A gallery I follow recently asked the question, “Can you name five women artists?” In the comments section I typed Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, Lee Krasner, Louisa McElwain, and Debra Teare. Curious about McElwain I searched for recent work and was saddened to learn that she passed away in 2013. I had never met McElwain, nor really known much about her except that her work incorporated a rare and savage virtuosity.
As I browsed for images of her paintings I saw many masterpieces from previous decades. I became increasingly interested in her methods when I stumbled on a photo of her posed in front of a canvas with two spear-like sticks with palette knives duct-taped to the business end. The impression was of an artist who had a cultured disdain for over-civilized technique–instead embracing a visceral, almost primitive energy.
There are many images of her paintings online and I’ve seen a few videos where she demonstrates her technique. But like all great artists she makes it look easy and, in the end, what she does seems more like magic than art. But I do connect with her instinct to distance herself from the surface of the canvas by using brushes and palette knives on the ends of sticks. I intend to give that technique a try. On several occasions she likens painting to dance, incorporating the motion of arms and body as an essential factor of painting. With my larger paintings I’ve felt there is an aspect of motion and rhythm that projects onto these large, new acrylic paintings a quality lacking in my smaller, less spontaneous works.
I’m grateful for the contribution artists like Louisa McElwain bequeath and the legacy she left us. I only wish she could have created many more decades of vibrant, beautiful, and savage art. Rest in peace.
Brad Teare –October