Creating a colorful arts community in LaGrange, West Point

Published 9:22 pm Monday, June 18, 2018

Thea McElvy has carved out a niche for herself in the community with artwork as colorful as the subjects portrayed, but as the president of the Visual Artists Alliance of LaGrange, she is working to bring color to far more than just her own canvases.

VAAL has existed in LaGrange for 11 years, and in that time, its leaders and members have worked to connect local artists with opportunities. This effort has resulted in shows featuring local work, and some of its members now have work featured on the walls of local businesses and theaters. According to McElvy, the number of artists and variety of material types have both grown along with the artists in VAAL.

“I know from my own experience how far I’ve grown in 11 years, and all these great people and the work that they are now doing is overwhelming in how much they have grown,” McElvy said. 

McElvy’s work has changed significantly since she first began to paint, with her now trademark colors coming out on canvas for the first time 4 years ago.

“2014 is when I started doing all of these wild colors,” McElvy said. “I had always been an artist or artsy, and I just realized — it dawned on me — that the colorful works are the ones that grab my heart. So, that is why I started painting the Hollywood icons because I wanted to try something, which was really scary. Putting purple on somebody’s face or green. It is not quite the norm, and so it was a real branch out for me.”

Since then, McElvy has created a variety of paintings, generally featuring people, though a few canine faces have also been featured. 

“I just love the human connection,” McElvy said. “Something about faces makes me happy. I think as much as my art is about color. It is about energy, and it’s about the human connection.” 

She said she is currently working to grow as an artist by working with backgrounds and her own photos. McElvy also uses VAAL and the West Point Fine Arts to encourage local the artists to believe in themselves and their potential.

“Muhammad Ali said — and I’m paraphrasing — that he was the greatest until other people believed him, and then he said it enough to where he started to believe it too,” McElvy said. 

“I think that sometimes we have to talk ourselves up and have some faith in ourselves.”

Despite their distance geographically, McElvy said the two groups have distinct personalities partially due to how long the two groups have been established.

“They really didn’t have anything in West Point [for artists], so we are starting up an artist group there,” McElvy said. “I’ve been the president of the Visual Artist Alliance of LaGrange for about five years now, and there is just a different feel between the two. VAAL is a great community of artists, and we provide opportunities for exhibiting and opportunities to grow. It is the comradery of the artists that I think is important there.”

“In West Point, it is as much about the community, which is really growing. A lot of the artists there aren’t professional, have not shown and just need to know that they are better than they think they are. We talk about confidence. I think that they need to learn confidence and have those opportunities.”

VAAL currently has an exhibit at Artisans on the Square in Greenville. On July 21, The Suffering Artist in Hogansville will open a VAAL show. On Sept. 7, the VAAL show will open at the LaGrange Art Museum.