Written by Caroline Croom
Laurilyn Fortner is “all about the traditional and then the quirky. And those two things together, it comes over in everything.”
It comes as no surprise Fortner has found a happy art home in Fondren.
Fortner’s quirky traditionalism is woven into her daily life and distilled in her artwork. It is embedded in everything from painting her home’s exterior “French Quarter pink,” to non-traditional garden club luncheons, to her volunteer work “fluffing the dressing room” for Ballet Mississippi and creating displays for the boutique area of the big St. James Episcopal Church rummage sale, to her paintings of vintage clothing as still lives and portraits of female activists. “I kinda look at it like your whole life is art… What you cook and how you live – it’s part and parcel of everything I do.”
This artistic take on life keeps her busy. “If I’m not thinking about making something, I’m not a happy girl.”
Fortner’s home is a testament to her happiness. Traces of her makings hang, sit and grow throughout. A large painting welcomes you into in her sitting room. Three slips: one black with pearls, one red, and one white, all hang side by side on hangers, entitled “Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”
“I get so excited about the vintage clothing, like those [slips] all belonged to the same woman. I just thought it was neat that this woman’s lingerie made it; it didn’t get thrown out. They bought all this woman’s stuff [and] I think, ‘What if this could talk.’ So when I go to an estate sale, there’s a story there. There’s a story in the things. Some people hang onto things for sentimental reasons. And I think it’s okay to paint those things, whether it’s an old baseball or an old shoe as a portrait.”
As Fortner guides from painting to painting, she guides from story to story. The story is sometimes Fortner’s, sometimes the object’s previous owner, but often both. A small shoe is her daughter’s first step, two pairs of cat-eye glasses reveal the multiple roles of the mid-century Southern woman. While this somewhat quirky, somewhat traditional Southern artist unearths and creates a visual story from a salvaged item, Fortner herself creates and represents Fondren’s story.
Charming and nostalgic, these storied items standing on their own, in their own portrait, create a visual synecdoche, alluding to their owner, their culture, and deepening the conversation Fortner creates with the viewer. “The viewer attaches their own emotions and feelings to what they’re viewing. That’s what art’s really about [to me]; it’s the experience between the viewer and the painting. It’s about an emotional response between the viewer and the art. It’s not about making something pretty or decorative. Not to say I don’t enjoy that sort of thing.”
Fortner can tell you their story.