Loren Doucette, painter
The sweet spot between abstraction and reality, and why it’s good to get into some trouble with your art.
I saw Loren Doucette’s painting She Walked in Color years ago when it made a guest appearance in another artist’s gallery. I was taken by its celebration of shapely women, thriving plants, and colorful birds. The piece was musical in its composition and harmonies of color, redolent of a song that reveals something new on every listen and makes you happy every time you hear it. Her new Seven Suns Gallery on Bearskin Neck in downtown Rockport, MA, is similar because it is filled with spirited and evocative paintings.
She opened the gallery with her son Andrew in June 2022 and is thrilled by how well she and her new space have been received. Here’s the story of how the gallery came to be and how Loren found her path toward being a successful full-time artist.
What made you decide to open a gallery in this high-traffic spot on Bearskin Neck in Rockport?
You know how you can tell when an area starts to have a high vibe, starts to hum a little bit? That’s how I started feeling about Rockport. I was building toward having a storefront after holding successful open houses at my studio in Cripple Cove in Gloucester [MA]. It was time for me to have a gallery in place that is an art destination and where I could reach more people.
You opened this gallery with your son Andrew.
My son has always been tremendously influential in my career as an artist. I was originally afraid to take the leap to go back to art school and, later on, to open this gallery. Both steps were scary but when I thought about it being great for Andrew too, I was able to do it!
[Flash forward in time.] It’s been the biggest gift in my life to have him for a son and to now work with him in building a brand and a business that supports both of us. We are both people that enjoy working for ourselves. I never would have seen it coming! He was going to school in Arizona for aeronautical engineering. Then COVID happened and he joined me here and never went back. I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity to work together in such a creative way.
Why is your gallery called “Seven Suns”?
I’ll walk you through what I show people when they ask that. I had the Cripple Cove studio in Gloucester for three years prior to this. This was the backdrop. That’s the bones.
Then I painted a sea of yellow lobster traps.
Then one day when I was in a crazy mood and emotions were running high, I painted the lobster traps levitating and they floated in a grid.
That day, I needed to break into something that was completely unknown. I needed to take a chance and as I have many times in the past, I used my painting to get me there. I cried during that whole painting, it really felt like a “breaking through” that day. Soon after the yellow lobster traps became floating soul windows, they became the seven suns.
Andrew and I were at the studio, and it was February 2, 2022—two, two, two, and two. When I meditated that day, I got the idea of the Seven Suns Gallery and studio with an online store. I went inside and told Andrew about it and we decided we would do it together. This gallery space became available a few weeks later.
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What are the elements that make a Loren Doucette painting a Loren Doucette painting?
The main thing is my desire for abstraction and reality to meet. If I go too far in one of those directions, I get really uncomfortable and try to go back to the middle. I often start off very realistic, but then it doesn’t feel like me unless I make it reach toward the spiritual, metaphysical, and abstract. I like elements that float.
Color is the driving force in the work and it takes over. I might start with imagery that appeals to me, which is flowers, people, and landscape and usually halfway through the painting, color becomes the boss. Imagery takes second place to color.
This is funny because the next question I was planning to ask was this: Your art seems like a mix of realism and abstract. Is that how your brain works?
Yes! My brain totally works like that. I really understand people who are abstract thinkers, poetic people that think in fragmented ways. I drive better backward than I do forward. My brain works better when it’s turned upside down.
Do you ever paint upside down?
I paint upside down 50% of the time.
My favorite painting of yours is She Walked in Color. Can you tell me about it?
It started off as six periwinkle bluish green trees with yellow light behind them. That sat around my studio a long time before I had the guts to go back into it. I knew this painting was a transitional piece for me. It was a 40” x 60” canvas and I was ready to explore something that I hadn’t before. I knew I wanted to create a composition based on fragments of images that inspired me. I wanted to “synthesize” the elements I loved into a pleasing and exciting visual narrative. I loved the way Stuart Davis did this in many of his Cape Ann paintings.
That winter, I got a studio space at what used to be Flat Rocks Gallery in Lanesville. My studio there was massive with huge walls. I brought that canvas and worked on the painting that whole winter. I kept adding different elements that interested me and I was inspired by Paul Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? painting. My boyfriend at the time had grown up in South Africa and his apartment was covered in fabrics from South Africa and he had a long tall sculpture of a Zulu princess. See that figure with the purple turban? She’s a Zulu princess. Then I went to Florida and had encounters with beautiful egrets, so I came back and added those. The pot with the flowers and the table is directly inspired by my longtime teacher from Montserrat College of Art, Tim Harney.
The female form became very dominant in my work, starting with that painting. The women were much taller than normal. What started as trees became tall, fierce, prominent women with power and presence—in their full color.
Were you always drawing as a child?
