Laura Loe is a collector, artist, teacher, mother, and wife and I am quite certain she has never met a stranger. Before I could even knock on the door of Laura’s home in a National Historic district of Richmond, Virginia, her voice was calling to me from the kitchen, telling me to “Come on in!” like a true southern girl. Walking through the doorway, it is obvious that art is the heart and soul of this home. The wall color can barely be seen in between all of the amazing pieces of art that line the walls. Like a proud momma talking about her children, Laura is an enthusiastic tour guide sharing the story behind each piece. Given Laura’s artistic accomplishments and storied career, it is surprising that only a handful of the canvases hanging from floor to ceiling are her own handiwork. Rather, the art on her walls reflects beautiful memories collected over the years, gifted at birthdays and handed down from generations.
Mixed between the abstract, still life, and landscape art are unique portraits of warm faces drawing you into their unknown stories. The face of a military man and a reflective older woman appear to be relatives, but these are not Laura’s ancestors. They are portraits she has found along life’s journey in flea markets, online shops, and even Etsy. The collector and teacher in Laura are drawn to each for different reasons, seeing the abbreviated strokes of a beginner coupled with a depth of emotion and always appreciating the outcome. It is amazing to see art through the eyes of the artist and collector.
As we meander from the kitchen through the yard to her studio, our conversation flows from our shared love of art to stories about crazy parenting moments, how technology has influenced the business of art, and favorite cocktails (for Laura, simply, Jack Daniels).
Laura shares that while she has been painting professionally for over twenty years, she knew from a young age that she was going to be an artist when she grew up. A profound declaration from a little girl expressed with a certainty that is rarely realized. Laura confides in the naivety of a child, “at the time I just thought everyone knew what they were going to do when they grew up.” Laura’s love for art did not mean she was born with the talent. She painted for a long time before she grew confident in what she was creating. Thinking back on those years, Laura reflects that a desire to create was rooted within deep within her.
It’s hard to tell from Laura’s outgoing personality that she has introverted qualities and can comfortably tuck herself away in her studio to paint for hours and hours. Finding inspiration everywhere, Laura’s work is bright and vibrant. Whether she is capturing the afternoon light on the grass at her artist colony, Nimrod, or painting the likeness of her children along the lake - each piece has similar characteristics and a uniqueness that tie all of Laura’s work together.
With each exploration of a new series, Laura always spends a little time with her faceless female figure. This woman has unintentionally become one of Laura’s signature elements, showing up in her work when she least expects it. To Laura, this woman has become a nod to the past, a glimpse into the future, and notes of a fulfilled life. Whether she is stringing laundry or playing with a child, Laura sees components of herself (and we all do) when she is present. Laura does not paint this figure with herself in mind. It is only after the fact, sometimes years later, that she recognizes the connection, glimpses of her own self throughout the years.
Working big or small, Laura paints until the subject has released from her soul. You can see the richness of color and fluid strokes embedded with emotion that draws you into each piece. Laura’s work fills you with longing to be a part of that experience. Dancing in the moonlight next to the pool or releasing lantern wishes into the sky, Laura is able to capture the unspoken emotion of these moments originating from pictures, memories, plein air and Laura’s imagination.
Sit back and join in our fun converstation ...
When did your art journey start?
I was always the art kid. I remember being a 4th grader using a blue ballpoint pen with a book as a support while laying on my belly engrossed to the point that sun would fade and I would look up like kind of shocked. Just drawing from my imagination and NEVER ever drawing what was in front of me. Not once can I recall doing that. I would draw and it would be like playing dolls. I would have storylines and when you look at them now it is just figures all over the place and looks like crazy person art, but at the time it all made sense to me. Even as an adult visiting home, I used to find these awful crazy drawing stuck in books. Being prolific is a big part of learning, in my opinion!
How has your work evolved over the past several years?
Of course. If you are alive your art evolves. I do not tend to roll with what is trendy or not trendy. Not because I am trying NOT to do so, I am just at the place in my career that I have only so much control over what comes out. At this point I just kind of go into it and it just happens.
What is your biggest success as an artist?
For this to be a good paying job for me since 1996 is pretty amazing. It never crossed my mind I would be able to do that. I am still amazed when someone buys my art (and am so thankful!). I never stopped painting through raising my 3 kids and that was huge. Those were tough years but I am better for it. Painting has been my constant through life's changes. Lots of people pick up their paints again or for the first time when they are empty nesters (even ex-presidents…), but painting all through the years has been the best thing for me and the thing I am most proud of.
When you are creatively "stuck", what do you do?
Take some time off and not beat myself up about it. I think sometimes you think you are stuck (I used to anyway) and now I realize that artists need to recharge as much as they need to work. Time off is an important time to look and absorb what your life is. So, I go and just be Mom and go out with friends and shop and go on trips and then I am like- I have to get to the studio, NOW. It is a natural part of the process, Before I had kids I would literally force myself to sit in the studio even on days I would truly be hating being in there because I would feel guilty if I weren’t working ALL THE TIME. Now I just accept those times and enjoy myself. I guess I know, now, I am not going to stop painting forever and that is the underlying fear.
What is one of your biggest challenges?
Juggling parenthood and real life with the idealistic universe out in the studio.
Looking to the future, where do you want your career to be in two years?
To be honest, I am perfectly happy right now. I have never quested to be anything because it never seemed possible. Now, I feel like, it is going to be what it is, so as long as I do part, it should be good! I just want to paint and have people keep buying my work. In 2 years I will just be a better painter - that is always exciting to think about.
What do you do when you are not painting?
Take are of three kids, one who just left for college which sounds like less work but it is not. I run an artist colony and in general, keep the house running and laundry clean and make time to hang with my cool friends and my sweet husband and drink Jack Daniels.
Do you collect art?
I collect art like a lunatic. My husband gave me an original Richard Diebenkorn ink drawing for our anniversary last year and until I die I think it will be my favorite. For the thought behind it and the fact that one of my major art hero’s is hanging in my home. I will sometimes just go look at it and sort of swoon like it is a movie star. I am not a "fan girl" about other artists but there are a few who blow my mind and he is one of them. But aside from that, I love art more than anything. We have a house full of everything from Will’s great grandfather’s work who was a very famous regional artist, Charles W Smith, to works from the flea markets in Europe, to some of my own pieces of my children, and then most every single local artist. I have so much art I have to store some. I am not sure you can be an artist and not be a collector of art, can you? Art doesn’t get old. It doesn’t age out if it is good art and it doesn’t get tossed with a new decorating phase if it is good, it just doesn’t.