Elizabeth Riley is an artist that I remember completely falling for her gorgeous work years ago, friending her on Facebook and like magic, it seemed like all of a sudden we were being put into group shows together and I got to meet her and become friends in real life. I am always blown away every time she shares new work. Incredibly inventive, powerful, stimulating and vibrant. I don’t see much else out there similar to her, truly original and one to keep your eye on for sure. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about her and her process as much as I have!
One of the many things I love about your work is that there is a lot more than one realizes upon first viewing. They can be observed and enjoyed simply for aesthetic reasons, enjoying the process of the creation of the work and aesthetic complexities, but when one realizes how you actually get these wonderful patterns and prints of which you make your sculptural work and installations from, there’s that “wow” factor. For those that maybe don’t realize this aspect of your work, can you go a little into the process first so that people can understand how this work begins for you?
Thanks Christina! The primary source of the material for my work is video stills which I export from short videos I’ve made. There are around 30 video stills (or still images like photographs) in a second of video, so in a five minute video there are literally 1000s of video stills. Often I import these video stills consecutively into a page layout program and print them in long strips, that are also stacked one strip above the other. Each still changes slightly from image to image, while there’s a larger color or image shift from one longer passage in the video to another. This creates the sense of patterning. I like that in working this way, the lined up video stills are a form of found material. I create and edit the video originally, but am not directly in control of the patterns the video stills create, though I do have some organizational control along the way. My videos are mostly colorized in the video editing program (formerly Final Cut Pro, now Premier Pro), so the video stills are often colorful, as well.
The landscape of the city plays a very important role in your work. But rather than focusing on the concrete nature of it, you transform them into these “futurescapes” - a mixed reality of the virtual and physical world. It’s a concept that seems very forward thinking, particularly as we realize people’s addictions to their phones, as virtual reality becomes more and more used and popular. I wondered if you might indulge us on your philosophies and thought process here as it relates to your work? Were there any particular moments that inspired this idea or acted as a catalyst to push you in this direction?
Having left the city at age 35, upon returning to the city at age 40, in pretty much a state of extended crisis, I experienced the city, that is the physical city, or let’s say the body of the city, as a sustaining and lifting surround. I’ve also appreciated or agreed in the city as an equalizer, home to a diverse population that lives together as neighbors (however anonymously at times), and so creates an expanded field of human family and common belonging — or home turf, at the very least. And of course cities are where much of the planet’s creative activity, of all stripes, percolates.
While personally, I feel like I’ve been genetically wired to feel a positivity toward the future (though our present political climate may have put a dent in this), I had a kind of “we are the future” moment when someone said about a new tabletop city installation that it was a “city of the future,” so that in that moment I saw the materials I was using, which had a digital look, and also incorporating embedded live videos, as being or signifying the future. At the point I started incorporating video into my work strategies I began understanding video as carrying a positivity about the future. I didn’t begin working with video until it was possible to edit video on a laptop, and it also began to appear that much more of the information we’d receive culturally (whether news, entertainment, or for educational purposes) would be transmitted through video.
Much of our experience presently is mediated by our use of devices like smartphones, the internet, and streaming media, and this is continuing to expand. Even as artists we take leaps of faith with our artwork and its direction, the direction of new modes of production and technology are a leap of faith, which the world ends by reinforcing and taking together. Presently we are now in the middle (though probably just at the beginning in the long term) of this leap of faith with digital/virtual technologies. My work acknowledges this mid-leap and suspension, and presents a reflection and mirror that viewers can either see themselves as reflected in or not. The work presents both a personal reality, and one that aims to see ahead of the curve in the direction society is moving. There is an intense excitement and realization in the leap . . . while built into the leap is also the imminent possibility of a fall. The moment of this leap is where the past, present and future merges …
Humanity has always experienced a disconnect between the body and the mind. Digital/virtual technology push us in the direction away from the body, into a disembodied mind space, merging with our tools and devices, and the content that’s created and received. With all this there’s the need to question whether this is an expanded place or a reduced place. My work nests in this swamp.