Yes, as soon as I could hold a crayon [laughs]. It was my refuge as a kid. I remember always creating houses as a child, setting up little spaces which now feels like “little studios.” Certain parts of my childhood were difficult and I’m so grateful that my mother saw from a young age that art was my solace, and it would entertain me for hours. She would frequently get me these coloring books, literally the size of this table, and a new pack of crayons.
You went to art school after you had been working as an artist for a while. What did that do for you?
When I was 21, I got into the school of my dreams, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. I thought I had arrived. Then in the very first semester I found out that I was pregnant, and I had to stop because the oil paints were not considered safe. So, I finished the semester at home and had my baby and he’s running the gallery with me now.
When Andrew was 11, there was a pocket of time for me to go back to school. I had been in a rut. I was making paintings that I thought people would like, based on what I saw in Rockport: traditional boats and landscapes of Good Harbor Beach. They sold, but it was soul sucking. I asked Ruth Mordecai, a painter in Gloucester, for advice and she told me to go to Montserrat and study with Tim Harney and Judy Brown.
When I went to Montserrat, I had to throw away old methods and techniques of drawing that I had learned over the years to open myself up to a new understanding of drawing. It was learning about abstraction, and the driving forces in a composition that made a huge impact, based on the book “Search for the Real and Other Essays” by Hans Hofmann.
What I learned about color, painting, drawing, and art history changed my whole trajectory as a painter. It gave me the foundation to be able to draw the bones of anything from their root; feeling forms from the inside out, celebrating their fullness of form. The teachings of Hans Hofmann got passed down to me: Hans Hofmann taught John Grillo who taught Tim Harney who taught me. Going to art school was a huge springboard for my painting career.
I also learned how I wanted to teach. Teaching and art mentoring is a huge part of what I do.
Tell me about art mentoring.
People come to me when they are at a certain place in their life and they are desperate to make art, find their creative channel, or get unstuck and move to the next level as an artist. Some people want to learn about materials, or want to tap into subject matter that matters to them, or learn drawing in order to paint.
There are a lot of people who have been wanting to paint their whole life but put it on hold to raise kids or have their career and I get to help them return to that thing that is so important and that’s been missing. I’m honored to be a part of that.
Do you have other creative outlets besides painting?
There are many things I’m interested in, but I am disciplined. Other than doing yoga and biking, I keep it to painting because I don’t want to split my time. I don’t even cook very much, for that reason. I want my time to go into painting and my relationships.
If one of your paintings was in a tv show or movie scene, what would you want it to be?
If you could trade one of your paintings with any artist living or dead, what artist and what painting would you want to receive?
Odilon Redon. He’s my favorite artist. When I was in Paris for two days and only had time to go to one gallery, I went to the Musee D’Orsay. His paintings were commissioned for a palace and were huge, tall panels of beige, white, and grey backgrounds with yellow and red flowers floating down. Some of the flowers were real and some were made up.
I was so overwhelmed with emotion looking at these large floral pieces that I sat down on the floor and wept in front of the paintings. The sensuality and the fragility mixed with the rich paint quality was intoxicating. It was maybe like the feeling one gets from meeting their hero for the first time in the flesh. Paintings are meant to be seen in the flesh, not online. I felt the energy of his mark making and the atmospheric quality of his studio and his heart.
What is the best advice and worst advice you received as an artist?
The best advice was to let the experience of art surprise you, and that you must have an experience as a painter in order for people to have an experience seeing your work. You have to get into some trouble and be willing to let go of what you love the most in a painting. As part of that, you have to have faith that you will recover what you let go, but in a different way that makes the work deeper and better. I also learned to have long-term faith that this creative life is going to work [smiles].
The worst advice wasn’t advice so much as someone questioning whether I was qualified to do a specific thing. What I learned is that there’s always going to be someone better, but if you are asked to do that commission or teach that class, do it! Love what you love and do it 110% no matter what anyone else thinks or says about your work. Believe in yourself and what you love and were born to do.
You said, “you have to get into some trouble” and possibly let go of what you love in a painting. What do you mean by that?
I learned that from an abstract painting class at Montserrat taught by Thorpe Feidt. He would walk around the class and say “you’ve got to get into some trouble. Mess it up! Get into some trouble!” and it’s so true. We play it safe and do the same thing [laughs].
But the real jump, the big advance in the painting, is when you dare to lose it and go into the dark and find your way out. Then you own it. I could paint other people’s paintings, and that’s safe. It’s already been done, and I know it can be successful. But I have to get into my own dark night of the soul [laughs]. I have learned there is as much love in the dark as much as there is in the light and that both avenues are rich subject matter for painting.
Your painting She Walks in Color wouldn’t exist if you didn’t push yourself in that way.
