Autistic and understood only by immediate family members, Laura Craig McNellis, born in 1957, has been painting since childhood as a way of documenting and communicating her life in Nashville. Applying tempera and marker to blank newsprint given to her by her late father, a former postal worker, she renders buildings, objects and events with bold simplicity, working quickly and folding each sheet of paper for storage. Many of McNellis’s pieces depict rooms and artifacts from her family home; others are interpretations of architectural spaces or treasured possessions. But her practice is ultimately process-oriented, the act of making an image being what matters most.
Though these paintings are loosely brushed and created outside the art world, they’re not without consistent devices and motifs. A cheery, radiant sun can be seen in the upper-right edge of most of the works, while letters run in a strip along the bottom. Though the latter may not always form words, they gesture powerfully toward the values of comment and conversation. Another unifying feature is the artist’s habit of chopping off the corners of each sheet, lending the project the air of a family photo album. Playful and heraldic, McNellis’s personal language of form and composition makes for genuinely affecting art.