Obituary: Mary Louise Coulouris - Printmaker who drew much inspiration from Scotland and Greece

Mary Louise Coulouris, artist
Mary Louise Coulouris, artist
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Born: 17 July, 1939, in New York City. Died: 20 December, 2011, in Edinburgh, aged 72

MARY Louise Coulouris was an acclaimed painter, printmaker, muralist and public artist whose works appear in galleries and museums, railway stations, hospitals and private collections in the UK and beyond.

Although born in New York City and raised in Hollywood as the daughter of English film star George Coulouris, she would fall in love with a Glaswegian, Gordon Wallace, and spend the latter half of her life in Scotland, reflecting its beauty in her work.

From her home studio at Strawberry Bank in Linlithgow, West Lothian, since 1976, Coulouris created works for numerous one-woman or group shows, including at the Glasgow Art Centre, the Scottish Gallery, the Scottish Arts Club on Edinburgh’s Rutland Square and the city’s Kingfisher gallery. She also had studio space at the Wasps studios in Dalry, Edinburgh, and at the Edinburgh Printmakers’ studio on Union Street.

She had about 20 solo exhibitions in Britain, France, Greece and the US and contributed to the Edinburgh-based Art in Healthcare charity, which helps hospitals, care homes, surgeries and other medical centres obtain art work to brighten patients’ lives.

Among her best-known public murals is the one – painted in 1985 and refurbished in 1993 – that adorns the waiting room at Linlithgow railway station. She also delighted parents, children and artists alike with her design for the children’s play area at the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival at Prince’s Dock on Clydeside, opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

The Scottish Poetry Library in Glasgow houses three commissioned carpets designed by Coulouris, while a series of her watercolours adorn a wall at the House of Lords in Westminster.

Her grandfather was a Greek immigrant to Manchester and she was delighted to visit his homeland through Greek government art scholarships, drawing and painting throughout the country and seeing her work exhibited in Athens.

When her husband Gordon retired ten years ago, they spent much of the year on the Greek island of Hydra, which became a second home to them and provided fresh, vibrant colours and inspiration for her work.

Mary Louise Coulouris and her older brother George were born in the suburb of Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, close to Manhattan. Their father was the actor George Coulouris, who had been born in Manchester to a Greek father and English mother but moved to the US in the 1930s with his American wife Louise (née Franklin).

Since her father had to get to Hollywood to play the character Walter Parks Thatcher in what would turn out to be the classic Citizen Kane with Orson Welles, baby Mary Louise found herself on a train from New York to Los Angeles, where she was brought up in some luxury on North Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills.

She found herself fussed over by friends of her father, including stars such as Bette Davis and José Ferrer. Visits to the Hollywood film studios fired her imagination and she painted her first canvas at the age of 11.

In the late 1940s, having also appeared in the film version of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, her father became disillusioned with the witch-hunt campaigns led by fanatically anti-communist Senator Joe McCarthy and decided to take his family back to his native England.

They set sail for Southampton from Manhattan in November 1949 and began a new life in London, living first in Putney, later in Chestnut Cottage in Hampstead, where Mary Louise and her mother both painted.

(One of her father’s most acclaimed roles back on the British stage was the lead in King Lear at Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre in 1952 and he would go on to appear on stage, in films such as Papillon and Murder on the Orient Express, and in countless television dramas, including Dr Who. Theatre critic Ken Tynan once wrote that “acting with George Coulouris must sometimes feel like performing in front of a blast furnace” and Mary Louise increasingly showed that fire, passion and colour in her art work).

She attended St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith and Parliament Hill School in Camden before doing a two-year course at Chelsea School of Art. She then won a place at the highly- respected Slade School of Fine Art on Gower Street near Euston station, a branch of University College London, where she studied under the painter Sir William Coldstream and printmaker Anthony Gross.

Her work there attracted the attention of the artist LS Lowry, the writer John Steinbeck, art- collecting actors such as Vincent Price and Stewart Granger, and an up-and-coming politician called John Smith, future leader of the Labour Party.

During her time at Slade, she was also granted a one-year French government scholarship to the renowned Atelier 17 at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where she developed her own colour etching technique under renowned painter/printmaker Stanley Hayter and won praise for her drawing skills and unique use of colour.

She met Gordon Wallace, a poetically-inclined civil engineer who had moved south to London during the Swinging Sixties, while she was drawing by the Regent’s Canal in Camden Town, London, in the late 60s. They lived in the city’s Primrose Hill area, had two children, and moved to Linlithgow in 1976.

“Art should be the place where people can slow down, indulge their senses with a static image that can take being looked at for more than 12 seconds,” she once said.

Commenting on her work, art historian Athina Skina wrote in 2009: “Mary Louise Coulouris focuses through her painting on the genesis of nature, or at least on what constitutes its beginnings. Her fluid brushstroke, through the diffusion of colour, energises space and conveys its rhythmic tensions from the depth of the optical field towards the surface. A primal lyricism meets with abstraction, casting away any sense of intellectuality.”

Coulouris, who died in hospital in Edinburgh after battling motor neurone disease, was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. She is survived by her husband Gordon and children Saro and Duncan. Her funeral will be held at 1:30pm on Wednesday at Falkirk Crematorium. PHIL DAVISON