The Joyful Flowers of St. Louis Artist Greta Coalier
Greta Coalier captures the essence of springtime in vibrant floral paintings so full of life you can almost smell the perfume. Her flowers are the opposite of what you would find in the prim bouquets of Victorian-era still-life paintings. Coalier’s flowers have a wildness to them, as though they were freshly picked and laid across a canvas.
A St. Louis-raised artist inspired by textiles and quilts, Coalier layers her paint thickly, often using impressionistic strokes that look like stitches of thread. Growing up, she knew she wanted to be an artist, and a high school trip to the Art Institute of Chicago sealed the deal. Now, she balances life as a mother of four with life as a working artist.
Below, Guided: St. Louis chats with Coalier about finding joy through art, self-defining productivity and the St. Louis spots that inspire her work.
Where do you find inspiration for your paintings?
If you were to see my house, you would see it’s literally covered in textiles. Growing up, my mom always had quilts around us growing up. We were always going to flea markets, so a lot of my textiles are things I’ve collected since I was little. I’m not so much a quilter myself, but I’ve always been a sewer, and I know how to weave, knit, crochet and embroider. Those were things I did growing up and later studied in school. I also took painting classes in college, but in my classes there was such a focus on conceptual art. I think I was a bit scared off by that because I was young and didn’t know who I was yet.
I’m also at the Saint Louis Art Museum all the time. I love the Botanical Garden and Tower Grove Park. I think St. Louis is just such an amazing place to be an artist. There’s no end to the inspiration. I have four kids, and we do field trips with friends every Friday. We never run out of places to go.
People and objects such as homes, boats and cars sometimes make it into your work. Is there a story behind them?
I started out as more of a portrait painter, and some of the first faces I painted were my children’s. I have one painting with my first daughter and my childhood car. My parents used to drive me to high school in the car, and I would make my mom drop me off a block away [laughing]. I was really embarrassed of it because it was so old and loud. For that painting, the idea came up because I had my own first daughter who was soon to be embarrassed by her own parents. But I’ve actually moved away from the more personal subjects so that I can be a working artist—so that I’m able to sell to a broader audience. I had to figure out how to make work that could appeal to more people but that I still loved. I love that I’m not painting the same thing over and over—it can be different every time.
Flowers tend to be associated with femininity and beauty. Do those associations come to mind while you paint?
I don’t necessarily associate flowers with femininity. Flowers just give me access to color, as much color as I can use. One of my biggest collectors is actually a man.
I’m an extremely sensitive person. I cry a lot [laughing], and I can’t even read books that are about sad things. I want things that make me feel joy, I want to see beauty, and I love to paint things that make people feel joy. I love all art, and there are really important paintings about sad things, but I think there should also be a place for things that are beautiful, that allow us to take notice of the happy things that are all around us.
What projects do you have on the horizon?
Right now, I have a lot going on. A dear friend of mine is in hospice, and my four kids are finishing their last week of school. So, there’s a lot in my personal life that’s coming up, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I’m trying to be OK with that. I chose to do my art when I’m able to and to balance that with having a family, but there’s also the conscious struggle of accepting that balance. I’ve always been the type of person who paints as much as I can, when I can. If I get the chance to paint, I will. If not, it’s OK.
What do you hope your work brings into people’s homes?
Just happiness, a moment of joy. A chance to breathe and remember that there are waves of sadness and there are times of, “It’s OK. For now, things are OK.” Art can give us that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Photos courtesy of Greta Coalier.