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We accept Louisa McElwain consignments
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Louisa McElwain adored summer storms, especially the way the light changes and the clouds dance across the horizon ahead of the rain. Living in the country, 20 miles outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Louisa was in tune with the changing weather. If it looked like “one of those days,” she was quick to pack up her pick-up truck and head out to find that “power spot” for what she liked to call “a dialogue with nature.” Once there, she moved quickly, stapling a large canvas to a makeshift armature mounted on the back of the pick-up. The tailgate provided a table for all of her paint — large globs squeezed instrict order from dozens of tubes. With palette knives and masonry trowels of all sizes, including some attached with duck tape to long sticks, she would go to work.

Louisa was always looking for a balance between her experience with the environment and the physical reality of paint on canvas. She believed “the marks, strokes and gestures of paint express forces of nature, both internal and external.” Jackson Pollock once famously said, “I am nature.” ...

Louisa McElwain - The legend

... That resonated with Louisa who believed that this idea of working from the inside out while honoring the rhythms of nature, was the most important contribution offered by 20th century American painters in the Abstract Expressionist Movement. The approach freed many artists who rejected the rigid plein-air approach. “My painterly heritage is the New York School,” says Louisa. “I am an abstract painter who paints outside.”And for Louisa, the act of creating was a workout — she called it “extreme painting.” “I often feel energy, like electricity, surging upward from the ground, through my knees, through my arms and right on to the canvas.”

Looking at a Louisa McElwain painting today, the importance of color is clear. Bold strokes of thick paint cut across the canvas forming a collage of colorful shapes that meld together into an abstracted landscape. Louisa wasn’t interested in realism. “I like painting with sticks (palette knives) because it disengages my ego — that part of me that wants to be about describing things. I do like to draw and I do like to be right, but when I’m making a painting I want it to be as much about the paint as the motif. The palette knife doesn’t allow me to articulate things in a drawing way, but it does have an additional dimension of expressing the sensuous quality of paint. It expresses more of the physicality of the material than I’m likely to achieve with a brush.” But what came so naturally in later years, wasn’t always inherent. Louisa learned about color from some of the best teachers of the time.

After her studies in Europe with master portrait artist, Nera Simi, Louisa attended a summer session at the Skowhegan School in Maine. She spent an eye-opening three months working with Alex Katz and famed landscape painter Neil Welliver. “It was paradise for painters and sculptors. We had little cottages on the lake, and up on the hill old dairy barns had been turned into great studio space. For those of us who wanted to go out and paint landscapes, the kitchen would make a bag lunch and we’d jump in the back of a pick-up truck. Maine is so broad-shouldered and open — great things to see and paint. It was a wonderful experience.” Skowhegan was life changing for McElwain. She left Maine committed to landscape painting. “Alex Katz once told me, ‘You have to find your way to say the grass,’ which I took as a mandate. A sacred duty of every artist to originality.” And she never wavered from that commitment. Another crucial part of Louisa’s artistic education came from Joseph Albers by way of Welliver, at the University of Pennsylvania, where Louisa finished up her undergraduate degree. Albers, the famed color theorist, championed the idea that color is always seen in relation to the colors around it. At Penn, where he was a professor, Welliver applied those color principles to his own work, and Louisa was paying attention. “Albers was almost scientific in his approach to color,” she says. “He reduced color in nature to some very dynamic and simplified relationships of flat pieces of color — each piece of paint has its own identity. It’s almost like the pre-digital pixalization of color. Instead of having a tonal structure, a painting is built on the relationship of colors. I came to understand how light is created through the relationship of color.”

“I have lived and painted in New Mexico since 1985, working outdoors under a wide variety of conditions, open to the impulse of changing light, wind, heat, cold, insects, forces of Nature which bring life into my paintings. For me, painting is a dance to the tempo of the evolving day. Usually, I paint off the back of a pick-up truck, which gives me access to many wonderful places, and provides a way to stabilize and transport large canvases. Here in the West it seems that the canvas is never big enough. To include my entire field of vision at arm's length, 60 x 90 inches is about right. I paint with knives and masonry trowels, which allow me to work fast. Each painting is completed in less than 4 hours, regardless of size, as permitted by weather and light. Painting large canvases outdoors invites another interaction with Nature as, inevitably, insects, particles of plants and soil end up on the painting. 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. My process is an inquiry into sensuous potential of paint. To explore the mystery of sensation, to touch that which is known but cannot be measured, understood yet indescribable; the act of painting is an expression of my connectedness with God and Nature. I am Nature.”
Louisa McElwain

