The wonder of this world is revealed in the splash of orange lichen on an insignificant stone beside a trail. It's in the minute features of a seed pod which optimize its potential for …
The wonder of this world is revealed in the splash of orange lichen on an insignificant stone beside a trail. It's in the minute features of a seed pod which optimize its potential for growth and survival. These are the subjects Costilla artist Evelyn McLean explores. McLean's 30-by-40 inch paintings reveal in correct proportion and color, and with that painterly sense of design, the aesthetic quality and fragility of the little plants and fungi which make up the world we inhabit.
McLean, a native of Texas, is a teacher of art and she has also worked in graphic design. Her paintings blend the storytelling, story-selling elements of graphics with the educational aspect of truly seeing what the eye beholds. Her years of teaching art, participating in the Costilla Studio Tour and working in education and industry have now emerged into a mature and fascinating expression.
She emphasizes the potential of single seed pod, placing it in large format before the viewer, and by doing so she seems to simultaneously place it within our hands, within our care.
McLean began her formal art training when she was 15, taking private painting lessons, and later transferring to a commercial arts program in a Dallas public high school. "So, in my senior year," she said, "I had three hours of art every day. It was great." High school was followed by an introduction into the world of commercial art.
"I got a two-year associate arts degree in graphic design, B.C. (Before Computers) … I was a pasteup artist so that's how I paid my way through school," she said. In the following years, McLean worked for two advertising agencies and a small design firm in Dallas before she took her graphic skills and struck out on her own. Later, she began experimenting with papermaking and bookbinding while she was raising three boys. Teaching art in private schools came next and eventually led her toward a bachelor's degree in painting and printmaking, allowing her to teach full time.
Around 2000, McLean moved temporarily to Red River. She settled in Costilla in 2013, having been attracted to the area by Ventero Press in San Luis where she met her partner, artist Randy Pijoan.
"If I'd chosen a different path," she explains, "I'd probably be a botanist. I'm drawn to plants and their forms and, of course, flowers … Seed pods are one of my things I'm drawn to. To me they're sacred objects. They're objects of hope and potential. I think about a seed and the life that's held within that tiny thing. The variety is endless, the size, shape, structure is endless."
Indeed, McLean's paintings and monotypes do reveal her fascination with the entire story of an ordinary plant's life from seed to flower to seed head. Consider her works depicting the common thistle visible in fields and roadways throughout Taos County. She renders what she terms the mature and senior thistles in 30-by-40 inch size so that the extraordinary beauty in what is generally regarded as a bane to gardeners and pets can be appreciated.
"My contemplative practice," she said, "is out in nature. So, I love being outside, hikes in the forest, and that's when I have my creative ideas and inspirations." McLean uses her "pocket camera" to capture the landscape as an ant might see it. "That's what I typically paint," she adds, "the micro landscape."
McLean hopes that those viewing her work will be encouraged to "slow down and look more closely at the world." In fact, her paintings and prints do have this effect, as friends and acquaintances frequently point out to her forest fungi or lichen she would be certain to love.
Painting what is small onto a very large format has a certain undeniable appeal. McLean recently finished two 5-by-8 foot pieces, commissioned by Adams State University, which now hang in a stairwell there.
Having spent many years both teaching and artistically exploring nature, McLean provides an interesting observation on the value of the artistic process. "The fine arts present a whole different way to learn," she said, "and they challenge students to use problem-solving skills that they normally wouldn't use with traditional, core subjects. Whenever you're creating something, you're using a whole different part of the brain."
Giving further insight into this process, she said, "Painting is very meditative to me. Time just goes away. I get lost in just the color … I don't feel separate from the painting so it's like being in another world."
Her work can be viewed on and she can be contacted through evymclean.com.
In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.