layers as many as five images per negative via partial-frame advance. What that means is instead of moving the film a full frame forward after each shot, he cranks the film in tiny increments so that he keeps adding images onto the same negative.

Wright’s 1999 shot of Wallace Roney at Waterplace Park shows the trumpeter’s head three times, as he seems to bob along with the tune and his fingers pump the keys. In a 2002 image, James Carter’s cheeks are filled with air, his lips curled into a smile around the end of his saxophone, and — like a jump cut in a film — his fingers blur along the horn. Wright’s 2008 photo of Guillermo Klein is a ring of hands and heads in profile around a piano.

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