Grace Porter


How otherworldly. How I’d love to escape to another world.


Grace Porter is a visual artist from and based in Memphis, TN. Porter has exhibited regionally since receiving her B.A. in Art from Rhodes College in 2015, with her most recent solo exhibition titled "A Love Letter to My Porch" in 2019. A two person exhibit is scheduled for Fall 2020 at Soul Owner in Memphis, TN. Currently, Porter is Store Manager at The Art Project, an open art studio for children where art-making and creative experimentation is welcomed in a non-class structured environment.


Art for me is a chance to play, investigate, process, and absorb.  Recent work touches upon my personal memory and history— upon recollection, what has my brain collaged?  This is my artistic attempt to take powerful sensations and experiences and remove them from their airy state in my mind and transform them into physical entities.  I approach each piece with a set of motifs and symbols, a play of materials, and my own visual history.  This is mostly grounded in some form of a landscape, one that is surreal yet familiar.  I create with the intent to envelop myself in a specific moment, experience, or person.

Summer Night - mixed media on canvas - 2019

Your statement shares that your work addresses memory and history. Can you tell us more about how memory and history inform your creative practice?

This use of memory and personal history came about after my grandfather passed as I started collecting family photos and going through my own photos. I’d look through them and thoughts, questions, and feelings came flooding in:

For example:

Seeing a picture of my mom’s Volvo station wagon: “Do you remember the feeling of hot, humid summer air driving in mom’s car as the sun sets?”

Seeing a picture of my childhood country home: “I remember one day drawing under that willow tree by our pond and realizing that there are so many shades of green.”

Seeing a picture of me and my brother playing dress up: “We were thick as thieves, each other’s best friend; is that the same now as adults?”

Seeing a picture of my friend Eric in the Californian desert: “How otherworldly. How I’d love to escape to another world.”

I started to turn these thoughts and questions into paintings and drawings. Through this, I also ended up identifying symbols and motifs that come from my history—cacti from my summers in Southern California, cowboy/western aesthetic from growing up riding horses, my love for looking up at the night sky searching for the stars and the moon, to name a few. Basically, I pull memories from my mind, use family photographs as inspiration or reference, fuse it with my love for material play, combine it with a set of motifs and symbols I have identified, throw in some imagination and nostalgia, and I create the “worlds” you see in my paintings.

One thing that I think that is exciting about using something so abstract as memory for my work’s subject is that it (and my personal history) will forever be expanding and informative.

Pink Cadillac Dream - mixed media on paper - 2019

Does your use of automobiles reference anything in particular? Perhaps an important time or place?

Thus far I have three cars in my work— a vintage Bug, Volvo station wagon, and Cadillac. They all are cars from my childhood. My dad inherited a burgundy pink Cadillac from his grandfather that was only used for special occasions—my parents’ date nights and going to church. There was a vintage red bug there for a bit (still my dream car), and whose mom didn’t drive a Volvo station wagon when they were kids. They are all pulled from my personal history and definitely add to the nostalgia of my work.

Born and Raised in the Summer Moon I - mixed media on paper - 2019

Much of your current work features fantastical or dreamlike elements. Can you elaborate on your use of fantasy or the surreal?

Personal memories and experiences guide my work. I place these abstract sensations into “worlds” to ground them for not only myself but for the viewer as well. Choosing the surreal also allows me to play with my color palette, scale, pattern, media, and composition more so than something of true reality. It further allows the play that drew me to art as a kid to happen again. I am able to marry my abstract memories with my whimsical imagination, play, and curiosity.

Cowboy Ed (Orange and Blue) - mixed media on paper - 2019

Your work implies a strong sense of narrative. What role does storytelling play?

I believe viewers call my work narrative because they have formed a narrative— they see a figure in a something of a landscape with a few other things going on, and they create a conclusion based on their own personal history and experiences. Viewers are adding their own narrative whilst experiencing what I’ve created- I’m not consciously creating an action packed narrative.

Over the past few years as I have created this body of work a bit of folklore has been formed— figure names like “Cowboy Ed”, “Wandering Eric”, and “Winged Ashley” for example. If someone asks me, I will explain what a piece is about and a bit of my “studio folklore” behind it like the nicknames I have for certain figures or why I use certain colors or that I don’t like having an even number of stars in the sky.

Wandering Eric Goes to the Star Willow tree - mixed media on paper - 2019

Can you discuss the value or power in using photographs within your sketchbooks and collages?

My work became figurative shortly after my grandfather passed away a few years ago. It was the first time I dealt with death as an adult, and I was at a turning point in my studio practice. I was at my grandparents’ house going through his belongings and saved a couple photos for myself (I also kept his cowboy hat and office stool which I now sit on while I paint). I started to go through family photographs on both sides of my family and ended up taking many to my studio. These photographs became a resource for my most recent body of work. They proved incredibly valuable as they were the ignition for me remembering memories of place, people, and experiences that have become the subject of my paintings. I ended up photocopying many of them and used them in my sketchbook practice, tracing and doodling on them while I figured out what to do on my larger works. Figures, natural elements, and other symbols/motifs pulled from these photographs have been translated into my style for my larger works.