'People Unposed'
Local artist Lousie Grayson explores 'painterly realism'


by Jules Masterjohn

It’s a story I have heard many times. You know, the one about the woman who chooses motherhood over her calling, then when the kids are teenagers or grown up and gone from home, the once-needed mother, now woman unencumbered, devotes herself to her vocation. A similar tale involves the mother who, needing some time to herself while raising a family, takes up a hobby.

Sometimes the hobby turns into a passion. For artist Louise Grayson, painting delivered itself to her family’s doorstep while she was rearing four children in Oklahoma. As she straddled the worlds of mother and painter, it seemed logical for her to choose children as her favored subject matter.

In her exhibit, “People Unposed,” currently on display at the Durango Art Center’s Local Expressions gallery, Grayson portrays her subjects – children and adults alike – in their private moments.

Though she also paints other subjects such as landscapes and still lifes, she is most interested in people. “I love the poses, especially of children. They are always so natural and often it seems like they are lost in their thoughts,” she told me. “I like the natural look, not the way a model looks sitting on a bench.”

Grayson, in her late 70s, began her interest in art when she was studying biology in college. “We had to draw the skeleton with its muscles and I always really enjoyed drawing the anatomy. I guess I was kinda good at it, but I never thought it would lead to anything.” Fifteen years later, while mothering her children, she started dabbling in painting and drawing. Though painting had grabbed her heart, she painted only sporadically for the next 20 years. For the last 20 years, however, she has been passionately committed to her art. Today, her portraits in oil on canvas are in collections around the country.

She calls her style of representation with pigment, “painterly realism.” Grayson intends that her subjects look real, though detail is not her concern. The out-of-focus style of her paint application most closely resembles the early 20th century Impressionist painters. Her purpose in this looseness of rendition, however, departs from the intellectual stance of the avant-garde artists such as Monet or Degas who were concerned with observing light and how it described objects in the world. Rather, Grayson’s paintings communicate her emotional response to her subject. The softness with which she depicts her subjects can be read as a metaphor for her affectionate feelings towards for her subjects, often family members, a compelling stranger in a chance encounter, and her favorite places.

Grayson’s compositions are dynamic, with complimentary colors dominating her well-designed canvases. While vivid hues draw the viewer in, rhythmic elements hold one’s attention. This is most apparent in her painting, “The Slumber Party,” with its striped and floral patterns vibrating with warm and cool color. The scene is lyrical: four children and a stuffed animal are sound asleep in a bed, their bodies positioned awkwardly, as children will sometimes lie. It is this embodied nature that appeals to Grayson’s artistic eye. “I love how people are in their bodies and their gestures. I like kids and often paint my grandkids. Their body language fits the idea of what they might be thinking.” She admits, “It’s pretty hard to get a kid to sit still long enough to paint them,” so she usually composes her paintings from photographs. A finished work may be a composite of figures taken from various photographs with a background taken from yet another. She works this decision-making process out in her preliminary sketches. Though she does not have a live subject in front of her, the rigors of her early studies in anatomical drawing have given her the structural understanding to portray a lifelike gesture or the pose of a figure.

The paintings on display in “People Unposed” are from her last ten years of work. The ones that are the most meaningful to her are those that have been inspired by or depicting her grandchildren. Recently Grayson has taken on a new interest and has been photographing subjects that she comes upon, anonymous in people public places. She especially likes “Awed,” one of her larger canvasses. “I have these little stories in my head about the people I see. Like in ‘Awed,’ I imagine that these are a retired couple and they are on the top of a mountain, maybe for the first time, and they can’t believe what they’re seeing. They are leaning together like they have known each other a long time.” It is precisely this nuance in posture and gesture that reveal her subjects’ emotional qualities and make Grayson’s work especially appealing. Though people are her subject matter, the intimacy of the moment, is her consistent theme. •

“People Unposed” is on display through Aug. 31 at the Local Expressions gallery at the Durango Arts Center, located at 802 E. Second Ave. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. –5 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday.



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