Louisa McElwain was born in 1953 in Nashua, New Hampshire. She studied in Europe with master portrait artist Nera Simi, before spending three months at the Skowhegan School in Maine, where she developed a passion for landscape painting. McElwain went on to earn her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania. During that time, she was introduced to the ideas of famed color theorist Joseph Albers, who believed that color is always seen in relation to the colors around it. McElwain would take this principle and apply it to her own work throughout her career.
In 1985, McElwain moved to New Mexico. Deeply fascinated by the ever-changing climate of the Southwest, she immersed herself in nature and incorporated the region’s powerful elements into her paintings. Before a storm, McElwain was known to pack up her pick-up truck with her painting materials and set out to find the best spot for what she liked to call a “dialogue with nature.” She would create a makeshift armature mounted on the back of her truck, staple a large canvas to it, and then simply paint what she saw. She believed that “the marks, strokes, and gestures of paint express forces of nature, both internal and external,” and always sought to balance her experience of and relationship to the environment with the physical reality of painting on canvas.
McElwain died in 2013 in New Mexico. She is best known for her abstracted landscapes characterized by strong use of color and bold strokes of thick paint.