Saturday, October 8, 2016

301: Tribute to Louisa McElwain

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 


  1. Brad-

    I had a similar experience recently when I went to find the work of Rick Tharp, a designer I had always admired. I sadly discovered that he also had died from suicide some years before.

    I was stunned that I could have missed such a thing. And spent sometime relishing his works online in quiet memoriam.

    I always wished I could have known him personally but I only met him through his works. Perhaps that was the better memories.

    Isn't it interesting how we can learn to love someone from just their creative output. We feel a connection to them --and it lives on. Every time I hear Mozart, he's alive again for me. He's my quirky friend and I feel him close. Art does that with timeless communication.

    Thanks for sharing.


    1. It is sobering to contemplate the cessation of work of a favorite artist. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  2. Lovely tribute. Thanks for the links, I felt an instant connection to her works. I think music, dance, art are all parallel in terms of the energy they exude and our perception to them.
    Debra Teare is one of the most fascinating artists that I have come across, each of her works is a marvel.

    1. Thank you Padmaja. Especially for the kind words about Deb's work.

  3. Great video
    "Energy exchange with nature"
    -Louisa McElwain

    1. I couldn't find the video you mentioned, Jim, but would love to see it. Can you add another comment with the link? Many thanks.

  4. I recently discovered Louisa McEwain’s work as I’ve started to paint again during this pandemic. As others have said - what energy and vibrancy. I was shocked and saddened to see that she had died a number of years ago. Her work lives on.

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Thanks for your comments!


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