We had a chance to interview artist Elsie Hill,whose latest work, a series entitled Pangaea, will be the inspiration for the next Nouveau Classical event. Check out her work at Nabi Gallery from April 16 to May 30.
Until then, hear what Ms. Hill has to say about Pangaea, the value of intuition, and the challenges of an artist.
What inspired these paintings?
My initial idea was to give every painting its own character. I started looking at fables at first, but early on in the process the animals began to represent my own stories. I created these paintings over a period of two years. Much of the time the narratives would flow from a combination of influences: what was happening in my life, what I was listening to on the radio, or what was happening around the world that I wanted to comment on.
Is there anything you want to say about the style in particular?
Intuition was a vital part of the style. I really had to trust myself in terms of when to repeat or when to switch directions. I have spent a lot of time trying to learn different techniques and I felt like it was time to really dig into my arsenal and see what I could do. I felt like style was so closely related to technique and process for me that using just one style of painting would be too limiting for this work. The technical choices that I made were not random. They were guided by intuition and experience and it was a lot of fun to just let loose and see where it took me.
Are there any reasons for the particular choices of animals?
What I love about animal imagery is that the symbolism is both fixed and un-fixed. Even though there is not a universal defined meaning attached to a particular animal, I used many animals that evoke common ideas.
For instance, the sheep: those paintings were about identity for me. Of course the idea that sheep are followers is pretty common in our culture but I thought about the pressures on artists to be unique and make something new.
The mating horseshoe crabs were the first paintings that I made in this series. I made so many, it seems like they reproduced themselves- kind of the genesis of the project, which is fitting since horseshoe crabs are actually living fossils. It is also how came up with the title for the show, Pangaea : horseshoe crabs existed 250 million years ago at the same time as the super-continent Pangaea.
I chose animal imagery so that these paintings would be open to interpretation. I’m not sure if that is because I want to keep my interpretations private or just open to change.
How have these paintings affected your growth or path as an artist?
My most recent work was of landscapes and seascapes, subjects that reminded me of home. Landscape painting is also an in-between space for me that I go to when I need to feel relaxed as a painter. I am really excited to see that with this work, even though it is not the landscape, I feel very relaxed like I am actually getting closer to my own voice.
When I was writing my artist’s statement, I thought of how these paintings are partly about who I am as a painter and partly about who I would like to be. A lot of ambition is contained in this work. Before, I would come up with a motif and then make variations on that theme. I’m not saying that this work doesn’t have a theme, but trusting my intuition to curate the body of work as I made it has pushed me to find connections that I would not normally look for.
What are some challenges you’ve encountered on your artistic journey?
I was a commission portrait artist for ten years until I was about 29 years old. Mostly I painted what I guess you could call heirloom portraits, paintings that you would hand down to your children. Debutantes, businessmen, their dogs, etc. It gave me so much self confidence as a painter. When I wasn’t doing commissions I focused on techniques and I didn’t worry about content so much. I just painted whatever I wanted since my day job was painting what I was told. When I stopped doing commissions, I began to feel unsatisfied with my own work. I felt like I didn’t have anything to say and I certainly didn’t know what to do with my skills. Getting myself to a point where I felt freedom and confidence when it comes to content and skill brought me to New York and to a new set of challenges. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that these paintings are so varied, it seems like I have always worked that way, though for different reasons. Luckily the paintings have always kept coming…