Elizabeth Layton depicts herself through arresting images
ELIZABETH LAYTON has an amusing, endearing, and vivid show on display at the National Museum of American Art. After seeing it, I felt impelled to pick up the phone and call this Midwest grandma at home in Kansas to ask her questions about her drawings and her sudden career.
She was just coming in off the front porch when the phone rang and she caught it on the fourth ring. She talks about her art, how she started drawing at age 68 after just one lesson in contour drawing and kept at it until she became a professional. Now, 15 years later, she has one-woman shows on tour in New York, Atlanta, and now Washington. "Layton's work demonstrates that creativity must be recognized in new ways," says Elizabeth Broun, director of the National Museum of American Art. The show includes
35 color drawings and prints on view through June 28.
I asked Mrs. Layton if the blank white paper daunts her as she starts a work. The artist, who was managing editor on her father's newspaper earlier, says: "Nothing like if I were starting to write a story. Words are a bigger challenge than drawing; drawing pours out. I never was good with words. Had to struggle with words. Once I learned this contour drawing, yes, I was taken along with the drawing." It drew her out, she says.
According to the museum, "blind contour" drawing is art in which the object being drawn is the focus of concentration rather than the mark being made on the paper. An intuitive technique, it tends to produce distorted images but frees the artists from technical worries and opens up communication.
"I think of them [the pictures] as more of a way to communicate with people. Part of this I think is with contour you get caricature like a cartoon; it identifies the subject you're drawing so it is recognized immediately. I hope what happens is when people look [at my pictures] instead of saying 'there is an artist,' they say, 'I am on that paper,' themselves."