Artist Profile: Louisiana Landscapes through the eyes of Mary Louise Porter

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Mary Louise Porter in front of "Mirrors on the Cane I"

By Hannah Richardson, lifestyleeditor@natchitochestimes.com

When you think of the natural beauty of Louisiana, what comes to mind? Rows and rows of fields beside a long stretch of road? The sky reflected off a clear and quiet lake or river? When artist Mary Louise Porter travels and sees the landscapes found in Louisiana, she spills them out onto a canvas just as she views them.

Clouds in the River II – By Mary Porter
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“I’ve loved to draw and paint since I was a little girl,” said Porter. “I’ve always enjoyed my imagination, from making mud pies in the outdoor ground to changing patterns and colors with my paints. I’ve enjoyed the creative process; not particularly reaching the end product but from the idea to putting it on canvas is the most fun. The creativity involved is my passion. There is joy in that final brush stroke and knowing my painting is finished.” The act of painting keeps Porter in touch with her creative spirit. Painting has always inspired her in her life and it’s a joy for her to share that with others.

Porter is a contemporary landscape painter, which means she experiments with colors, lines and shapes and abstracts from reality. “In my landscapes, I’m inspired by so many aspects, such as the patterns of the clouds, the textures and lines of the grasses, and so on,” she said. “As an artist, I don’t want to particularly copy what I see in front of me, but rather take what is in front of me and change it into my own contemporary landscape style.

Everyone has that ‘aha!’ moment. When I’m inspired, I’ll take my paints and canvas in the car and go down the road to find that certain place that draws to me. Once, I did a painting off of Chaplin’s Lake in fall. The rustling of the leaves were running across the walkway besides the water on this cool day. All of these factors attracted me to this spot. I usually paint in an abstract way, with many layers that build to create the final painting, but this time, I wanted to capture the movement of the wind and the leaves by the lake.”

For her landscapes, she will go to sites that she is drawn to. One example is of cotton fields, before the cotton seeds are actually sowed. “It’s those angular and perspective lines in the rows that attract me, as well as the ‘rhythm’ they make,” said Porter. “Just like the beats in music, I try to create that movement in my work. Within that movement, a mood is created, which pulls you in as a viewer and to imagine yourself there. In Natchitoches, there are so many sites around it, with its landscapes and the Cane River running through.”

One of the aspects she emphasizes mostly in her work is color. “Everyone can relate to color. In my landscapes, I embellish color. My colors in my landscapes are very vibrant and dominant. You, as a viewer, are going to react to those colors. You are going to react to your favorite color and how you perceive your own world.

“Part of understanding a painting is to find out how it makes you feel and how you relate to it. The stories that the landscapes tell are what I want to express in my works. I had a woman at one of my recent shows come up to me and say how she related to a certain piece because she was a farmer and grew up on that sort of land and could really relate to that painting. Even those that are not farmers can still relate if they have seen somewhere familiar in their travels.”

Porter draws her inspiration in several common areas. “I will search for reflections in lakes, ponds or even puddles in the ground,” she said. “Clouds are also fascinating as they are always changing. Tall and linear trees and barren branches or the texture of the bark draws to me. Another subject I like is the perspective and diagonals of fields. Sometimes I will intentionally look for these scenes or they will catch my eye while I’m driving.”

Ancestral Gifts – By Mary Porter

With Natchitoches being so close Kisatchie National Forest, the trees draw a lot of inspiration for Porter. “In this area, these massive pine trees have many patterns and lines that are great for an artist. Two of my paintings, ‘Ancestral Wisdom” and ‘Ancestral Gifts,’ capture scenes when the snow has fallen onto the ground and it creates angular lines and patterns in the shadows from the light on the trees. Many can relate to these sorts of painting of trees because it creates a sort of escape into the forest. In these paintings, I added not only texture and paper-cut canvas to the trees, but also the multicolored paper and patterns created by my mother, who was also an artist, so it was a combination of her work from long ago and mine, so that’s why the term ‘ancestral’ comes into play.”

“Mirrors on the Cane I,’ my large painting at 7×12 feet, came about when I was walking across the Front Street Bridge one day. Usually, the clouds above the Cane River are very misty and undefined, but on this particular day, the angular clouds above were repeated so beautifully into the reflection of the water, going all the way down to a fine point in the background. With this painting, I wanted the sides to be simplistic and general, but I want the viewer to be caught up in the middle of the painting and feel like you are part of that sky, that reflection. That creates a mood and takes you to another realm that you want to be in.”

For Porter, paintings such as ‘Mirrors on the Cane I’ take a lot of different kinds of creative processes. “As an artist, I view and wait until the right moment and sketch what I see or take photos from my phone, not to work from those photos, but to use as a reference when I do paint,” she said. Most of her work is done that way, especially for large canvases she can’t bring with her, which have to stay in her studio. This way, Porter separates the reality of her subject and uses her imagination and creative process to unravel it into the studio. “I really wanted ‘Mirrors on the Cane’ to be large because the river itself is overpowering to me when I stand on that bridge to look at it. It really represents that particular part of Natchitoches at that particular place I love, as do so many others in the city.”

Louisiana Vibrations – By Mary Porter

‘Mirrors on the Cane I,’ along with other pieces by Porter, is on display at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport as part of her exhibition show. Porter has another 7×12 foot landscape painting, titled ‘Louisiana Vibrations, Red River Valley.’ “The movement I wanted to capture in this painting is reminiscent of when you drive by a cotton field and watch the rows pass by in a rhythm, almost like piano keys, as well as the massiveness of the sky. In the Red River Valley, we have a rich heritage in the farmland. The museum chose the painting of Red River Valley for its permanent collection, as they believed it represented the history of Northwest Louisiana and the love for the farmland. ‘Mirrors on the Cane I’ is definitely representative of Natchitoches Parish and the Cane River area. ‘Mirrors on the Cane’ speaks to me a lot because I lived a block from the Cane River and I would walk over the bridge and into town often for the festivals and fireworks. For years, this river has been a heartbeat for me as an artist, seeing many changes in the reflections over time. It was a joy to create and when you see it, you can see the patterned feel of the trees and the riverbank.”

Visitors of the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport view Porter’s works.

Porter’s artwork will be on display in the west wing of the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum until Friday, June 29 during gallery hours, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

To see more of Porter’s artworks, visit http://www.mlporterfineart.com.