Life can at times take on crystal clarity, especially when death threatens.
Such was the case for Westport artist Mary Elizabeth Peterson, who at age 28 underwent "11 hours of life-saving brain surgery."
Before the operation, doctors asked Peterson -- then a financial marketing and communications specialist -- to consider whether extraordinary efforts should be used to keep her alive if the operation was not successful.
"I remember writing down: `If I can't paint, pull the plug.' "
She survived -- and soon after decided to change careers.
She had studied journalism and art history at the University of Connecticut in the hopes of having a career that would pay the bills, but soon came to realize that although she was successful, her heart wasn't in her work.
"I started painting when I was 9. It always gave me such joy. After the surgery, I realized that (art) is what I needed to be doing," she said.
So she headed back to school, attending the renowned Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, D.C. That was more than a decade ago.
Soon after art school, she had twins (a boy and a girl) and decided to become a full-time mom. But about three years ago, when the twins turned 10, Peterson returned to painting with a passion.
Now through Sept. 1, Peterson is having her first one-artist show at Troy Fine Art in Fairfield's Southport section.
About 20 of the artist's most recent contemporary abstract paintings, 48-inches square, are featured in an array of bright colors.
In her honor, a public reception, "The Colors of Indian Summer," is slated for Thursday, Aug. 21, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The event is free, but reservations are suggested.
"Her vivid colors and delightful patterns are the first things that catch your eye in these contemporary compositions," said Denise DiGrigoli, of Troy Fine Art. "We find our clients (are) engaged with her art from the moment they see it. Mary Elizabeth's style brings an instant smile on your face.
"Peterson is passionate about the tactile, the messy and the raw and the color. Bright, clean colors that transcend the mundane and bring joy to everyday life (are used to create) refreshingly happy moments with acrylic paint on canvas, as well as in mixed-media collage, where she cleverly combines paint, paper, thread and plastics."
The artist said: "More than anything else, I have been drawn to color because it can have real emotional impact, capable of shifting your state of being to a more positive place.
"I really love clean, unmuddied colors: pinks, oranges, teals and blues."
Peterson, who received an international artist residency grant at the Vermont Studio Center in March, describes the works in the show as "color-infused ... whimsical abstract paintings."
"They are happy paintings," she said. "Life is hard enough. I want the viewer to shift to a calmer, more peaceful state; that's my goal."