Loretta McNair is an accomplished fine artist with a polished eye and celebrated gift for reimagining the intricate details and verity of her subjects. Through applying vibrant colors and intuitive techniques, she brings a compelling visual story to the canvas that stimulates the viewer's eye while evoking emotions ranging from buoyancy and intrigue to empathy and nostalgia.
Loretta's trademark works are portraits and surrealistic paintings of songs from the late 20th century. Her affinity for portraits stems from her passion for intimately connecting to the human spirit and the simultaneous challenge and dexterity involved in achieving an authentic likeness. Her Song Painting series is intended to eternally preserve musical masterpieces in visual form.
Loretta is a member of the Portrait Society of America and has been a finalist in their competitions.
In addition to being an absolutely magical figurative artist, Loretta McNair is also a masterful singer-songwriter with a penchant for the jazz standards of the 1940's. She released two CD's of original music, both available on amazon.com:
IGNITING THE FLAME OF HUMANITY
Loretta McNair knows firsthand what it means to hold tight to a dream. When a tragic accident threatened to leave her without the use of her right arm and leg, her faith was put to the ultimate test. Vowing to be victorious and become a successful portrait artist, Loretta was determined to come back stronger and better, and continue her quest as an artist whose “stories on canvas” would inspire others.
Loretta emerged from humble beginnings in the colorful town of Pacoima, California, which would have likely remained unknown if it hadn't been famed by Cheech & Chong's earliest comic recordings. With its Native American name and racially diverse population, Pacoima provided Loretta with multiple cultures, architecture, horse ranches, fruit & vegetable farms, and a richly interesting variety of faces to draw. She liked studying these faces so much that she drew them day and night, with pencil, on school paper, as early as 7 years old. While her sisters were outside playing, she was creating coloring books to replace the ones her mother had bought for them, after she had filled them herself. One day in second grade, a classmate asked her to draw him. When she completed her drawing, not only was her classmate astonished at the likeness, but so was she! That was her first inkling that she had a talent for portraits and drawing people and figures.
Creativity was rampant in her family. Every generational member played a musical instrument, and they had family jam sessions. Loretta's mother wrote songs on the piano, and her father made a demo of the recording on vinyl. To Loretta, that made her mother famous and officially an artist even though she worked in retail. When her grandfather gave her a guitar for Christmas, the first thing Loretta did was write a song on the open strings. He also generously supplied her with paints, canvas, an easel, and pastel crayons. When she ran out of paper, he would give her his leftover blueprint rolls and the cardboard inserts from his new shirts to draw and paint on.
Transforming art into an income reality would become a challenge for her, because even though her grandfather encouraged her creativity, he insisted that her education and career pursuits remain in the business world because "You can't make a decent living as an artist." His life view was bound by his childhood experiences as the son of a poor Italian immigrant, and his responsibility to provide for his family during the Great Depression, so security was his primary concern when giving financial advice. Hence, Loretta didn't even know that there were colleges specifically devoted to art education and degrees, or modern artists making careers of painting outside of a closed group in the Hollywood film industry.
As Loretta worked in the accounting world as a single mother and built financial security for herself and her daughter, she continued to fill all her spare time writing and performing her original music with her band, and creating paintings for herself and friends, refusing to choose one artistic avenue over the other. In 2004 her life changed dramatically when her grandfather, for whom she had been caregiving as he aged to 102, passed away. It was time to refute his insistence that art could not be her mainstay. She quit her job and moved to San Pedro, CA, where there was a large art community. She attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where she undertook their portraiture and figure-painting program, culminating with a summer course in France by one of her art professors, in the region where Paul Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec had resided. She simultaneously produced two CDs of original music, receiving international radio airplay and performing locally with her band at public venues, while beginning to show her artwork at outdoor events with the Palos Verdes Art Center sponsored groups. In 2011, she began a tutelage with both master-artist James Zar (known for LA Raiders and LA Dodgers portraits), and world-renowned artist Rino Gonzalez. With their guidance, she began developing a reputation for portraiture and felt permission to further explore her leaning toward music-related subjects.
