Lisa McLymont draws a deep connection with her portrait work

Andy Downing
Lisa McLymont

Lisa McLymont has crafted multiple portraits of Counterfeit Madison over the years, but the artist said that only recently did she finally manage to capture Sharon Udoh, the effortlessly magnetic person behind the stage moniker.

“Before it was more about celebrating the artist Counterfeit Madison and that persona. This is the person stripped bare,” McLymont said of her most recent Udoh portrait, which will appear as part of a new solo exhibit, “Rest in Resistance,”opening at Secret Studio on Friday, Oct. 9. “I feel like this recent work is one of the more powerful portraits of her. She’s looking at the camera with that attitude, with that head tilt, and you can almost hear her talking.”

As ina previous show at Streetlight Guild, “Rest in Resistance” is anchored by a series of portraits, most of which have strong ties to Secret Studio, including paintings of co-founders Keith Hanlon and Amy Turn Sharp (other subjects: Dorian Ham, Nikki Wonder, Lisa Bella Donna, Travis Hoewischer, Martin Brown and the aforementioned Udoh).

For this current round of images, though, McLymont applied less color to the board than in the past, allowing more of the wood grain to reveal itself as she worked to strip each person down to their absolute essence. “And I would hope it would feel as raw and immediate as some of the music these artists can produce,” McLymont said of this largely musically inclined batch.

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The portraits are still lovingly rendered in McLymont’s unmistakably warm style, which helps the images produce a sense of connection with the viewer that feels particularly needed in this era of social distancing. “I think that’s an aspect to it, all this distance we have from each other. These portraits are almost opening conversations with their direct looks," McLymont said. "But since I’ve been doing portraits for so long, well before COVID, it is really about drawing someone into another person’s world, or developing some curiosity in who they are and the impact they’ve had. ... A lot of these portraits, that light comes because I admire these people, or I love them in some way.”

The same is certainly true of a recent live painting McLymont completed of Nina West as part of the early October closing of the "Art After Stonewall" exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art, a portrait that was subsequently purchased on behalf of CMA and entered into the museum’s permanent collection. “I didn’t even know that was something I could wish for,” McLymont said of the honor, which she was still processing a week later. 

In addition to the musical likenesses populating "Rest in Resistance," McLymont also created a number of more abstract “crystal portraits” inspired by words and phrases lifted from the music of Counterfeit Madison, including: “Whenever we can have freedom”; “What a thrill it is to discover”; “I can be a whistleblower.”

McLymont said the piece informed by the lyric “whenever we can have freedom,” for one, is colored in blue hues and sparkly textures and anchored by mountain-like forms painted near the bottom of the canvas that serve as a grounding element. To accompany the works, Udoh recorded a musical soundtrack, which will play on a loop throughout.

For McLymont, the exhibit is a chance for those more familiar with her portraiture to get a more fully realized picture of who she is as an artist, which remains an evolving process.

“I’m aware I can execute in a lot of different mediums, so I’m not saying no, and I’m trying lots of things, which feels cohesive to me and my thought process,” said McLymont, a graphic designer by trade who has been making art since 2010. “And that’s what I was thinking about with this Secret Studio show, meshing some of my artistic past in abstract work with the portrait work. … It’s an opportunity for me to try some new things and revisit some old thoughts.”