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Elizabeth Solomon - Blue Stripes, oil on panel
Elizabeth Solomon - Blue Stripes, oil on panel

Interview by Tim Thayer with Western Massachusetts based artist Elizabeth Solomon. The interview was done via email during March 2009.

TT:: I know you have recently been working on landscapes. Do you also continue with figurative work? If not, will you come back to it at some point?

ES:: That is an interesting question, Tim. Historically I have always worked on several paintings at a time. My approach to the figurative paintings and the interior paintings is similar. I came to painting via sculpture, and how I look at the figure and space is very similar to the way I "see" as a sculptor. It was very natural and seamless to go from one painting to the next, regardless as to whether it was a figure or an interior. The landscapes have been very different. I seem to use a different part of my brain. I walk around in the painting in a very different way. For that reason, I have not been able to work on the landscapes and the figures at the same time. I am, however, very anxious to get back to the figurative work. I am especially curious to see how my foray into the landscape work will affect my figurative painting.

TT:: I think I can understand the relationship between sculpture and figurative work (in essence, both deal with a single, three dimensional object), but tell me more about the connection between figurative work and interiors. (Also, let me know if I have it wrong about sculpture / figure painting).

ES:: For me, the relationship between figurative painting and sculpture is a little more complex than seeing and interpreting a single three dimensional object. An essential ingredient for both my sculpture and figurative paintings is the interplay with space. I like to think the success of my figurative paintings is largely due to the viewer's desire to enter the space and look around. I rely on this same interplay with space in my interior paintings.

TT:: When does color come into the work? Do you often know this will be a "warm" painting from the start, for example? Or, is a foundation built, and then you play with the color? I ask because I see a great balance between the setting/image and the color. They seem to be two distinct parts of the work, but equally important to the feeling of a painting.

ES:: This is a very tough and insightful question, and I am glad you recognize the balancing act taking place in my paintings. It is very hard to consciously separate which comes first: the color or the foundation. I guess what really comes first is my intent, and what kind of story I want to tell with the painting. So conceptually, it starts out in my heart being about "color". However, when I actually put brush to panel, I start with a quick layout in a somewhat monochromatic wash. I'm first going after the quality/suggestion of light. Light plays a huge part in my work, and how color is ultimately seen. So, I guess the "foundation" physically comes first. From there I introduce washes of color. How colors are juxtaposed can make a space recede, can define form, can create a sense of illumination, and of course can evoke mood. I am in constant dialogue with this interplay, and even though the work may start with a clear intent, I truly never quite know where it will lead.

TT:: Will you shift colors a lot? i.e., will a green sofa become blue for instance, as you work on a piece? Will the light change direction? Or are there subtler shifts when working?

ES:: For the most part, the color shifts are dictated by the intensity of light on a subject or a wall. I almost never change the direction of the light in my paintings, since that is often the one fixed element I work from. I will exaggerate the light source in my paintings, and this will result in a large range of color shifts within a single chair or wall.

TT:: A more technical question: what materials do you like to work with? Brushes, surfaces, paints, mediums, etc?

ES:: I work in oils using teeny tiny brushes. I always work on a hard prepared surface. In the past I would gesso my own panels using rabbit skin glue and whiting. I now use a commercially prepared panel called "clayboard". It has a very smooth and porous surface and takes my washes of color wonderfully. Because of the porous nature of the panel, and how the paint seeps into the panel, a pentimento of layers is visible. I build the painting using different opacities of pigment, thinning the paints with various painting mediums from varnishes to waxes.

Recently, with some of the landscapes, I have been trying something new. I glue a very fine silk to the surface of the panel. The silk, unlike canvas, has a very delicate weave. Because my paintings are so small, I find the standard weave of canvas too intrusive. The silk creates a very fine tooth for the paint. I have found this tooth to be helpful in how I build the color in the landscapes.

TT:: How do you work? Several pieces at one time? Do you complete a painting in just a few sessions? Do you like to work early in the morning? Late at night?

ES:: I work on several paintings at a time. I do this because I have found it saves me from overworking my paintings. By going from one painting to the next, I am able to approach each one with a fresh eye. Also, because of how I build my paintings, the layers have a chance to dry between applications. I have also found that if I get stuck in an area of a painting, I find the best thing I can do is leave it and look at it the next day. By working on several paintings at a time I don't have to leave the studio to leave the painting. I am able to work much more efficiently this way.

It is always so difficult to say how long a painting takes. Sometimes a painting will come together in a few sessions and sometimes it takes weeks of fussing.

TT:: Do some of the paintings "fail"? If so what happens to those works?

ES:: Unfortunately, it takes many days of struggling to finally realize that the "patient is dead". There have been many "deaths". I have buried them in a closet thinking that maybe someday I'll be able to see how to breathe life back into them. One of the many good things about working small is that I don't need a very big burial ground.

TT:: When you are finished with a work, are you sentimental about it? Would you prefer to keep the work yourself?

ES:: I'm very invested in my paintings as I'm working on them, and for a long time they would leave the studio right after I finished them to go to various galleries. I did this with very little sentiment because of the intensity of time I had spent with them. I welcomed not having to see them for awhile. What I didn't know, was that they would actually sell and I would most likely never see them again. I've been fortunate enough to have this as a problem. For the last little bit however, either because I have not been sending the work out as much, or the because of the downturn in the economy, I have had a chance to have the work around me. This time has allowed me to form a very complicated relationship with my paintings. I like being able to sit with them and see them, however, having them accumulate makes it harder for me to want to add to the collection. I think this time I will miss this group more, should I not see them again.

TT:: Thanks, Elizabeth. This has been an extremely enlightening interview for me.

ES:: Thanks, Tim. It's been interesting to try to verbalize what has become an internalized process. Your questions certainly have made the task easier.


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