Do you know how uncomfortable I am in every single painting at one point? It’s almost like this unbearable place at times. Monet ripped paintings and wanted to throw them in the ocean. That happens. When you paint, you sit in your own skin. If you have a bad back or a stomachache, or if you’re not feeling confident, or you had a fight with your spouse, it’s all in there. You can’t leave it.
What’s the largest piece you’ve ever painted?
Over here [walks over to Letter to Yellow shown above]. During COVID, the emotions were so big I had to do something bigger than I had before. It’s 68” across and 70” tall.
Is it common for you to mix pastel and paint like you did in that piece?
I don’t do it often because the pastel needs glass to be protected. I’m always trying to merge drawing and painting because I have a massive love for both and want the two to come together. If I put pastel on canvas mixed with the paint, I try to use self-leveling gel or use the paint to seal it in.
Your biggest painting is labeled “price upon request.” Will you be disappointed if someone buys it?
No. There’s only been one painting in my life that I wouldn’t sell. It’s called Light Yellow House in Winter. I painted it in 2013 during my final year at Montserrat for the senior show. The painting is of my backyard, which was really ugly except when it snowed [laughs]. Then it was magic. The painting is a sense of home for me, so I bring it to every place that I live. I have a print of it here. I could have sold the painting a many times. The rest of the paintings feel like they belong to other people, not me.
Who are the artists and creative people who inspire you?
I’m most inspired by the landscape and by nature. I’m also inspired by people who put it all out there and go all the way to the end of the branch, where it’s unsafe. Ruth Mordecai’s paintings aren’t like anybody else’s. She found her authentic voice and subject matter as a painter. She has found her line. There’s something about the fierce determination in the way certain people paint that gets me going: Bonnard, Klimt, Matisse. I like the Bay area figure painters because they have that fierce direct approach to painting people and landscape. I’m also inspired by music documentaries and love the one about the Beatles.
You created a video about keeping a daily sketchbook. Why do you think that’s a useful practice?
You have to stay close to your craft. It’s like going to the gym and working with your muscles each day and keeping them toned. Putting a line to paper, whether it’s painted or drawn, even if it’s one intentional line that comes through your heart to your hand, it is so important to do it every day. You don’t need to spend three hours painting, although those days are my favorite. It’s about showing up, putting the intention forward, and connecting your heart and your hand to paper each day. I don’t go a day without doing that.
There’s one painting in the gallery, She Walked Away, that feels very different than others because it has little color.
I made it in 2017 during winter in a cold studio overlooking that marsh. It’s about being alone and stepping forward into the unknown and just how scary that is. It’s amazing how many people connect with that piece. Everyone has been there. That’s the bigger picture. The smaller picture is that with every single painting that I make, I have to walk out with courage into this field of unknown and do it by myself. Yes, I have family and friends, but I make these choices and sometimes I must get up all my strength and dig down deep into the unknown to walk forward.
When did you shift to focusing on painting full-time?
My friend Alissa Cohen was interviewing me for a podcast. At the time I was working as the coordinator for Rocky Neck Art Colony and painting. I was always working and painting. During the interview Alissa asked what led to my doing art full time. When I told her I didn’t paint full time, she stopped the tape. It was like “cut!” She said, “Loren, do you realize the difference between you and the people who make art full-time? There’s one difference: they believe they can.”
I could never go back to being a part-time artist after that. I thought, being able to make art full-time is a belief? I can get on board with that belief and have the life I want! Then the pandemic happened, I left my job, I made all these big paintings, and we opened Seven Suns Gallery.
There’s a lot of skepticism about “do what you love and everything else will fall into place,” but that’s what you did. And it worked!
That’s why I wanted to share that story. I’ve been given this amazing opportunity for a reason. A woman who came into the gallery this morning told me she was having a life crisis and wanted to paint. By sharing my paintings, my soul work, and offering teaching and mentoring, I feel I can help encourage people to work toward their most fulfilling creative lives.
Lightning-round questions: People often bond over food and art, and here are quick questions about both.
Favorite breakfast. A blueberry smoothie and a rice cake with peanut butter.
If tomorrow was your birthday and I was going to bake you a cake, what kind should it be? Chocolate with raspberries.
Most memorable meal. I was in Rome studying for a month and had a pizza on my own. It was kind of like Julia Child’s sole meunière.
You are hosting a dinner party for 6 people living or dead. Who is coming and what are you serving? You don’t have to cook.
Favorite piece of art that you own. I don’t have it yet. But among my pieces, it’s Light Yellow House in Winter.
Most captivating museum visit. Definitely Musée d’Orsay.
Palate & Palette menu
Here’s what I would serve if Loren and her son came over for dinner, which they are invited to do:
Where to visit Loren Doucette (and you should!)