In Loretta’s historical experience, modern-day society seemed to value progress, success, and money over the value of feeling. She considers art an experience that should awaken strong feelings in its viewers. As such, she is inspired by creators who are also aligned with the importance of feeling, and whose work speaks to society’s lack—or absence—of it. One of her favorite artists, Ernie Barnes, painted all his subjects with their eyes closed, to bring awareness that many of us have our eyes closed to humanity. This inspired Loretta to develop her own distinct feature in her work as an expression of her personal observation. Carl Jung’s interpretation of the 13th-century myth The Handless Maiden tells the story of the life-changing effects a woman experiences after losing her hands, which were traded for financial gain and later replaced with silver ones. In honor of this concept, and in response to having repressed herself artistically while following her grandfather’s dictated path for her, much of Loretta’s early non-portrait work consisted of adult subjects with silver hands. As her subject matter steadily progressed, she continued utilizing this “feeling” symbolism.
When she selects her [now] signature Song Paintings she focuses on her favorite songs that evoke deep, sentimental feelings within her—her version of “music videos on canvas.” Her musical heroes had told their stories in their melodies and lyrics, and she was going to revere them by creating visual renderings of them. When Loretta conceives a composition for any painting, her mission is always that it conjures the kinds of powerful feelings in her viewers that will trigger a high level of wisdom and introspection, leading them to a deeper connection with their own humanity.
In August 2012, life took a dramatic turn. While unloading inventory from an all-day outdoor art show, Loretta fell from the top rung of her ladder onto the concrete floor of her garage, breaking her right leg and right arm in multiple places, requiring major surgery including metal plates, screws, and pins, to save her limbs. Ironically, her right hand (she is right-handed) was paralyzed after surgery, leaving its future ability to function—and feel—looking bleak. During her first six months of recovery and rehabilitation she could not paint or walk. Using this time to think and reflect, it became very clear to Loretta that life is short, and hers could easily have ended that day. She realized that now was the time to fully express herself through her art, and focus on leaving behind an unforgettable legacy. Performing music required moving heavy equipment, which she could no longer do. That left painting as her only outlet for her voice.
The two subjects she loved most were music and people, and like her favorite artist, Norman Rockwell, she wanted to tell the stories of her generation. This direction proved to be successful when, after an arduous two-year journey to complete recovery and beating the odds that were stacked against her (she now has full use of both limbs!) she returned to the art world with renewed vigor, became a member of the Portrait Society of America, and began entering their annual competitions.
In 2017, her painting of spoken-word artist Hustle Diva was a finalist in their Members Only competition, and her win was publicized in American Art Collector magazine. Simultaneously, her portrait of young brothers Adrian and Jerry was a finalist in the Artists Magazine Annual Competition, out of 4300 entries. This led to a local gallery representation. In 2019, American Art Collector magazine wrote a feature story on her song-painting work. She received her most prized compliment from the daughter of Herman Leonard, whose photographs of jazz artists are a national treasure and inspired Loretta to paint several of them, when she was told, "My father would have loved what you did with his photos." It's been said that Loretta can capture the very spirit of her portrait subjects, and that they look like they're alive.
Despite the myriad challenges she has endured, Loretta McNair has taken full ownership of her destiny and mission, and successfully continues giving the people something they can feel.
PRIZES & AWARDS
November, 2017: Finalist, Portrait Society of America Members Only Competition. "Hustle Diva" 24x30 oils
March, 2018: Finalist, The Artist's Magazine Annual Competition. "Adrian & Jerry" 30x30 oils
Oct/Nov, 2021: Finalist, International Artist Magazine Florals Competition. "Krystal's Gerber Daisies" 24x30 oils
April, 2022: Finalist, Portrait Society of Atlanta Spring Exhibition. "Faith & Prayer" and "Nurit in White" both 16x20 oils