Most of them is me spilling my guts on canvas,” observed the Las Vegas native about her paintings. “That’s what brings life to them. There really is a transference of what is in your heart when you create. The art anchors that time and space, and the emotion within it. We — the viewer — get to connect with the creator of that work in a really special way.”
Main exudes an effervescence reflected in many of her canvases. Expressive portraits with cubist elements of people in vibrant hues; a painting of a girl with a screaming lion’s head accompanied by the text, “Be Bold — Be Heard — Be You”; a skirted woman thrusting a sword into a dry skull with “unlovable” scrawled across its forehead.
The symbol of the heart is a visual and thematic element that forms the backbone of Main’s body of work. The ubiquitous shape that originated in the high Middle Ages becomes a metaphor not only for love, but also for the power of spirit the artist endeavors to capture in her canvases and sketches.
A visit to Main’s home studio begins on the fourth floor of a commercial building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. From the narrow hallway, one can observe — through several open doors — garment workers plying their trade silently except for the constant whirl of sewing machines.
The hallway leads to Main’s living area, formerly another large room used for clothes manufacturing. Casually displayed canvases share space with a guitar, a plastic skeleton, brushes, paint bottles and easels throughout the three rooms that are created by partitions. An iron fire escape that extends beyond the studio window is one of Main’s favorite places to create and contemplate. The accommodation makes for an idyllic — and decidedly bohemian — artist dwelling that she shares with her husband, Jason, and their dog, Lautrec.
“It is a little more of a challenge, yet it is so inspiring” she said. “We don’t have a shower in our place. We go to a gym down the street to shower. It’s weird, but I’m OK with it. I’m used to it now.”
The couple also gets by with a makeshift kitchen, and the absence of heaters and air-conditioning.
“We do city life,” she explained. “Just a different way of living, and there is life everywhere. You get to wave to people on the street that you see every day. While it’s busy and congested, there is a beauty to it.
“It is all kinds of people mixed together. People who are homeless — you get to know some of them, and they become your friends. All cultures — it breaks down fears and stereotypes. It has stretched me and gotten me to really love people.”
Main had established herself in Las Vegas and garnered a strong client base by the time she and Jason decided to pull up roots five years ago and relocate to Los Angeles, a city with an exponentially deeper and more competitive arts community. They operated a retail space for Main’s art on Grand Avenue in downtown before closing after two-and-a-half years.
“It was a good experience,” she assessed. “But we realized we didn’t want the day-to-day responsibility of keeping up a full store. A lot of good things came of it, but it felt like it became time to let that go and be more flexible to be able to go back to Las Vegas. Because I want to maintain those relationships and support that community I came out of and, at the same time, reach into L.A.”
Main said she is inspired by lowbrow pop surrealism and hopes to cross over into the genre.
Main said she always has been attracted to artistic expression and was largely self-taught, but a summer program at the Art Institute of Chicago during her junior year of high school offered a pivotal moment in her growth as an artist.
“That is what made me realize I didn’t want to go to college,” she fsaid. “I was following the assignment, but the teacher decided all of a sudden to bring the class over to stand around me. She said, ‘This is exactly how not to paint.’
“It was a very memorable moment for a young girl. That changed me. I realized I don’t ever want to be confined to a certain way to create or do art.”
Main said she was very shy in her youth and used art as an emotional outlet.
“As my life progressed, I had deep insecurities, and got into alcohol and depression. I used art a lot to deal with that depression. So a lot of my work from that time is very dark. I dealt with suicidal thoughts, self-destruction, really. But I would hide it; I was always smiling, looking happy, but never really processed what was happening.
“That was scary. I was in my early 20s — major struggle time. Trying to figure out who I am and find some confidence. But I felt like I was living a secret double life. I lived alone, and I was like, ‘Man, I am really suffering here.’”
Main said her life was turned around by her Christian faith, which is a recurring theme in much of her work — most overtly in a series of canvases she calls Testify.
“I prefer to not be categorized in terms of ‘Christian art’ — I want to be a painter, an artist,” she said. “I know that all my work is coming from a place that is speaking to my faith.
“But if someone comes into an exhibition space, they may not know that. So I think there is a way to cross over into that place where you are going to speak to people because you are not narrowing yourself. I think there is a sense of putting it out there and letting the chips fall where they may.”
She acknowledges that work viewed as faith-related can be a barrier to acceptance in the broader art world. Although religious subject matter largely has been a mainstay throughout the history of art worldwide, contemporary artists attracted to the theme have had the most success gaining notoriety — and often critical acclaim — through provocation, including Andres Serrano, Renee Cox and Chris Ofili.
“They are pushing boundaries, and I appreciate that,” said Main. “I think that is what art is about. My art — especially the Testify series — is about creating conversation. It is not about saying, ‘I’m right, and you are wrong.’ That happens too much in Christianity, or any faith.
“I want to create an open place and say, ‘What does this mean? Let’s talk about it.’ I so enjoy hearing what is in other people’s hearts. That is why I paint, to help create that open dialogue”.
Main donates her work to many charitable causes, including this past year’s “Art with a Heart” fundraiser to benefit HopeLink of Southern Nevada.
“I am passionate about the idea that art matters,” she said. “In school, it sometimes gets minimized, but art really is a voice in the language. It crosses language barriers and speaks. Sometimes people cry. That is amazing to me, when it can touch somebody like that.”