I had the pleasure of really getting to know artist Elise P. Church at an artists residency called Soaring Gardens last summer. While there Elise focused solely on drawing, creating a new series titled "Portals/Portholes" that got their shapes from the random cut-out "frames" of past photographic work. This shape, this slightly random, sometimes curved, others more sharp or imperfect and stretched "ovals" is consistent throughout her work, and a shape I have found myself newly obsessed with myself. I hope you enjoy getting to know Elise as much as I have!
You're an artist that works in multiple mediums, sculpture, drawing, painting, installation...is there any art form you're focusing on right now? What are you finding the most inspiration from currently?
Currently, I am inspired by snapshots from the 1960’s. I found a brown vinyl-covered photo album at a flea market in 2013 and ever since the photograph has been both the medium and the subject. As an abstract artist and formalist, I am not interested in who or what was pictured. I am seduced by the milky palette and the nostalgic imagery. The photo work began as photo-collages using only excised portions of the whole but has expanded into other mediums. I continue to make photo-collages but now only to serve as studies for paintings and drawings. My main focus is large scale paintings on paper based on these one to three inch photo fragments.
Is there a process you've always wanted to learn or admire in other peoples work?
I have long admired the work of ceramists and follow artists like Kathy Butterly, Arlene Shechet and Ron Nagle. The “happy accidents” that occur in the process of firing clay - broken or cracked pieces, unexpected glaze colors once fired and distorted forms are magical to me. The process of transforming an object from wet to dry, from malleable to hard and from one color to another is at once surprising and exciting.
So much of your work revolves around your past experiences and memories, is there a stopping point? Or do you think your current experiences will become inspiration for your work in the future?
I think my work will always reflect my past. I think we are constantly referencing our past experiences and behaviors consciously and subconsciously. I think we are continually sorting through aspects of our life that repeat themselves. I work in response to my inner life and struggles despite how it appears in its physical iteration. There is no stopping point, it is evolving.
Can you discuss the process when working on a piece that is from a good memory vs a bad one? Do you approach them differently?
Photography of the sixties is quite different from photography today and I find the difference fascinating. Cameras were saved for celebrations, ceremonies and vacation. Film was precious, therefore, captured moments of a family’s life economically - inherently good times.
I made a series of drawings using my own family snapshots. They are reminiscent of birthday parties, camp and summers on Martha’s Vineyard. I don’t associate them with any bad memories, bittersweet maybe, but those were joyous times. I approached the drawings with intimacy and care which is less present when I use other people’s memorabilia which I tend to dismantle. Drawing from my childhood pictures is immersive and intense in practice. Ultimately, I am looking for form, color and composition within the images. The memory is a byproduct of the material.
In your childhood, you spent some time abroad and moved around a lot, how do your feel those experiences and exposure to other cultures has seeped into your work, or your approach to your creative process? If at all?
Moving frequently had a great impact on my work because of a consummate desire to collect and connect to my past through objects. The materials that I use as medium reflect different homes and parts of my childhood. I also carry an inner worry that I will lose my possessions somehow so I like to amass discarded keepsakes.
If you could show your work anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why there?
My maternal grandparents lived in Bermuda since I was a baby and my mother relocated there when I was a teenager. It has been a home to me without ever having lived there full time. Beach combing is a favorite pastime of mine and proves fruitful in Bermuda because floating debris gets trapped and battered within the reef that encircles the island. Each time I go, I return with all sorts of flotsam: ropes, shards of plastic and buoys. So, if I could show anywhere, I would do an installation in Bermuda incorporating the rock, sand and the water. I would select one of the smaller coves like Jobson’s Cove and I would fill it, wedge it, mark it, sink it, tie it with collected detritus. That would be an exciting project for me.
What is the first thing you usually do in the studio? What is the last? Are there any rituals that you do if "stuck" or needing inspiration?
I buy a cup of deli coffee when I arrive in the morning. I sit at my table with three notebooks and write. The first notebook has “to do” lists and a log where I note the time I start and finish each day. I also add to the list if needed. The second is a cheap spiral bound book which has a monthly calendar taped to the front. I review or organize my week and what days I am where. The last and most valuable book is my studio journal which is a blank-paged Moleskin. It is there that I write insights about the work that is around me or my intentions for the day or I cut and paste an article or images from the paper or a blog that I have saved for these moments. It is my way of refocusing on the art part of my life.
Before I leave the studio and after cleaning up, I take iPhone pictures of what I have done that day. I like to take that home with me.
If I am stuck I will organize, sort and tidy my table. Sometimes I will take all the work down off the walls and move furniture around. Then I will pull out a stack of snapshots for example and look through them for inspiration or I make myself draw or cut up stuff because the simple act of doing frees up the mud. Do busy work without a notion of the end product.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
Susan Rothenberg, Louise Bourgeois and Katherine Bradford
Are there any upcoming events or shows that you'd like to share?
Art In DUMBO:
DUMBO Open Studios 2017
May 13 & 14, 1pm to 6pm
Catskill Art Society
48 Main Street, PO Box 991
Livingston Manor, NY 12758
October 21-November 19, 2017
Artist Talk (3-4pm) & Opening Reception (4-6pm) on October 21
If you'd like to get to know more about the amazing work of Elise P. Church, please check out her website here! http://www.elisepchurch.com/
If you're interested in the residency Soaring Gardens, the deadline for applications is March 10th, check out their page here: http://lermantrust.org/gardens.html