by Kim Gill • photography by Philip Carrel
As we wonder about the past and the future, how will we protect our richly diverse natural and cultural world?
This question is one surrealistic landscape artist Loralee Grace often reflects upon while creating her vibrant and contemplative paintings in countries around the globe. Along with her husband, Philip Carrel, an independent filmmaker, Grace has explored over 19 countries, building her portfolio of artwork along the way.
Raised in Grand Rapids, Grace developed a love of nature and concern for the environment at an early age.
“Every summer, my parents packed up the family car, hitched a pop-up camper to the back and we headed west to visit as many National Parks as possible,” Grace shared. “They wanted us to experience the beauty of our country and understand the importance of taking care of our precious natural resources. I was in awe of the mountainous landscapes we’d see, and the fact that we could see so far into the horizon, viewing the cloud shadows dancing on the ground. It was so magical.”
Her artistic visions of the natural world and the camping experiences of her youth would serve her well later in life.
Grace earned a BFA in painting from Kendall College of Art and Design in 2010. Her thesis consisted of a series of seven life-size figure conceptual oil paintings. Intrigued by the future of humanity, she imagined how fashion and wearable technology could adapt to assist us in a polluted environment. After art school, however, she felt drained and questioned the direction of her artwork; she craved a new path.
“I was still living in Grand Rapids, and I needed to get out and experience the world in order to find new inspiration to enhance my work,” Grace expressed.
It was time to travel. In 2011, Grace and Carrel decided to forgo putting their tax return in a 401K and instead bought tickets to Iceland to invest in their creative careers. Living on a shoestring, they set off on their first of many “nomadic journeys,” as Grace describes. She was totally awestruck by the natural beauty
“It was life changing for me and the direction of my artwork,” she said. “It was there that I slowly discovered my passion for painting epic landscapes.”
Capturing the beauty of the fjords, mountains and cloud formations before her weren’t quite enough for Grace. She began including futuristic figures dressed in sci-fi air-filtering apparel to inspire her viewers to be stewards of the earth. She then began to add elements of the past.
“I research the cultural history and bring it into my paintings in the form of patterns inspired by textiles, carvings and other early art forms,” Grace explained.
She transformed into a surrealistic landscape artist, capturing elements of the past, present and future in her work.
In 2016, Grace and Carrel acquired working holiday visas for New Zealand, sold most of their possessions and embarked on another adventure. Upon arriving, they purchased a 1983 camper and affectionately called it “Sophie.” For the first few months, they traveled the South Island. She’s researched the culture of the Maori Tribe’s native dress to add similar patterns into her New Zealand series.
The upside of living minimally for Grace is simply this: “Having a low overhead and less stuff to stress over and care for, I have more time to create art.”
Carrying her backpack with a sketchbook, small watercolor set and camera, Grace sets up her outdoor studio, often perched on a rock in places like Milford Sound.
At National Park or Mt. Cook National Park, she loosely paints the beautiful views before her.
“These epic landscapes with the tall majestic mountains are just asking to be painted!’’
Grace takes many photographs on site and studies the scene by doing drawings and watercolor sketches, which inform her future paintings. Grace has an exhibition scheduled in March at a gallery in the art district of Wellington in New Zealand. Her next adventure?
“We’re hoping to extend our working visas here in New Zealand, then perhaps we’ll do a working holiday visa in Australia, then hopefully visit Southeast Asia and India.”
Grace has a bit of advice to new art graduates: “Art school can leave you drained; get out and experience the world, life in other cultures and get inspired again.”
Grace’s art is on display locally at Richard App Gallery (910 Cherry St. SE). To keep up with Grace and her adventures, visit loraleegrace.com.
Kimberly Grace Gill is an independent fine artist specializing in portrait painting typically with a social justice orientation. She is a graduate of Aquinas College and lives in Byron Center, MI with her husband, Pat.