There’s a positivity in your work, the colors are bright and beautiful, and energetic. You sometimes incorporate found objects as well, incorporating those into the folds and creations of the printed materials, even videos actually play within some of your pieces and/or exist as video themselves. So this is a two part question, one can you tell us a little about your color palette and choices? And two, can you share a little about the videos themselves, as they’re a wonderful way that makes people stop, and pay attention in a different way than a non-moving image does.
Quality archival Inkjet printers do an amazing job with color. The colors are gorgeous, and in working with inkjet-printed video stills I’m working with paper, which I’ve appreciated and loved the qualities of over time – strong, but pliable, with a skin-like reverberation. I like having printed materials available that I can work with and combine, either in the form of flat, or rolled and folded video stills. This gives the possibility of random, or instinctual juxtapositioning of colors and “patterns,” that I otherwise might not put together in a more deliberative process. The results of this process that are “beyond” me, are the results that please and excite me the most. There are no rules in this, but I sometimes remind myself that if I don’t push toward a result that’s beyond my control, and immediate knowledge, and boundaries of taste, there’s not much point in the drive to be an artist. However, another side or pole of my process is there’s also something comfortable in reusing or repurposing materials that I’ve already handled. The printed video stills are an evolving iteration of the moving image video that I’ve captured, manipulated and edited. The functional video contains both created content, and remembrances of time spend in the working process, including where the video was captured, and there’s a comfort and familiarity in this, as well as a continuing happiness and satisfaction in developing it in another time frame, and within the dynamics of another form, exploring it’s mutability. Found objects or other materials included in the work can also be grounding in this way, carriers of memory, including indications of physical structure as resonant of “home,” either personal home, or urban environment as home.
There’s a great deal of similarity between making a video and making other forms of visual art such as painting and three dimensional art, which artists don’t realize who haven’t given it a try. I’m mostly not intentional about the videos I make, but am informed by other things such as my surroundings and the video clips I’ve captured. The editing process can be intensive, and also where I learn about the video or “narrative” I’m making. My videos are a dialogue with my psyche, but the primary recorded material comes originally from encountering the present day world, or pieces of it anyway, and this encounter informs the final content.
Let’s chat form for a bit. You seem to use a few favorite forms throughout your work, be that small to large. One that I personally always drawn to is the simple roll where there is a sense of distortion of the image, or softer appearance than the hard edges and rather rectangular aesthetic of current cities. You turn this form into patterned larger constructions, sometimes flattening it so that it becomes more almond shape, other times angling it so that it becomes more cone-shaped, but this roll form, be it large or small is consistent in your work. Is there something about that shape or process that you use intentionally? Or is it all intuitive? Can you chat a little about how you go about creating your work, and how it may differ from large to small?
My first installations with video stills were in the form of “wraps.” I lined up every video still from a short video consecutively, and printed this out in an extended strip on roll paper, and wrapped this to form the skin of a supporting upright structure. In 2014 I had the chance to do a large-scale installation in a show of immersive installations sponsored by Dashboard, in Atlanta. In 2018 I remade this installation for the “Bigger Bolder Better” show at 470 Vanderbilt Ave in Brooklyn. For the first time for the Atlanta exhibition, COSMS, I decided to make the video stills into shapes that could be the basis for a free standing installation. Part of my strategy was that these paper shapes, could be brought to Atlanta with me on the plane, folded and flattened in two large suitcases and reassembled. I wanted a shape that was organic (not geometric) and also had the strength to stand on its own and support other similar shapes. The shape I settled on had a kind of humanoid quality, and motility that I agreed in. I liked also, the feeling of being an architect, and finding a shape from paper that was a sturdy enough building material to stand (or otherwise survive) on its own, and support the weight of other shapes. This was how I came up with the first rolled and folded shape I used, which was 17 in high, a common width for inkjet roll paper, and one my printer could handle. I thought of the environment I made with these shapes, which at its highest point was about 7 ft high, as a physical video a participant can walk into.
