Laura Craig McNellis was born in Nashville, Tennessee, as the youngest of four sisters. McNellis’s mental retardation became apparent early in her life, but despite some social pressure to institutionalize her, the artist was raised and mostly schooled at home. McNellis greatly enjoyed painting from a very young age and did so regularly, using tempera on blank newsprint as her medium — for several years, her father brought home stacks of blank newsprint to keep up with the volume of her production.
McNellis has always painted late at night, frequently after everyone else is asleep. She employs bold, rapid brushstrokes and the wall near her desk is splattered with the byproducts of this technique. She often draws the outline first with a color felt marker or a felt-tip pen, then makes the works come alive using inexpensive watercolor sets and tempera paint.
Because McNellis is non-literate and her speech understood only by family members, her paintings have become an extraordinary means of personal expression. Often a painting portrays an episode from her day and sometimes a series of works will develop from a particular event that fascinated her. Her acute powers of observation enable her to depict eloquently the people, objects, and events she encounters. Her art makes it clear that the artist sees a different, though in no way diminished, world.1
1 © Ricco Maresca Gallery