Louisa McElwain selected awards and honers

Art of the National Parks: Historic Connections, Contemporary Interpretations, book release, 2013
Durango Arts Center Four Corners Commission Exposition, First Place, 2012
Phoenix Art Museum, West Select, Phoenix, AZ, 2011
Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Cowgirl Up, Museum Purchase Award, Wickenberg, AZ, 2010
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, 6th Annual Heart of the West Exhibition, Best of Show, Fort Worth, TX, 2010
Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Cowgirl Up, Best of Show, Wickenberg, AZ, 2010
"Landscapes of New Mexico" book release, Santa Fe, NM, 2006

Louisa McElwain selected collections

American Embassy, Bogota, Columbia
American Embassy, Manama, Bahrain
American Embassy, Sanaa, Yemen
American Embassy, Singapore
AT&T, Fresno, CA
Coors Brewing Co, Golden, CO
INA Corp. Harrisburg, PA
NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium
Nokia, Irving, TX
Peat Marwick, San Francisco, CA
Pepsi-Cola, Riverside, CA
Philadelphia Zoological Society, Philadelphia, PA
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
Rosewoods Vineyards, Redwood Valley, CA
San Juan College, Farmington, NM
St. Vincent Hospital Foundation, Santa Fe, NM
The Booth Museum, Cartersville, GA
Tia Collection, Santa Fe, NM
Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
University of Texas Law School, Austin, TX

Louisa McElwain education

1990  Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts, NM Master Class with Wolf Kahn
1977  BFA, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
1975  Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME
1973–1974  Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA
1973  Nera Simi Drawing Studio, Florence, Italy
1971  Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
1971  Mount Holyoke College, sculpture with Leonard De Longa

  • Installation
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
  • 6Cumulus Songs 2018
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
  • Cumulus Songs 2018
Cumulus Songs 2018

Available work

Louisa McElwain, Jubilate
oil on canvas, 44 x 44CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Great is Thy Faithfulness
Great is Thy Faithfulness
oil on canvas, 44 x 64CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Peace Pipe
Peace Pipe
oil on canvas, 38 x 54CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Mountain Verga, II
Mountain Verga, II
oil on canvas, 38 x 54CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Eirene
Sedona Spring Snow
oil on canvas, 28 x 52SOLD
Louisa McElwain, Eirene
oil on canvas, 46 x 64CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, The Kiss
The Kiss
oil on canvas, 30 x 46CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Family Tree
Tree Family
oil on canvas, 44 x 44SOLD
Louisa McElwain, Canada De Los Angeles
Canada De Los Angeles
oil on canvas, 15 x 30SOLD
Louisa McElwain, Old House, Spring
Old House, Spring
oil on canvas, 16 x 24SOLD
Louisa McElwain, Pasture Spring
Pasture Spring
oil on canvas, 46 x 64CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Preserve Stock Pond
Preserve Stock Pond, 2004
oil on canvas, 34 x 46CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Extra Terrestrial
Extra Terrestrial, 2009
oil on canvas, 44 x 62CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Browsed Willows, 2003
Browsed Willows, 2003
oil on canvas, 12 x 24CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Big Red Blue and Yellow
Big Red Blue and Yellow, 2008
oil on canvas, 24 x 36CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Jupiter Inlet
Jupiter Inlet, 2010
oil on canvas, 18 x 24CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Florida Car Wash
Florida Car Wash, 2008
oil on canvas, 12 x 16CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Old House on the Dune, 2010
Old House on the Dune, 2010
oil on canvas, 16 x 20CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, First Snow
First Snow
oil on canvas, 28 x 28CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Dark Arroyo, 1990
Dark Arroyo, 1990
oil on canvas, 24 x 36CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Jupiter Fishing Pier, 2010
Jupiter Fishing Pier, 2010
oil on canvas, 18 x 24CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, Small Is Beautiful, 2008
Small Is Beautiful, 2008
oil on canvas, 18 x 24CLICK FOR INQUIRY
Louisa McElwain, 1985 NM landscape
1985 NM landscape
oil on canvas, 22 x 28SOLD
Louisa McElwain, Roaming Rainstorm
Roaming Rainstorm
oil on canvas, 38 x 54SOLD