After this project I decided to make that same shape 3 in high so that I could make mockups for more formally designed and structured installations, but after I’d fabricated a bunch of these smaller shapes, I began to make moderate-sized wall sculptures with them (along with other materials), instead. This is the history of the first shape I used, but eventually I began to improvise on the basic shape, and the process all become more fluid. The various shapes I used to make the extended “Video City,” tabletop cityscape, function a little differently in that the various groupings of shapes, attached together in layers, read as city buildings. Here I’m riffing on modernist architecture (which itself has been greatly influence by the contemporary art of it’s time), and am also suggesting a futuristic city, but putting all this together in a form that combines domestic items or materials as well, so there is an inside-out thing going on. All this for me creates an expanded experience, which also has a playful/serious “without borders” dimensional, as well. For “Video City” I also incorporated two videos, one an animation of a city growing and changing.
Do you come from an artistic family? Can you tell us a little about what sort of artsy things you did growing up, that you can look back on now and see how that helped form your ideas now?
My father, James Bradbury Thompson, was a wonderful graphic designer. He worked at the top of his field and was one of handful of New York City-based graphic designers who made graphic design a profession, starting in the late 1930s. He was an artist as a graphic designer, and he also loved fine art, and came in contact with many artists of his day, including Warhol and Cornell, who brought by their portfolios to show him when he was art director for Mademoiselle Magazine. Mademoiselle ran a contemporary short story series and Dad commissioned illustrations for many of these stories from fine artists. He was also the design director for Art News and Art News Annual for almost 3 decades. He worked at home on weekends and eventually freelanced from home, so his work was always close at hand, and his four children were all influenced by his profession and his love for art.
I did have a kind of recognition in grade school that I was an artist, which was no doubt influenced by my father’s work and grappling with the meaning of a unique, archetypal status and designation. As my parents didn’t actively encourage us to seek careers in the arts, and as a female growing up in the 50s and 60s there were social/cultural limitations placed on roles for woman outside the home (or so I experienced in my community), my path to becoming an artist was not as direct as it might be today, but I was a practicing artist by my mid 20s and went to Hunter to get my MFA at age 30. The change from canvas to three-dimensionality and installation-style work in the early 2000s was significant for me, and then beginning to work with video in 2005, which opened up a dialogue between moving image and two- and three-dimensional work. It gave me a means to push against traditional ways of making art, which added energy and meaning (to me) to my work. Since I eventually worked in graphics (my father’s field) to make money this gave me the right kind of computer skill-set to make learning, and working in, a video editing program accessible. In the 90s I had experimented with adding black and white laser prints into my paintings and drawings, and in 2000 when the first generation of affordable archival inkjet printers came on the market I purchased the Epson Photo R2000, and used color printouts, along with the black and white laser prints, and ink, in a series of works on paper. This gave me the background to make the extended prints of video stills beginning around 2008.
And now that we covered the past, what about the future? It seems to play such an important role in your work. And being the start of a new year, asking your prediction seemed appropriate. Let’s focus it on Art specifically. Where do you think Art is heading, and what role do you foresee that it plays in the future cityscape?
I don’t have any unusual or predictive information in this area. Artists will make art that they and other people need to see and experience that cuts across all realms, subject matter and issues. There is a good deal of art now dealing with immigration, and with climate change, for instance. I urge artists not to give up, because the reality is it’s a pretty tough profession, with the big upside of being able to follow one’s own direction, and the joy of working with visual and physical materials, and the urgency of a search for meaning.
Do you have any favorite female artists?
I value and appreciate so much art, and like learning from and being inspired by the art I see. I’m not really comfortable with picking out favorites, but I love coming across strong work by women artists that speaks about our experience as women and humans. It is the era of the woman in many ways, politically being one of them, and let that be true for women artists as well. Let’s say my favorite female artists are one through a million!
Do you have any current or upcoming news or events you’d like to share?