October 08, 2019 BY: JC Rodriguez
Elisabeth Condon approaches life’s simple pleasures from a unique perspective. A perspective that is evident in her work. The moment I saw her work I was drawn to the beauty in the execution of the brush strokes paired with the color combinations. A sensitivity to the work that I assumed was created by a female artist. My preconceived notion turned out to be right, this time. That’s because Condon’s work comes through with an essence and perspective that is delicate yet strong. Splashes of color capturing landscapes filled with nature. But it’s different. Adding layers of textile patterns, brush techniques that urge you to step closer. The work is spontaneous and free. The colors jump out conjuring pure happiness. It just feels good to look at her work. He had the opportunity to ask Condon about her work and her creative process. Check out our interview with the talented painter below. Her solo show "Effulgence" is now on display at Emerson Dorsch in Miami. Don't miss the chance to see her work up close. The show runs through November 16th.
"I’m completely spontaneous. I start with pours of paint, so that painting becomes like taking a trip, with contingencies and unexpected outcomes."
- Elisabeth Condon
© Elisabeth Condon
Why did you choose flowers as your subject matter?
The flowers evolved from the perspectives of my mother’s wallpaper and sumi-e brush painting practice. I wanted to incorporate imagery into my work and expand my vocabulary as a painter. Adding the color combinations and designs from vintage wallpaper samples I grew up with, introduced a domestic aesthetic that challenges my ideas and tastes. By combining flowers, patterns and pours, I achieve reductive flower forms that avoid literalism or illusionism by remaining flat and material.
In sumi-e brush painting practice, bamboo, orchid, chrysanthemum, and plum blossom idioms unite form and gesture in a single stroke. It sometimes takes a lot of warm-up to attain the sense of living, natural forms. Balance between fullness and emptiness is emphasized in sumi-e painting, whereas western painting emphasizes contrasts and oppositions. Sumi-e inspires new ideas about the collapse or interpenetration of figure and ground that allude to but do not adhere to western movements such as Pattern and Decoration.
The fleeting lifespan of flowers is mirrored by our own, as well as our environment and history. Flowers are sexual, feminine, autonomous, and dismissed as minor. As such they dwell in the margins, free from scrutiny. My flowers are fissured, on the brink of collapse; glowing with internal light, like fire, before they curdle and die.
How important is being vulnerable to the creative process?
Very! Vulnerability is another word for open heart and mind, the heightened awareness of being alive. Vulnerability is the gateway to deeper meanings realized in paint, which are not conceptualized. I’m not romanticizing painting when I say this; the transformation that happens in an embodied process happens naturally in the meditative slow time it engenders.
What is your earliest memory of art?
My parents’ Inness reproduction above the living room sofa had a tawny undertone that magically turned into airy, convincing space the longer I stared at it. Children’s books were vital early memories, from the imaginary worlds illustrated in The World Book Encyclopedia for Children to the eery photographs in Edith Dare’s picture book, The Lonely Doll, introducing me to the dramatic Brooklyn Bridge. The shadows dappling the path in Matisse’s Tea in the Garden at LA County Museum suggested darker content beneath the calm veneer of suburban life. And a Frank Stella Protractor painting at the Pasadena Museum of Art shocked me to the core as a means of expression.
© Elisabeth Condon
What experiences would you say were important in forming who you are as an artist today?
Suburbia, décor, religion, and nightclubs.
My father was a Marine jet pilot in his former years, so I grew up familiar with flight in small planes as well as jetliners. The immediacy and urgency in flying reminds me of sumi-e brush painting techniques as both require quick reflexes and focused attention. My mother’s obsessive decorating is also integral to my aesthetic formation as I paint my own versions of her wallpaper samples, once loathed and now embraced.
The short-lived nightclub Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, which I visited as a teenager, proved that mirrored walls, glitter, and fantasy make anything possible. Nightclubs in the pre-digital age offered an immersive, alternative culture in contrast with my family’s restrictive religious beliefs. The flowers and wallpaper patterns I am painting now balance these influences to make a new kind of space, that is both field and object.
If you could collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I’d like to make prints with Helen Frankenthaler and Judy Pfaff, paint outside with Charles Burchfield, practice sumi-e with Chen Jialing and create a mural with Huang Gongwang, Joyce Kozloff and Valerie Jaudon.
Where is your favorite place to go see art in the world?
There are a few so far: the National Palace in London with Nicholas Poussin’s Triumph of Pan, the Prado, where Velasquez’ Las Meninasresides, and the National Palace Museum in Taipei that houses the greatest collection of scroll painting in the world. I’m heading to Mexico City and anticipate greatness from the Museo de Antropologia. Of course the Met, with its Asian and American Wings. I love all museums, actually, large and small.
Tell us about your process, do you like to plan out the piece or are you more spontaneous with your work?
I’m completely spontaneous. I start with pours of paint, so that painting becomes like taking a trip, with contingencies and unexpected outcomes. Pouring feels necessary and urgent, even when it is a controlled accident, as in the small flower paintings. Pouring dictates subsequent steps suggested by the shapes they create and their interaction of materials such as ink and acrylic. It takes time to envision what the pours suggest, so I work in bursts on multiple works at one time when space allows, inching along as each painting develops individually from the group.
I work on paper before linen, which establishes and builds upon the language I want to develop. To develop the work for Effulgence, I spent six months practicing sumi-e and two weeks on a printmaking residency with Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida. The paintings combine the performative spontaneity of sumi-e in pouring with the constructed process of etching in pattern. Sumi-e and printmaking are as opposite as you can get, so I am excited to integrate these processes in a language that is mine.
© Elisabeth Condon
When you are working on a piece, do you listen to anything? If so,what music/podcast/radio are you listening to?
Pandora is the go-to, currently for the Bonobo station and yoga music. I listen to art podcasts such as Sound + Vision, Fresh Art International, Hyperallergic and Magic Praxis, and interview podcasts such as On Being or podcasts about cults such as Heavens Gate, Cults, Oh No (Ross and Carrie). I listen to podcasts by the New Yorker, China World, and Bioneers. As the paintings develop I work in silence.
What do you want the viewer to think about when looking at your work?
I don't want to direct the viewer’s thoughts as much as to transfix, challenge and entice them through a world they can enter.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Persist. Simple and effective. Vulnerability plays its role in that, as do time and commitment.
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