Louisa Glenn (@gracelouisagee) is a painter from Nashville, Tennessee. Her work is mesmerizing, with striking colours and always makes me think, “I should make a quilt like that!” (And someone did.) In this interview, Louisa reveals that a trip to the library led her down a new creative path, how she approaches colour, and how she interprets mood and light through her work.
What lead to you to paint quilts rather than make them?
I’ve always been a painter – it pulled me in early, it’s woven into the innermost part of me and informs how I see the world. When I moved back to Tennessee almost four years ago, one of my top priorities was reconnecting with my creative self that I had largely kept quiet, and often ignored outright. That self needed lots of nurturing, and I found myself combing through the stacks at the Nashville public library looking for inspiration, a jumping off point. I made my way to the textiles section, because who doesn’t love gazing at rich brocades? Or imagining the lightness of linens? And there, nestled immediately adjacent, were the quilting books. I knew nothing about the quilting world, had no inkling of its depth and vibrancy. I honestly think I started out painting quilt patterns because I was looking for a framework and craved structure – and they certainly delivered both in spades. When I started painting those first repeating patterns, I discovered a meditative space that I needed. I found a place where I didn’t overthink my work because everything fit together and flowed so perfectly.
I have nothing against the actual physical act of quilting, or sewing for that matter – the opposite! I took sewing lessons at a local fabric shop when I was in elementary school, and was very proud of my matching floral shorts and tote bag. But quilting didn’t run in my family, and so my early exposure was limited. I tried my hand at sewing again recently, and I will be the first to admit that I’m not awesome at keeping my seams straight. I would very much like to learn, though – what a fantastic next step that would be!
What are three words that describe your artistic style?
Pieced, adventurous, vibrant
How do you approach colour? Your work has a bold and clear range of palettes, it seems. How did you arrive at those colour choices?
My approach to colour over the past few years has been a healthy combination of “gangbusters” and “anything goes”. I’ve been thriving on high contrast. I tend to get hung up on a colour for a while, use it as the central thread through my work, and flirt with different supporting palettes. For example, it might be a little obvious that I have a deep and abiding love for fluorescent red. It’s just so delicious that I can’t help myself. In some places I’ll ground that red with straight Payne’s grey, which is pretty dark – I use it instead of black. But then on another edge I’ll place that same red next to a light neutral grey, or an aqua, or a sky blue. Those combinations are so shout-y and intense that my eyes can’t resolve the contrast, and a white line will appear in between – I guess in an attempt to soften it? In other pieces I’ve put that same red up against pinks and purples, and it sings rather than yells. My palettes have really centered on pinks/reds and blues/aquas/greys, I think because right now I know them best, I understand how they work. I’m not “good” at purple yet, and I don’t feel super confident about green, but I’m working on it.
I feel like I’m ready to explore gentler, more nuanced compositions. By that, I mean that I’m finding myself drawn to more limited palettes. I’m not totally ready to forsake neons or my penchant for color blocking, but I’m also looking at embroidery and stitching, thinking about they might be layered for a softer look. I desperately want to learn how to paint white, like lots of different shades. I can’t promise that I’ll be satisfied, that I won’t cut back into a mostly white work with one or two outlying neon pieces. I’m excited to experiment more! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the most gratifying thing is being able to see, even in two years, how much my work has shifted and evolved. I’m trying not to push it too hard, but I’m eager for a fresh chapter.
The titles of your paintings refer to landscapes and/or times of day. What inspires you about these subjects and how do you interpret them?
I will never cease to be surprised and delighted by the pockets of beauty I stumble across every day. I know it sounds kind of cliché. But there’s a time of morning when the sunlight filters in and reflects off a mirrored cabinet in my apartment, and all of a sudden there’s a beautiful grid of light lines cast on my wall. I’m entranced by the change in air when it’s about to rain, how everything shifts, smells different, gets quieter. When I’m painting a landscape or a time of day, I ask myself how that time feels, what makes it remarkable, what the sky looks like, what color the light is, where the blocks of highlight and shade are. I really enjoy the challenge of capturing vibrations, trying to boil movement and vitality down to essential lines and shapes. One of my favorites so far is a piece from last summer called High Noon, and it was about the brightness of the sun reflecting off of a car. I recently painted the Yorkshire downs for a friend’s play about the Bronte siblings, and it was delicious when I finally struck a balance between tranquil afternoon and dark moodiness.
You know, this is the direction that I’m moving in with my work overall. Like I mentioned, when I was just starting to get back into painting and dedicate significant time to my practice, I really needed some structure. I thought about each piece in terms of specific quilt patterns, and it was fairly obvious which one I had chosen to reference. That exercise helped me rediscover my artistic voice. Now that I know more about who I am as an artist, I have the freedom and ability to use those fundamental elements to explain other things, and I’m really excited about it! I have a show in process that’s about the Odyssey, and the prospect of painting oceans, or the smoke from burnt offerings, or gods and goddesses visiting that band of travelers in disguise is thrilling. The feeling of the journey, and finally arriving home.
Explore more of Louisa’s work: Louisa Glenn
Find her on Instagram: @gracelouisagee