An Interview with Artist Louisa Glenn
Today's bitch is one of my favorite people. Louisa is like an electric blanket with a short in it - warm, safe, and electrifying. She is loving, kind, curious, smart, engaging - the list goes on. You'll have these fascinating, hilarious conversations with her and then get home and wonder how much time has to pass before you can text and ask her to hang out again.
Like many modern relationships, Louisa and I met online. One day we were both Instagramming our way through a thrift store, and a handful of mutual friends noticed we were in the same neighborhood and asked how we don't know each other. So we DMed and decided to meet. The night before our "first date", Louisa called and we talked like we were middle school girls whose parents were asleep on the other side of the house. It was glorious and we've been friends ever since. Meet my thrifting soul sister, the talented, Louisa Glenn!
What do you make and what is the name of your business?
I create paintings that are largely influenced by traditional quilt patterns, so lots of building geometric compositions piece by piece and exploring retina-melting color palettes. Fluorescent red is my favorite. And no rulers allowed! I like wild, off-kilter, unmeasured wobbling lines in my work, contrasted with crisp edges. Sometimes I make prints of my work. My business is me, Louisa Glenn.
When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
Fortunately, my family prioritized art and creativity when I was growing up so there was lots of crayoning and painting from really early on – a quiet time to focus and build worlds outside of myself. And it’s held a central place in my life ever since. I took something crazy like 11 semesters of art in high school, burned out in the midst of AP art as a junior and felt unmoored. But that was also around the same time when I was keeping journal-y sketchbooks that I only just had the courage to open again at the end of last year. With the help of wine, obviously, because you definitely need a barrier to protect yourself from the scathing embarrassing fire of unbridled suburban teenage angst. What I found, besides a few all-caps statements like REASON IS A WHORE (thanks Martin Luther!) was the same sentiment over and over: I want to be an artist, this is me, this is what I love. Expressions of wonder at technique and color and form. And again, I want to be an artist. It was an unexpected affirmation.
I didn’t know that painting and creating was what I'd dedicate all my free time to until recently, maybe because the message I’d consistently heard was “oh that’s nice, but you can ‘do art’ when you retire” or other general skepticism about leading an art-filled life and the inevitable struggle that would ensue. I used to care a whole lot about what other people thought I should do. I mean, I have a degree in Arabic and Middle East Studies and I worked in international development for four years, I thought I wanted to be in the Foreign Service.
I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, but when I look back at the times my life felt like everything was freewheeling, tumbleweed-ish and out of control, those were the times that I had strayed furthest from my creative self. And it was art that brought me back. I only started to pursue painting seriously in the last three years since I moved back here to Nashville, my hometown – because all of a sudden I had the bandwidth to explore! Like, no day job responsibilities after 5pm so that’s when my brain really starts lighting up. And I literally have the space, which is intoxicating. When I paint there’s this calm that gently washes over, maybe from focusing so intently on precise clean edges - ?? But I feel centered, like somehow the air I’m breathing is more full, and I feel invigorated, closer to being whole. Painting keeps me level and makes me totally fucking insane all at the same time.
What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting out?
I remember when I was teetering on the edge of sending my work to a gallery for the first time back in the summer of 2015, feeling like I wasn’t ready, worrying about getting rejected, so many anxieties. And one of my dearest friends who was pushing me to hit the send button basically said, “What do you have to lose?”
I ask myself that question all the time, and the answer is absolutely nothing. That cautious “Hi, please look at me” email in 2015 led to my first show in Nashville, which was exquisite and made me hungry for more. I’ve had a healthy balance of acceptances and rejections since, every time I get a yes I’m overjoyed! When I hear no, I obviously rant for a little bit before I say okay dang well I’ll try again later. I realize over and over again that I’m putting myself out there because this is what I love. I’m not afraid to be vulnerable, tell my story and bare my soul. I have nothing to lose.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?
Learning to say no and not feeling guilty about it. For a while I thought I needed to say yes to every opportunity that came my way because it might lead to another amazing thing, but then I got really tired and fell behind on deadlines. I felt like I was scrambling all the time and it was gross. I wasn’t able to focus and produce satisfying work that made me proud.
What would you do with 2 more hours a day?
Two whole hours? I would definitely take a nap - not to brag, but I’m a champion couch-napper. A friend once told me that if couch-napping was an Olympic sport then I would be Michael Phelps. And then I would spend the rest of that time reading some good old fiction. I’ll read most anything, but I have a real book boner for Scandinavian crime novels, and mysteries in general. My apartment has a delightful corner room with big windows that used to be my studio and is now what I like to call my conversation suite – three mismatched armchairs nestled in amongst lots of plants and an exceptionally productive radiator, all of which make for the coziest reading nook.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?
Probably sleep, ugh. I get painting as soon as I can after I get home from work. A beautiful thing about painting geometric patterns and large swathes of stripes is that you can get lost so easily, fall out of time a little bit especially when one podcast episode flows so gently into the next. But then I stand up to stretch and step back to see how everything’s fitting together, only to realize that I’m famished and it’s 11:30pm. I push myself until I’m way too tired, which is dumb but I have lots to do! And sometimes I can’t stop. I’m making a real effort to go to sleep earlier - it’s not a battle that I’m winning yet.
What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?
