Louisa McElwain: Oil of Joy

“I often feel energy, like electricity, surging upward from the ground, through my knees, through my arms and right onto the canvas,” said painter Louisa McElwain (1953 – 2013), whose bold, impasto oil paintings embody the intensity and joyful passion of their creator. McElwain’s quintessential subject was the landscape, particularly the dramatic skies and ever-changing light of the southwest. McElwain could often be spotted with her easel and canvas in the back of her pick up truck, parked alongside a curve in the road under a stormy New Mexico sky. With her paintbrushes and palette knives primitively taped to long sticks, she would reach every corner of her massive canvases with a loose, yet balanced vision. The result, which usually came about in a single painting session in order to accurately capture the mood and experience of the day, were magnificent, romantic, and adventurous landscapes layered with dramatic color and texture.

Magnificat_oil on canvas_48x48_38.3k
Magnificat, Louisa McElwain, 48×48″ oil. Click for Inquiry.
In Your Presence is the Fullness of Joy, Louisa McElwain, 24×72″ oil. Click for Inquiry.

McElwain lived and worked in northern New Mexico from 1985 until the year of her death in 2013. Her work maintains a balance of physical accuracy and emotional resonance, leaving viewers with a familiar sense of place and an awe-struck response to her vivid and expressive portrayal of the high desert. McElwain referred to her painting process as a “dance to the tempo of the evolving day,” and worked under a wide variety of weather conditions, capturing each shift of light, soft breeze or changing temperature. Every physical or emotional sensation she felt from the surrounding landscape was bottled and released into her work, sometimes in a literal way. “Painting large canvases outdoors invites another interaction with nature as, inevitably, insects, particles of plants and soil end up on the painting,” said McElwain. “I see these as valuable contributions to the work. Sometimes I put little stones, bones or pieces of glass and plants into the paint, in the same spirit as the Navajo weaver who incorporates things into her blanket to bless those who will receive it, and as a way of acknowledging the temporality of things.”

Be Thou Strong My Habitation, Louisa McElwain, 48×72″ oil. Click for Inquiry.

For “Oil of Joy,” opening Friday, August 18th, the gallery has unveiled over 20 paintings from McElwain’s estate, each one a timeless symbol of the impassioned artist’s remarkable talent, adventurous spirit, and powerful artistic expression. See the exhibition on display at the gallery through September 23rd.

“The act of painting is an expression of my connectedness with God and Nature. I am Nature.” – Louisa McElwain

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