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Conversations with the Inspiring Elisabeth Condon

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elisabeth Condon.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Elisabeth. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in Los Angeles on a suburban street abutting a canyon, so it’s natural to consider landscape a combination of natural and manmade environments. My Christian Science school emphasized spirit over matter.  In tandem with LA’s celebrity culture, this concept infused reality with a virtual quality I first identified with painting, although it has become common to online life since. As a result pictorial form always felt suspicious to me, while color, texture, and pattern appeared more real.

The middle of three sisters in a middle-class family, I did not speak until five, spending silent hours staring at the Inness reproduction over the sofa, my mother’s Chinoiserie vases, and the wallpaper in my bedroom she chose for me. Education took me beyond my family’s conservative, religious values into imaginative, symbolic worlds similar to religion but more directly reflective of human experience. I studied with Allan Kaprow, Chris Burden, Mike Kelley, Lita Albuquerque, and later, Christina Ramberg, Susanna Coffey and Barbara Rossi. Questioning whether painting could achieve the transcendence of nightclubs I dropped school for three years to participate in LA’s music scene, while working full-time as a visual merchandiser for an LA chain of clothing stores. As the desire to paint prevailed I returned to Otis/Parsons. Around that time my family suffered a dramatic financial reversal and moved away from the city. I took on student loans and delivered the LA Times weekdays from 3 to 7 AM before class to subsidize my education. After receiving a BFA, I spent a summer in New York, spending money earmarked for job-hunting painting huge, un-stretched canvases for my application to the School of The Art Institute’s MFA Program instead. In Chicago, I experienced the visceral impact of place and the suspended time and space of dislocation. Five years later, I moved to New York.

My work in New York throughout the 1990s recouped a silent childhood in hybrid still-life/multi-figure narratives and portraits of dolls. After a decade developing these paintings I accepted a tenure track teaching position in Tampa, Florida at the University of South Florida (USF). This radically changed my work. The Florida climate and foliage catapulted me to 1960s LA as if inhabiting two places and time periods simultaneously. Landscape has inspired my work ever since. In his essay for the exhibition Near and Distant Views, Franklin Einspruch writes, “The paintings on view in her exhibition at Miami International Airport are the product of eight years of productive studio labor. Included in that time is a residency schedule that would crush a lesser artist. She painted from Loleta, California to Saratoga Springs, New York, and from Sheridan, Wyoming to the Florida Everglades. There were forays to Cadaqués and Shanghai as well. All the while, she took in a visual experience like a whale takes in plankton from the ocean.” I began pouring paint thinned like ink to reflect Florida’s humid air and raking light to begin my compositions. Einspruch observes that “Pours are structural necessities in her work. They provide the primal soup from which her pictures emerge.”

In 2014 I took a leap, resigning my position and moving to Manhattan. Its highly artificial landscape inspires me to “layer abstraction and decorative flowers and birds” in optical landscapes inspired by my mother’s vintage textiles. Tyler Emerson-Dorsch notes that these paintings “seem at first to be pure pleasure, for they revel in color, paint, and compositional complexity,” but that the “symbols depicted within them bear heady and emotional references to feminism, environmental and national politics, calling for a feminist reading of the history of decoration and a feminist critique of North American abstract expressionist painting by extension.” I am so pleased that the painting Quit Safari? from this series is in the collection of Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It was hard to experience my family’s financial reversal, rise at 3 every morning and load my car with papers, to relocate for graduate school or arrive for a six-month stay in Shanghai without knowing Chinese, but these challenges only strengthened my focus. What else can be done but to follow our hearts, not mythologies constructed around who we are supposed to be, but to live who we are.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am known for multi-layered pour paintings. My paintings shape landscape through the lens of scroll painting, patterns, postwar abstraction, and glam rock nightclubs. As a frequent traveler, I observe how landscape shapes culture, which in turn shapes identity. My paintings absorb each location, redefining the medium, palette, and substrate to the environment at hand.

In 2018 I developed several bodies of work that are currently on view in Miami. They include large works on paper that depict the Mayan goddess Ixchel, Jaguar goddess of midwifery, screaming from a cave of liquid pours or banished to sea by a young, smooth, pale and arrogant god. Her raw sexuality and power feel just right for #MeToo. This work was made at the Art & History Museums Maitland, an artist colony in the Mayan Revival Style known for drawing inspiration from Meso-American culture and popular in the 1920s and 1930s. The founder and architect, J. Andre Smith, festooned the exterior with carved concrete panels renditions of Mayan gods and goddesses, a Chinese Guan Yin, and Christian Jesus. My iterations are on view at Emerson Dorsch through February 2, 2019.

At Carrizozo Colony in Carrizozo, NM, an artist-run residency, I painted the 33’ scroll Wallpaper Dragon, which combines pours, patterns, Chinese seals, petroglyphs and figures inspired by Chinese scrolls, Mayan gods and the Carrizozo landscape. This scroll is displayed with paintings made in China at Miami International Airport through January 31, 2019, in Terminal E just past security. Miami International Airport is sponsoring a walkthrough past security of the exhibition on Tuesday, January 22nd at 11:00 am. (Contact Emerson Dorsch for details at (305) 576-1278 or at emersondorsch.com.)

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
Allow yourself to focus on what you care about. Don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do it, because you can.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Wallpaper Dragon, Detail. Photo by Jason Mandella, Miami International Airport, Division of Fine Arts and Cultural Affairs, Photo by Dan Forer, Quit Safari? Collection PAMM. Photo by Phillip Reed

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