Lots of exciting things have happened since I started dedicating myself to living a creative life. Mainly, I’m thrilled that other people are picking up what I’m putting down on canvas. But my greatest measure of success is that I can look back at my work from when I started painting in earnest two years ago, and see that my work is developing and changing. My color palettes have become more complex, and I’m getting more adventurous with my compositions. That evolution lets me know I’m engaging with and responding to the world around me, and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me.
Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?
My mornings are a straight up MESS. My ritual is hitting the snooze button a thousand times (three on each alarm, actually), dozing and scrolling through Instagram or the New York Times with one eye kind of open, and then obviously scrambling because I’m technically supposed to be at work by 8am. If I’m lucky I have time to make myself a to-go mug of pour-over coffee while standing in my kitchen in my underpants, feeding my cat and brushing my teeth. There was a time in my life long ago when I would wake up early to make a pot of tea and write letters to my friends while intermittently staring out the window over a foggy landscape. Kind of what you imagine living in a Jane Austen novel might be like.
I guess that if anything, my unintended ritual is throwing myself in the shower no matter how clean I am when I claw my way out of bed. It’s the place I come to life and get a little clarity while steaming like a lobster. It’s where I set my resolve, and do a little low-impact yoga stretching. I’ve had good luck so far, but I should probably get one of those no-slip mats, or at least some of those rubber flowers with suckers on the back. Right?
How do you decompress at night?
Oh lots of little things. I take my cat for a walk which is always a real gas, he’s a big fluffy dork and watching him run halfway up a tree while on leash is hilarious. I drink giant mugs of hot tea, usually Detox tea which is delectable and also gives me a delicious (if false?) idea that I’m absolving myself of small misdemeanors one mug at a time. Mint or chamomile will do the trick too. And then I have a deck of exquisitely illustrated tarot cards on my nightstand. I’m just sort of delving into tarot in a very casual way, but doing a quick check-in in the evenings helps me to pull apart and look at any feelings roiling around under the surface. For a while I kept pulling the seven of cups which is all about being lost in choice, and I was like OKAY I GET IT AGHHHHHHH.
What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?
After trying really hard and failing spectacularly, I’ve accepted that I can’t paint my way through being stuck – like, I’m glad I realized it but also it’s annoying. I look back at pieces where I tried to push myself through, and I can totally tell that they’re forced. I usually paint over them pretty quickly.
Messing around with other arty activities really helps because I stop fixating and, if I’m really lucky, I stumble on unexpected beauty that I wind up weaving into my work. A couple weekends ago I started dabbling in ice dyeing fabric, which results in a beautiful ethereal wateriness. Yeah, let’s just say there aren’t many white textiles left in my house. I also spent a chunk of time “curating” (i.e. binge ordering patches) and sewing them on a denim jacket which I L-O-V-E, best gift EVER from thrifting goddess The Blonde Mule herself! Around Christmas I was trying to breathe deep and meditate because #holidaze amirite? So I made necklaces by stringing sequins on thread and that helped me refocus.
There’s a verse of Rumi’s poetry that I’ve wrapped around myself like a blanket, I found it when I moved back to Nashville. Do you know Rumi? Well if you don’t, get on it because he’s an 11th century mystic poet who’s all about ecstatic union with a higher power, and his words turn my knees to jelly. My favorite poem says:
“There was a dawn I remember when my soul heard something from your soul/I drank water from your spring and felt the current take me”.
The second bit is my favorite, I whisper it to myself often as a reminder to just take a deep breath and go with the flow. I actually have a tattoo of it as a lady with water rushing through her body. There’s another poem of his about seeing the person you love across the crowd at a garden party and having to pretend to be just friends and kiss them on the cheek when what you really want to do is devour them, I can’t remember exactly what it says. But to me all of Rumi’s work is stunning and challenging and a glorious reminder of what it means to surrender to joy.
What does self care look like in your life?
Staking out quiet time, away from my phone or other noise. Thirty minutes of floating in a pool of nothing lets me calm down and clear my head when I feel crushed by all the small things I need to do. Sometimes this accidentally leads to a nap, but usually I spring up, ready to get back at it.
Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?
The list of women artists I admire is so long. One in particular though is really special to me - Willie Betty Newman, who I think is a great-great aunt (??). She was born in Murfreesboro back in the 1860s, left her husband and young son to go study art in Cincinnati, won a scholarship to study in Paris, and wound up painting in salons with Cezanne and all those dudes. She struck out on her own around Europe, painting beautiful landscapes and portraits, and her work was selected for exhibition - pretty incredible for a lady at that time!!! My family talks about her and I’d seen a few of her pieces, but until her exhibit at the Parthenon in 2002 I didn’t really understand the scope of her work. Her use of color is breathtaking, and her story is really inspiring.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?
So, I’m weird and I don’t have a television or the internet in my house. It’s a self-preservation thing, also I know myself and I for sure wouldn’t get ANYTHING done if I had streaming capabilities. But I listen to everything I can while I paint, so here are my current favorite podcasts in no particular order:
Stuff You Missed In History Class
Death, Sex, and Money
SNAXX!!! I love snaxx. Cheese and crackers is my number one favorite. Some kind of soft cheese like brie or camembert, maybe a sharp cheddar, with a fancy savory jam – caramelized garlic and onion jam is the bomb dot com, or fig spread. I have a deep and abiding love for oat cakes, but McVitties’ digestive biscuits do the trick as well. Now I’m hungry.
All photos courtesy of Louisa Glenn