The Incomparable Lou
Lou Davenport, this month’s Bayou Artist, talks to BayouLife Magazine about her love of art and family. She’s a creative character known for producing whimscial works of art, while being as entertaining as she is talented.
article by Mary Napoli | photography by Brad Arender
She peeks through a curtain of red honeysuckle and smiles as though she’s just gotten away with something. Her distinct, raspy voice carries across her front porch and through the humid air, welcoming her visitor inside. Before the front door closes, there is laughter.
There is usually laughter where Lou Davenport is. She is the kind of woman that can find the joy and beauty in nearly any situation. She retains a youthful spirit and has the same look in her eye that is most often seen on a grinning, mischievous child. Her talent is capturing beauty by creating thought provoking, intricate and often whimsical works of art. Davenport is nothing if not true to herself. She draws and paints what she likes, what inspires her, what is meaningful to her. She doesn’t take her artwork or herself too seriously, but she undeniably possesses some serious talent.
“My work has definitely evolved over the years,” says Davenport. “I’ve worked in watercolors, oils and acrylics. Now I am mostly drawing. Anything goes with me. I’ve been asked for an artist’s statement before, but I think those are just stupid. I paint; I draw. I think I’m pretty good at it, but I’m not for everyone. But I get to do what makes me happy.”
Lou Davenport was born Mary Lou Williams in 1950’s Bastrop, LA. An only child, Lou inherited her mother’s artistic instincts and her father’s gift of gab and colorblind view of the world. Her mother was an art educator and a gifted painter who was greatly influenced by the works of Thomas Hart Benton. Her style echoed that of Benton’s and included similar sculpted, fluid figures shown in somewhat surrealist landscapes. Davenport was captivated with her mother’s talent and influenced by her expressiveness.
“She taught me how to use different brushes and how to bring out different effects,” recalls Davenport.
One of the most distinguishable attributes of Benton’s artwork that Davenport’s mother sought to echo was his dramatic use of shadow and light. This style can also be found in Davenport’s artwork, particularly her drawings. In Davenport’s colorful drawings, the subject matter seems to be glowing as though it was lit from within. This quality is difficult to achieve, but she has mastered it. It gives her subjects such a realistic effect, they appear three-dimensional at times. In her black and white drawings, it produces a fine sense of depth and lifelike appearance. This talent has only grown more astute throughout her artistic career.
She studied art in her younger years, but learned just as much from experience. While pursuing her degree at Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, now ULM, she met and married her great love, Larry Davenport. The couple moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi, then to Vicksburg, where they would raise their three children, Carolyn, Adam, and Paige. All of the Davenport children excelled in the arts, but it was Adam who chose to make it his career.
“Oh, he came out drawing. He can’t stop in the way that I can’t stop. I made sure that all my kids had plenty of art materials to express themselves with. My kids are all talented, crazy, and wonderful in different ways.”
Davenport’s creative talents extend beyond drawing and painting. Her talent for decorating and arranging beautiful flowers and tablescapes has long been admired. After the passing of her dear husband, she decided to explore her design interests further. On a whim, she accepted a “design” position at a major retailer that held a location in the outlet mall in Vicksburg. What may have seemed like a great opportunity, quickly proved to be a miscommunication of mass proportions.
“Then there was the time I was a Gap girl,” admits Davenport while rolling her eyes and halfway covering her face in mock shame. It is one of the many hilarious stories in her repertoire that seem as though it could only happen to her.
“It was absolutely ridiculous,” she drawls in her distinct voice, extending the vowel sounds in words to add emphasis. “I thought I was going to be doing merchandizing and design, but it turned out to be dressing mannequins in the windows and folding t-shirt displays. Girl, I can still do my Gap fold, but I hated every minute of it! There was no way I was going to walk around the store wearing that stupid headset! I used to sneak away in the dressing room and pull my feet up and hide!,” she says pulling her knees to her chest and looking upward. “Dear God, get me out of here!” She collapses into laughter and shakes her head. “I’m so serious! It was a living hell!”
Not long after her momentary debacle at the Gap, Davenport left Vicksburg behind for a position she was much better suited for: Curator of Education at the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe.
“The Masur really helped me to build a foundation here in Monroe. I learned so much while I was there, and I met a lot of influential people. I helped to display the exhibits, work the openings and give tours. But what I really enjoyed was the summers…those were rockin’.”
The Masur hosted many art camps and programs for the local youth when school was not in session, and those events were coordinated by Davenport. She loved interacting with the students and helping them to develop their artistic skills. Davenport also served as Acting Director of the Masur for a time and enjoyed implementing yearly exhibits that featured the work of the Twin City Art Foundation, of which she and many of her friends were members. This allowed local artists the unique opportunity to feature their work at the greatly respected museum.
“Oh, it just tickled me to death to have my work up on those walls at the Masur. It is such a beautiful place and meant so much to be a part of those shows. Everyone loved the local artist shows, and the artists really enjoyed the support and recognition.”
Inspired by her tenure at the Masur, Davenport decided to open her own gallery. With her son, Adam, and daughter, Carolyn, she opened Over the Moon on Art Alley in Downtown Monroe. Later, incredibly talented local wildlife photographer Burg Ransom would join ownership. This space allowed Davenport, and her children, to exhibit their artwork in various forms, as well as the art of other local and regional artists. Although her most recent work is in charcoal and pencil, Davenport also displayed her stunning watercolors, oil, and acrylic paintings. Her stunning representational style caught the eye of many art lovers who would purchase her work and often commission her for specific pieces.
“I’ve done so many portraits of people and animals from commissions. I’ve also done a lot of houses and landscapes,” she explains and enjoys working with people to bring their ideas to life through her unique, creative perspective.
Over the Moon has closed its doors, but now retired Davenport has not slowed down. When she is not working on commissioned art, she creates a series of pieces dedicated to a specific subject. Recently, she completed a series of horses inspired by her childhood fascination for the animals. Each of the individual horses appear astoundingly life-like, and Davenport masterfully captures the intensity, strength and majesty of the animals. When she begins a series, she researches her subject matter extensively, learning about the history as well as studying the subject visually. Her approach to art has no rules, and she focuses her work on whatever appeals to her visually or emotionally.
“Right now, I’m working on a series of blues men,” she says. “I’ve always loved the blues, and I wanted to know more about the history of it. So many of the greatest blues musicians were from the South, and drawing them gave me the opportunity to explore my love for Mississippi again. These men (like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, ) have such expressive faces and are so much fun to draw.”
The blues men series, which is nearly complete, has been featured Kohn’s Art and Jazz Bar, an off-the-beaten-path gallery in Houston, TX. Davenport’s paintings and drawings are also on display at the Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, a eclectic place that focuses on folk art and the work of regional artists. Davenport also sells many of her pieces via her Facebook page, where each creation finds a home nearly as soon as its picture is posted. Her impressively detailed, stunningly prismatic, and endearingly unconventional artwork displays aesthetic qualities that are marvelous, memorable and reflect her adventurous nature.
Davenport is not your typical southern magnolia of a woman. She is more like the wild, red honeysuckle winding its way freely around her front porch. Like the fiery flowers, she is unruly, vibrant and seemingly unstoppable. Not unlike the honeysuckle vine, she moves through life as she pleases and creates her own path, leaving a trail of beauty in her wake. Each eclectic piece of art that blooms forth is not just visually arresting, but a natural expression of her colorful spirit.
“My art is just who I am. I do it because I can’t not do it. And I don’t want to do it unless its fun.”